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The effects of word frequency and similarity on recognition judgments: the role of recollection.
K. J. Malmberg, J. Holden, and R. M. Shiffrin (2004) reported more false alarms for low- than high-frequency words when the foils were similar to the targets. According to the source of activation confusion (SAC) model of memory, that pattern is based on recollection of an underspecified episodic trace rather than the error-prone familiarity process. The authors tested the SAC account by varying whether participants were warned about the nature of similar foils and whether the recognition test required the discrimination. More false alarms for low-frequency similar items occurred only when participants were not warned at study about the subtle features to be discriminated later. The differential false-alarm rate by word frequency corresponded to the pattern of remember responses obtained when the test instructions did not ask for a subtle discrimination, supporting the SAC account that reversed false-alarm rates to similar foils are based on the recollection process.