Uncertainty in estimating distances from memory

Gabriel A. Radvansky, Laura A. Carlson-Radvansky, David E. Irwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Magnitude estimations involving spatial characteristics, such as distance, typically show a compressive function when estimates are made from memory. In particular, as the magnitude of a property grows larger and larger, estimates become more and more inaccurate, with increasing underestimates of the actual magnitude. Previous theories have attempted to explain this difference by supposing that magnitude estimation was accomplished through a reperceptual process, in which the errors of perception are magnified, or a transformation process, in which the memory trace undergoes a consistent alteration toward a more schematic form. The present experiments present evidence in support of an uncertainty hypothesis. When subjects are uncertain of the actual value of a distance, they are forced to guess on the basis of the mean distance they encountered, because they are unable to retrieve the information accurately. When they can retrieve the information, they are more certain and their estimates are more accurate. This hypothesis was also extended to integrative conditions in which the subjects were presented with the stimulus display in a piecemeal fashion. In these cases, distance estimates were derived by combining spatial representations. This method of presentation caused distance estimates to become less accurate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)596-606
Number of pages11
JournalMemory & Cognition
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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