Distinguishing between the success and precision of recollection

Memory. 2016;24(1):114-27. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2014.988162. Epub 2014 Dec 13.


Recollection reflects the retrieval of complex qualitative information about prior events. Recently, Harlow and Donaldson developed a method for separating the probability of recollection success from the precision of the mnemonic information retrieved. In the current study, we ask if these properties are separable on the basis of subjective reports-are participants aware of these two aspects of recollection and can they reliably report on them? Participants studied words paired with a location on a circle outline, and at test recalled the location for a given word as accurately as possible. Additionally, participants provided separate subjective ratings of recollection confidence and recollection precision. The results indicated that participants either recollected the target location with considerable (but variable) precision or retrieved no accurate location information at all. Importantly, recollection confidence reliably predicted whether locations were recollected, while precision ratings instead reflected the precision of the locations retrieved. The results demonstrate the experimental separability of recollection success and precision, and highlight the importance of disentangling these two different aspects of recollection when examining episodic memory.

Keywords: Episodic memory; Precision; Recollection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Young Adult