Abstract concepts and the suppression of arbitrary episodic context

AbstractContext is important for abstract concept processing, but a mechanism by which it is encoded and re-instantiated with concepts is unclear. We used a source-memory paradigm to determine whether episodic context is attended more when processing abstract concepts. Experiment 1 presented abstract and concrete words in colored boxes at encoding. At test, memory for the frame color was worse for abstract concepts, counter to our predictions. Experiment 2 showed the same pattern when colored boxes were replaced with male and female voices. Experiment 3 presented words from encoding in the same or different box color to determine whether a greater advantage is conferred by context retention in memory for abstract concepts. There was instead a disadvantage: abstract concepts were less likely to be identified when the encoding color was retained at test. Concrete concepts are more sensitive to simple episodic detail, and in abstract concepts, arbitrary context may be suppressed.

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