Distance-dependent memory for pictures and words

Elinor Amit*, So Yon Rim, Georg Halbeisen, Uriel Cohen Priva, Elena Stephan, Yaacov Trope

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Three experiments explored the effect of medium of presentation (pictures, words) and psychological distance (proximal, distal) on episodic memory. In particular, we predicted that memory would be better for congruent combinations of medium and distance (i.e., pictures of psychologically proximal entities and verbal labels of psychologically distal entities) than incongruent combinations (i.e., pictures of psychologically distal entities and verbal labels of psychologically proximal entities). Our results support this hypothesis. In Experiments 1 and 2, recall was better when medium and temporal distance were congruent than not. In Experiment 3 people recognition was better when medium and spatial distance were congruent than not. These findings suggest that the decay of memory for details over time is a specific case of a broader principle that governs our memory system and is based on psychological distance between the individual and the target entity. More broadly, these results speak to the growing literature, which suggests that one of the major roles of memory is prospection. Within this framing, our findings suggest that the memory system serves prospection using qualitatively different information processing devices, depending on the psychological distance of the target from the individual.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-130
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Memory
  • Pictures
  • Psychological distance
  • Words


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