Visual short-term recognition memory for multiple stimuli is strongly influenced by the study items' similarity to one another-that is, by their homogeneity. However, the mechanism responsible for this homogeneity effect has remained unclear. We evaluated competing explanations of this effect, using controlled sets of Gabor patches as study items and probe stimuli. Our results, based on recognition memory for spatial frequency, rule out the possibility that the homogeneity effect arises because similar study items are encoded and/or maintained with higher fidelity in memory than dissimilar study items are. Instead, our results support the hypothesis that the homogeneity effect reflects trial-by-trial comparisons of study items, which generate a homogeneity signal. This homogeneity signal modulates recognition performance through an adjustment of the subject's decision criterion. Additionally, it seems the homogeneity signal is computed prior to the presentation of the probe stimulus, by evaluating the familiarity of each new stimulus with respect to the items already in memory. This suggests that recognition-like processes operate not only on the probe stimulus, but on study items as well. © 2010 The Psychonomic Society, Inc.