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Recognition vs. Recall

Filed in Research News
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An important question to those studying neuroeconomics, as well as those studying heuristics such as the recognition heuristic is whether recognition is just a side-effect of recall, or whether recognition is a separate process. In consumer behavior, we wonder if the brain changes patterns of activation in the presence of recognized brands, and if this primitive recognition is used to make inferences in conjunction with (or instead of) recalled information.

A recent paper in Neuropsychology by Westerberg et al finds, using impairment data, that mere recognition (recognition without further recall) and recollection (recognition judgments made by recalling episodes or source memory) are separate systems. Recollection fails under hippocampus impairment (Alzheimer’s disease) but mere recognition remains unimpaired.

“Recognition can be guided by familiarity, a restricted form of retrieval devoid of contextual recall, or by recollection, which occurs when retrieval is sufficient to support the full experience of remembering an episode…Remarkably, forced-choice recognition was unequivocally normal in patients with MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment) compared with age-matched controls. Neuropathology in hippocampus and entorhinal cortex, known to be present in MCI, presumably disrupted recollection while leaving familiarity-based recognition intact.”

“In conclusion, the present results indicate that in patients with diagnoses of AD (Alzheimer’s Disease) or MCI [Mild cognitive Impairment], familiarity is relatively preserved compared with recollection. Impaired yes-no recognition in AD and MCI is consistent with prior results suggesting that damage to the hippocampus impairs recollection (e.g., Holdstock et al., 2002). The remarkable findings that forced-choice recognition is relatively intact in AD and entirely intact in MCI provide insights into the critical neural substrates of familiarity signals. Neural processing that supports familiarity may include contributions from perirhinal cortex, from multiple medial temporal regions that are partially damaged but nonetheless can continue to support familiarity, and/or from structures outside the medial temporal region.”

One would assume that in situations where the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex are impaired or cannot do their job for other reasons, recollections (such as remembering where you recognize something from) that might cause someone to decide against using the recognition heuristic might not have an effect.

Reference: Westerberg, C.E., Paller, K.A., Weintraub, S., Mesulam, M.-M, Holdstock, J.S., Mayes, A.R., & Reber, P.J. (2006). When memory does not fail: Familiarity-based recognition in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, Neuropsychology, 20, 193-205.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/odelot/254015955/