The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
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Theories of false memories, particularly in the Deese–Roediger–McDermott (DRM) paradigm, focus on word association strength and gist. Backward associative strength (BAS) is a strong predictor of false recall in this paradigm. However, other than being defined as a measure of association between studied list words and falsely recalled nonpresented critical words, there is little understanding of this variable. In Experiment 1, we used a knowledge-type taxonomy to classify the semantic relations in DRM stimuli. These knowledge types predicted false-recall probability, as well as BAS itself, with the most important being situation features, synonyms, and taxonomic relations. In three subsequent experiments, we demonstrated that lists composed solely of situation features can elicit a gist and produce false memories, particularly when monitoring processes are made more difficult. Our results identify the semantic factors that underlie BAS and suggest how considering semantic relations leads to a better understanding of gist formation.