Memory Activation and the Availability of Explanations in Sequential Diagnostic Reasoning

Department of Psychology, University of Groningen, Postbus 72, 9700 AB Groningen, the Netherlands.
Journal of Experimental Psychology Learning Memory and Cognition (Impact Factor: 2.86). 06/2011; 37(6):1391-411. DOI: 10.1037/a0023920
Source: PubMed


In the field of diagnostic reasoning, it has been argued that memory activation can provide the reasoner with a subset of possible explanations from memory that are highly adaptive for the task at hand. However, few studies have experimentally tested this assumption. Even less empirical and theoretical work has investigated how newly incoming observations affect the availability of explanations in memory over time. In this article we present the results of 2 experiments in which we address these questions. While participants diagnosed sequentially presented medical symptoms, the availability of potential explanations in memory was measured with an implicit probe reaction time task. The results of the experiments were used to test 4 quantitative cognitive models. The models share the general assumption that observations can activate and inhibit explanations in memory. They vary with respect to how newly incoming observations affect the availability of explanations over time. The data of both experiments were predicted best by a model in which all observations in working memory have the same potential to activate explanations from long-term memory and in which these observations do not decay. The results illustrate the power of memory activation processes and show where additional deliberate reasoning strategies might come into play.

Download full-text


Available from: Niels A Taatgen
  • Source
    • " refrain from inter - preting symptoms until symptom presentation was complete . Yet , similar to language comprehension and other reasoning tasks , interpretation begins as soon as information is available ( Weber et al . , 1993 ) . The immediate hypothesis generation is predicted in process models of diagnostic reasoning ( Lange et al . , 2012 ; Mehlhorn et al . , 2011 ; Thomas et al . , 2008 ) and was reflected in gaze behavior . The first symptom triggered diagnostic hypotheses and generating them was a process of memory re - trieval similar to routine cases in actual medical diagnosis . Memory indexing revealed that two hypotheses were generated and that one had superior status if it was supported "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: In diagnostic reasoning, knowledge about symptoms and their likely causes is retrieved to generate and update diagnostic hypotheses in memory. By letting participants learn about causes and symptoms in a spatial array, we could apply eye tracking during diagnostic reasoning to trace the activation level of hypotheses across a sequence of symptoms and to evaluate process models of diagnostic reasoning directly. Gaze allocation on former locations of symptom classes and possible causes reflected the diagnostic value of initial symptoms, the set of contending hypotheses, consistency checking, biased symptom processing in favor of the leading hypothesis, symptom rehearsal, and hypothesis change. Gaze behavior mapped the reasoning process and was not dominated by auditorily presented symptoms. Thus, memory indexing proved applicable for studying reasoning tasks involving linguistic input. Looking at nothing revealed memory activation because of a close link between conceptual and motor representations and was stable even after one week.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2013 · Cognitive Psychology
  • Source
    • "If the previously generated hypotheses fall below some threshold of agreement with the newly acquired data they are purged from working memory. Recent work by Mehlhorn et al. (2011) also investigated the influence of consistent and inconsistent cues on the memory activation of hypotheses. They utilized a clever adaptation of the lexical decision task to assess the automatic memory activation of hypotheses as data were presented and found memory activation sensitivity to the consistency of the data. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The pre-decisional process of hypothesis generation is a ubiquitous cognitive faculty that we continually employ in an effort to understand our environment and thereby support appropriate judgments and decisions. Although we are beginning to understand the fundamental processes underlying hypothesis generation, little is known about how various temporal dynamics, inherent in real world generation tasks, influence the retrieval of hypotheses from long-term memory. This paper presents two experiments investigating three data acquisition dynamics in a simulated medical diagnosis task. The results indicate that the mere serial order of data, data consistency (with previously generated hypotheses), and mode of responding influence the hypothesis generation process. An extension of the HyGene computational model endowed with dynamic data acquisition processes is forwarded and explored to provide an account of the present data.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2012 · Frontiers in Psychology
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Hypotheses about decision processes are often formulated qualitatively and remain silent about the interplay of decision, memorial, and other cognitive processes. At the same time, existing decision models are specified at varying levels of detail, making it difficult to compare them. We provide a methodological primer on how detailed cognitive architectures such as ACT-R allow remedying these problems. To make our point, we address a controversy, namely, whether noncompensatory or compensatory processes better describe how people make decisions from the accessibility of memories. We specify 39 models of accessibility-based decision processes in ACT-R, including the noncompensatory recognition heuristic and various other popular noncompensatory and compensatory decision models. Additionally, to illustrate how such models can be tested, we conduct a model comparison, fitting the models to one experiment and letting them generalize to another. Behavioral data are best accounted for by race models. These race models embody the noncompensatory recognition heuristic and compensatory models as a race between competing processes, dissolving the dichotomy between existing decision models.
    Preview · Article · Aug 2011 · Judgment and decision making
Show more