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The limited reach of surprise: evidence against effects of surprise on memory for 1 preceding elements of an event
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review
Year of publication:
In Press
CBU number:
When reflecting on the past, some of our strongest memories are for experiences that took us by surprise. Extensive research has backed this intuition that we are more likely to remember surprising moments than mundane ones. But what about the moments leading up to the surprise? Are we more likely to remember those as well? While surprise is a well-established modulator of memory, it is unknown whether memory for the entire event will be enhanced, or only for the surprising occurrence itself. We developed a novel paradigm utilising stop-motion films, depicting of a seqeuence of narrative events, in which specific occurrences could be replaced with surprising ones, while keeping the rest of the film unaltered. Using this design, we tested whether surprise exerts retroactive effects on memory, and specifically whether any potential effect would be confined to elements in the same event as the surprising occurrence. In a large cohort of participants (n=340), we found strong evidence that surprise did not retroactively modulate memory, neither when participants were tested immediately after study nor 24 hours later. We suggest two possible accounts for these findings: 1) that the components of an event are encoded as independent episodic elements (not as a cohesive unit), or 2) that surprise segments experience, sectioning off the preceding elements as a separate event. Scripts (including instructions for reproduction):
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