Verbal Behavior and Learning: Problems and Processes: Proceedings

By Charles N. Cofer; Barbara S. Musgrave | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
IMMEDIATE MEMORY: DATA AND THEORY1

Lloyd R. Peterson INDIANA UNIVERSITY

It is the aim of this paper to suggest some relationships between immediate memory and learning experiments. An approach will be sketched which starts with generalizations based on behavioral evidence from simple verbal situations. These principles will then be combined in an attempt to account for certain aspects of more complex verbal learning phenomena. The approach will be found to make use of concepts already present in contemporary analyses of learning. Thus learning will have provided a way of looking at immediate memory, and it is hoped that this approach will in turn contribute to the understanding of traditional learning problems.


DECAY THEORY

The initial point to be made about immediate memory is that the term is not in its literal sense descriptive of the experimental operations by which it is measured. When a series of digits, letters, or words is presented and then tested for recall without any appreciable lapse of time, it is only the last item in the series that has occurred immediately before the test. If the instructions specify that recall is to be attempted in order of presentation, then the test is not immediate even for that last item. This consideration has led to interpretation of memory span in terms of a trace decay theory. Stimulation sets up some kind of memory trace in the nervous system which decays rapidly over a short period of time. As the series of items presented is lengthened, the time interval between presentation and recall of the individual members becomes longer. As a result the trace becomes weaker, and probability of correct recall decreases.

Empirical evidence that retention functions change over intervals measured in seconds is not lacking. The negative time error related to

____________________
1
The author has been supported in his investigations of short-term retention by grants G-2596 and G-12917 from the National Science Foundation.

-336-

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