Abstract

Within the dual-process perspective of recognition memory, it has been claimed that familiarity is sufficient to support recognition of single items, but recollection is necessary for associative recognition of item pairs. However, there are some reports suggesting that familiarity might support associative recognition judgments when the items form an easy to access bound representation. In contrast, recollection seems to be required for the recognition of bindings that might be flexibly rearranged in novel situations. We investigated whether both forms of binding are mediated by different mechanisms as reflected by a qualitatively different spatiotemporal eventrelated potential (ERP) pattern. In a recognition memory experiment, subjects gave old/new judgments to words learned by focusing either on interitem associations or on size relation of word triplets. Results revealed higher hit rates in the relational condition as compared to the associative condition. In addition, the proportion of triplets from which all three items were remembered was significantly larger in the relational condition suggesting that memory retrieval in this condition relies primarily on bound representations of word triplets. The ERP revealed a late parietal old/new effect for both conditions, with relational processing resulting in a greater effect. In contrast, an early frontal old/new effect was solely present in the associative condition. Taken together, these data provide evidence that familiarity might support associative recognition if the associated components are coherently encoded into a bound representation. Recollection might foster the recognition of relational bindings among items. This indicates that the contribution of familiarity and recollection to associative recognition depends on the kind of binding operations performed on the items rather than on the single versus multiple item distinction.

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