Distinctiveness and Memory: A Comparison of the Social and Cognitive Literatures

Susan Coats and Eliot R. Smith

in Distinctiveness and Memory

Published in print April 2006 | ISBN: 9780195169669
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199847563 | DOI:
Distinctiveness and Memory: A Comparison of the Social and Cognitive Literatures

Show Summary Details


This chapter is concerned with the effects of distinctiveness on explicit memory in social psychology. It draws comparisons between the social and cognitive literatures on the topic of distinctiveness and memory, with the aim of better understanding the extent to which the findings in each area may be applicable to the other. It reviews several prominent lines of research in the social literature, each of which invokes the concept of distinctiveness to explain or describe memory phenomena. The extent to which a stimulus is distinctive depends on its context. In several cases, the critical stimuli may be “distinctive” owing to the prevailing context, and in others the critical stimuli may be “distinctive” owing to incongruity with one's long-term experience. Distinctiveness may be said to encourage specific types of processing of an item, which in turn enhances discrimination of that item at retrieval. Relational processing refers to processing of features common to all stimulus items, whereas item-specific processing refers to the processing of properties of individual items not shared by other items.

Keywords: distinctiveness; explicit memory; social psychology; discrimination; retrieval; relational processing; item-specific processing; critical stimuli; social literature

Chapter.  10352 words. 

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.