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Hock, H. S., & Hasher, L. (1990). Judgments of frequency: A tool for the analysis of memory. In J. W. Rohrbaugh, R. Parasuramen, & R. Johnson, Jr. (Eds.), Event-related brain potentials: Basic issues and applications. (pp. 158-164). New York: Oxford University Press.


Excerpt from Introduction of Chapter: Frequency of occurrence is a variable of fundamental importance in determining the amplitude and latency of psychophysiological responses. This is particularly true of event-related potentials (ERPs). The classical study of Tueting, Sutton, and Zubin (1971) showed that the magnitude of the P300 component varies inversely with the frequency of occurrence of the eliciting event. This finding has since been obtained in numerous studies and has proven to be one of the strongest relationships in ERP research. As is evident in other chapters in this volume, frequency of occurrence is a powerful determinant of a number of other ERP components as well.

More generally, the encoding of information that permits reliable knowledge of frequency of occurrence information is of fundamental importance to many psychological phenomenon. Remembering the frequency of occurrence for various objects, relations, and events enables people to make functionally important decisions about such significant problems as whom to model one's behavior after (Perry & Bussey, 1979) and whether or not to believe that an assertion is actually true (Hasher, Goldstein, & Toppino, 1977). Frequency of exposure information is also at least the partial determinant of what is liked and how much it is liked (Zajonc, 1980). It can easily be the basis for predictions about what is going to happen next, as well as the basis for acquiring and structuring category knowledge (Hasher, Zacks, 1984, pp. 1381-1383). In addition, frequency information for the constituent elements of words and patterns may contribute to pattern-analyzing operations (Kolers, 1976) that provide "fluency" in reading and pattern identification.

Given the relevance of frequency of occurrence information to research concerned with ERPs, the purpose of this chapter is to review additional ways in which studying the encoding of frequency information can be of significant methodological value. We shall make one major point: Because of certain properties of frequency judgment tasks, they are extremely useful as indices of the encoding of information presented in a series of stimuli. In the first portion of the chapter, we call attention to these properties. In the second portion, we describe several experiments that exploit the task to answer particular questions about what is encoded.

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