Characterizing the Materials-Based Bias Effect: A Robust yet Mysterious Conservative Response Bias in Recognition Memory for Paintings




Fallow, Kaitlyn

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



A series of recognition memory experiments using masterwork paintings and words are reported in which participants were reliably conservative in endorsing images of paintings as “studied”. The current paper establishes the historical context of this materials-based bias effect (MBBE) and presents two new experiments aimed at characterizing the underlying mechanisms. Nine previous experiments are reviewed to illustrate the MBBE’s robustness to various encoding and test manipulations and the insufficiency of two prior hypotheses to account for its origins. Meta-analyses of response bias and sensitivity and analysis of these measures by test quartile are presented and discussed along with receiver operating characteristics and response time data for all of these experiments. In one new experiment, the response scale on the recognition test was modified to allow participants to choose from not only “studied” or “not studied” options, but also options indicating uncertainty due to the similarity among test items. The hypothesis that these similarity/confusability-related responses would be chosen more for paintings was not supported. A second new experiment aimed to better characterize the time course of the MBBE by implementing a 1-s respond deadline, which it was hypothesized would reduce the effect, but this hypothesis was also not supported. Results of all experiments are discussed in the context of unequal variance and dual process models of recognition memory.



memory, recognition memory, paintings, response bias