Order within associations as a test of association-memory models
© Caplan and Rehani; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2010
Published: 20 July 2010
In learning associations (e.g., a pairing of items, A-B), the hippocampus appears to implement Associative Symmetry, namely, when learning a forward association (A->B), picking up the backward association (B->A) for free , a characteristic of human association-memory that has been replicated numerous times (e.g., ). A mathematical operation that does this automatically, and thus might be carried out by the hippocampus, is the convolution operation, the operation used to store associations in a range of influential behavioural memory models . Convolution-based models lead to a specific prediction about within-pair order memory (the participant’s ability to retrieve the relative orders of the A and B items), namely, that within-pair order memory should be at chance levels. In contrast, models based on the outer product, known as matrix models  the way they have been applied, lead to perfect within-pair order memory (assuming the pairing is retrieved); likewise for numerous other models that assume associations are stored by concatenating the vector representations of paired items .
Here we test within-pair order memory with a verbal double-function list paradigm in which participants are presented with pairs of words in which the left-handed item of one pair is the right-handed item of a different pair. Thus, within-pair order information is critical for later effective cued recall. The results suggested that human participants have neither poor nor near-perfect memory for within-pair order, challenging all current models to our knowledge. Our recently proposed positional coding model for paired-associate memory , which already incorporates within-pair order in the same manner as between-pair order. Even this positional coding model requires some additional assumptions to fit the fine structure of the behavioural data.
In sum, our findings suggest that within-pair order memory is neither poor nor perfect, pointing to a fallible mechanism for within-pair order learning in verbal association memory tasks and constraining the computational mechanisms the hippocampus could plausibly use to learn pairs with the property of Associative Symmetry.
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