Poster B74, Sunday, March 25, 8:00-10:00 am, Exhibit Hall C
Encoding of episodic context in abstract and concrete concepts
Charles P. Davis1,2, Pedro M. Paz-Alonso3, Gerry T. M. Altmann1,2, Eiling Yee1,2; 1University of Connecticut, 2Connecticut Institute for the Brain and Cognitive Sciences, 3Basque Center on Cognition, Brain, and Language
Grounded cognition theories suggest that in lieu of the primarily sensorimotor-based representations that form concrete concepts, the representations of abstract concepts are derived from situational context. Hypothesizing therefore that when encountering abstract concepts people should be more sensitive to context than when encountering concrete concepts, we utilized the source memory paradigm, which presents study items with an arbitrary context, tests recall of the items and corresponding contexts, and shows hippocampal activation as a function of the amount of contextual detail recalled. In Experiment 1, the arbitrary context was the color of the box that enclosed words referring to abstract or concrete concepts. Contrary to our predictions, box color was better recalled for concrete than abstract concepts. These findings suggested two possibilities: the general concreteness advantage in language processing extends to encoding of episodic detail, or the task promoted memory unitization—that is, box color and concrete concepts can be unitized into a single percept (e.g., red table), while this is not the case for abstract concepts. Experiment 2 tested this by using voice source, which should not facilitate unitization with concrete or abstract concepts, as the to-be-encoded context. The same pattern emerged: voice source was more accurately recalled for concrete than for abstract concepts. The findings suggest that simple episodic associations are not particularly well encoded when encountering abstract concepts. Thus, if representations of abstract concepts are indeed derived from situational context, the contexts may need to be more elaborate and/or temporally extended than the simple associations examined here.
Topic Area: LONG-TERM MEMORY: Semantic