Context variability refers to the number of preexperimental contexts that are associated with concepts. In four experiments, we investigated the basis for increased recognition memory for low context variability words. Low context variability was associated with greater recollection in the hit rates, and high context variability was associated with greater familiarity in the false alarms. Shortening the study time reduced recollection, but low context variability still influenced recollection in the hit rates. A modality change from study to test also reduced recollection but preserved recollective differences for low versus high context variability items. One interpretation of the results suggests that low context variability evokes more specific and, perhaps, idiosyncratic recollective associations during learning and that these associations support better recognition in the hit rates. By contrast, activating the larger number of associations for high context variability items may be mistaken for familiarity in the false alarm rates.
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