Semantic Organization of Study Materials Has Opposite Effects on Recognition and Recall

Article excerpt

It has been well established for several decades that semantic organization of study materials greatly enhances recall by facilitating access to information during retrieval. However, the effect of organization on recognition, and its relationship to the effect on recall, is in doubt. We report the first direct comparison of the effects of categorically organizing study lists on recognition, cued recall, and free recall. We found that whereas organization improved recall, it impaired recognition. Organization had a larger effect on free recall than on cued recall. Within the categorized lists, recall was superior for items highly associated with the category; the opposite was true of recognition. In recall, organization improved the proportion of categories recalled, but it lowered the proportion of items per category recalled. A simple framework for interpreting the dissociation is offered. Possible mechanisms underlying the detrimental effect of organization on memory and prospects for future research are briefly discussed.

It is well documented that semantic organization of study materials greatly enhances recall. Participants recall a list grouped into categories better than the same list randomly ordered, and recall of an item in a category increases according to its association with the category (Cofer, Bruce, & Reicher, 1966). In free recall, participants tend to cluster their responses categorically (Cofer et al., 1966; Cohen, 1963). In cued recall, presenting a category label greatly enhances memory for a categorized list (Tulving & Pearlstone, 1966). It seems likely that organization facilitates recall because it facilitates access to information during retrieval by providing a potent, easily accessible cue and an easily implemented, effective retrieval strategy (Mandler, 1972; Tulving & Pearlstone, 1966).

Although it is well established that semantic organization aids recall, the effect of organization on recognition has been much more difficult to ascertain. There are reports that organization has no effect on recognition (Bruce & Pagan, 1970; Kintsch, 1968), that organization facilitates recognition (Connor, 1977; D'Agostino, 1969; Mandler, 1972; Neely & Balota, 1981), and that organization impairs recognition (Hintzman, 1988; Shiffrin, Huber, & Marinelli, 1995). This divergence of results is undoubtedly due to the substantial variations in procedural methods across studies. Nevertheless, much of the recent work on this problem constitutes a methodologically cohesive body of work that clearly suggests that semantic organization can impair recognition. This work points to a need to revisit the classic problem of the differential effect of organization on recognition and recall originally posed by Kintsch (1968). However, the discrepancies in the previous work must be borne in mind throughout. Our hypothesis is not that organization impairs recognition under any and all circumstances, but rather that organization can impair recognition under a broad range of circumstances, and that it can impair recognition under the same conditions in which it aids recall.

Many of the more recent studies on recognition have employed a similar methodology. These studies manipulated organization by varying the number of items per category, and employed an orientation task to constrain the participants' processing of stimuli during encoding. For instance, Hintzman (1988) varied the number of items per category in a randomly ordered list of constant length. He observed that, as the number of items per category increased, both the false alarm rate and the hit rate increased. However, the increase in the false alarm rate greatly outpaced the increase in the hit rate, resulting in an overall decline in recognition performance. He successfully accounted for his results with a global matching model (see also Shifihn et al., 1995). Similar results have been obtained by Shiffrin et al. (1995) and Dewhurst (2001) using word lists, and by Koutstaal and Schacter (1997) using pictures (see also Criss & Shiffrin, 2004). …