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Affecting cue selection through contextual integration Eichhorn, David P.

Abstract

This dissertation presents research examining the role of contextual patterns, salience, and individual differences in the determination of how much is incidentally remembered from a cognitive task performed during the exploration of a naturalistic outdoor environment. Previous empirical findings suggest that the human mind often selects cues for the storage and retrieval of information based upon a rigid, predetermined hierarchy, frequently disregarding useful contextual cues in favor of features most directly relevant to the information itself. Drawing from environmental psychological principles, factors are outlined that contribute to the salience of contextual cues, the most important of which is the cognitive integration of the context with the observer and the integration of both with the task or mental operation at hand. Such integration is referred to as "contextual integration" and may represent an over-arching schema that serves as a cognitive or affective indicator of personal significance. The first of two reported experiments demonstrated superior memory for contexrually integrated stimuli over those given more rudimentary consideration. The second experiment found changes in memory resulting from an interaction between the type of task performed and the mediating role of a cognitive style known as field-independence. This interaction supports the notion that there are predictable patterns to the cognitive management of contextual information. The effects of these patterns are better accommodated by contextual integration than any single construct such as personal relevance or depth of processing. Furthermore, arousal states and affective ratings of the environment, in Experiments 1 and 2, respectively, showed differential changes in reaction to more or less integrated situations. Conducted almost entirely in a natural environment, the research presented attempts to more closely merge the empirical ideals of the environmental and cognitive areas in psychology.

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