Knowledge Structures in the Orgnanization and Retrieval of Autobiographical Memories

This experiment is based on the following paper:

Reiser, B. J., Black, J. B., and Abelson, R. P. (1985). Knowledge structures in the organization and retrieval of autobiographical memories. Cognitive Psychology, 17, 89-137.

Reiser, Black, and Abelson propose that autobiographical events are organized in memory by the knowledge structures that guided comprehension and planning during the experience. Two such structural types are activities (sequences of actions performed to achieve a goal) and general actions (situation-free components common to several activities). Activities are broader events like going to a restaurant or getting a haircut. General actions are small things that often can be part of many activities, such as paying the bill (something one does at both a restaurant and the barber) or ordering a drink. Activities are thought to be more important to facilitate memorization. Reiser et. al. suggest an almost hierarchical organization of memory where general actions are subordinately categorized to activities.

…if activities are the principal categories for individual experiences, presentation of an activity before a general action should lead to faster retrieval of an experience matching both cues. When the action is presented first, the information available for memory search is less useful until a contextualizing activity can be found to augment it, so retrieval should be slower for these cases. (p.103)


The full text describing the experiment is available here.

The experiments are available below. (8.92 KB) (10.8 KB)