Event Memory. The Temporal Organization of Social Action Sequences

Robert S. Wyer*, Edward J. Shoben, Robert W. Fuhrman, Galen V. Bodenhausen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


We used comparative judgment procedures in two experiments to investigate the cognitive processes that mediate people's reconstruction of the social events they read about. Subjects in Experiment 1 read a passage describing a series of behaviors manifested by a person in three situations. Subsequently, they were given pairs of these actions and were asked to judge either which action occurred sooner or which occurred later. These judgments were (a) faster when the behaviors being compared occurred near the middle of the situation to which they pertained than when they occurred near either the beginning or the end, (b) faster when the three situations were unrelated to one another than when they were thematically related, and (c) faster when the behaviors being compared occurred in different situations than when they occurred in the same situation. Actions were compared more quickly if they were far apart in the overall series presented than if they were close together, replicating the symbolic temporal distance effects obtained when scripted actions are judged on the basis of general knowledge. However, a semantic congruity effect (a tendency for actions near the beginning of the series to be discriminated more quickly when subjects are asked which comes sooner, but for actions near the end to be discriminated more quickly when subjects are asked which comes later) was not evident. In Experiment 2, subjects read a passage about a person's visit to a restaurant in which both generic actions (e.g., ordering the meal) and particularized actions (e.g., salting the fries) were described. Symbolic distance had a greater effect on judgments of particularized actions than on judgments of generic actions. Congruity effects were found only for judgments of generic actions. To account for these effects, a model of temporal order judgments is proposed that considers both the manner in which situation-specific actions are encoded into memory at the time they are learned and the process of comparing the actions at the time they are judged.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)857-877
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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