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Prior representations affect future learning. Little is known, however, about the effects of recollective or familiarity-based representations on such learning. We investigate the ability to reuse or reassociate elements from recollection- and familiarity-based associations to form new associations. Past neuropsychological research suggests that hippocampal, and presumably recollective, representations are more flexible than extra-hippocampal, presumably familiarity-based, representations. We therefore hypothesize that the elements of recollective associations, as opposed to familiarity-based representations, may be more easily manipulated and decoupled from each other, and facilitate the formation of new associations. To investigate this hypothesis we used the AB/AC learning paradigm. Across two recall studies we observed an advantage in learning AC word pairs if AB word pairs were initially recollected. Furthermore, AB word pairs were more likely to intrude during a final AC test if those AB word pairs were initially familiarity-based. A third experiment using a recognition version of the AB/AC paradigm ruled out the possibility that our findings were due to memory strength. Our results support the idea that elements in recollective associative traces may be more discretely coded, leading to their flexible use, whereas elements in familiarity-based associative traces are less flexible.


© authors, originally published in Learning and Memory