Gist and Verbatim in Narrative Memory


A major concern regarding the study of narratives regards how they are indexed and retrieved. This is a question which touches on the structure of human memory in general. Indeed, if narratives capture the substance of human thought, then data that we have already collected regarding human memory is of central importance to the computational study of narrative. Fuzzy Trace Theory assumes that memory for narrative is simultaneously stored at multiple levels of abstraction and, whenever possible, decision-makers interpret a stimulus qualitatively and therefore operate on a simple - typically categorical - “gist” representation. Here, we present a computational model of Fuzzy Trace Theory applied to explain the impact of changes in a narrative upon risky-choice framing effects. Overall, our theory predicts the outcome of 20 experimental effects using only three basic assumptions: 1) preference for lowest level of gist, that is, categorical processing; 2) decision options that fall within the same categorical description are then interpreted using finer-grained (ordinal or verbatim) distinctions; and 3) once the options are mentally represented, decision preferences are generated on the basis of simple positive vs. negative valences stored in long-term memory (e.g., positive value for human lives). A fourth assumption - that negatively-valenced decision options are preferentially converted to positive decision options - is used when categories are not otherwise comparable.

2013 Workshop on Computational Models of Narrative