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The role of spurious feature familiarity in recognition memory.
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In two experiments, we investigated the role of perceptual information in spurious recognition judgments. Participants viewed lists of words in various unusual fonts. The frequency with which each font was presented was manipulated at study: Each font was presented with 1 or 12 different words in Experiment 1 and with 1 or 20 words in Experiment 2. Although the participants were instructed in a word recognition test to judge only on the basis of the word, regardless of font, there were significantly more false alarms for new words seen in a previously presented font than for new words presented in a novel (not seen at study) font in Experiment 1. In Experiment 2, the participants were significantly more likely to make a false alarm to a new word seen in a font that had been used to present 20 words during study than to a font that had been used to present only 1 word during study. The data show a mirror effect, in which words tested in low-frequency fonts produced more hits and fewer false alarms than did words tested in high-frequency fonts. These results show that irrelevant perceptual information plays a role in recognition judgments by providing spurious sources of familiarity and, thus, provide evidence that perceptual information is represented and processed in the same way as semantic information.