Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Immediate Serial Recall, Word Frequency, Item Identity and Item Position

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Immediate Serial Recall, Word Frequency, Item Identity and Item Position

Article excerpt

Immediate Serial Recall, Word Frequency, Item Identity and Item Position

MARIE POIRIER and JEAN SAINT - AUBIN, Universite Laval

Abstract Eighteen subjects completed an immediate serial recall task, where the to - be - recalled lists consisted of either high, medium, or low - frequency items. Moreover, lists were either phonologically similar or distinct. Results showed that increasing frequency enhanced item information recall but had no effect on order recall. Conversely, increasing phonological similarity had a detrimental effect on order recall but no significant effect on item recall. It is argued that both effects reflect retrieval processes where degraded representations are reconstructed on the basis of long - term knowledge: Low - frequency words have reduced accessibility, lowering the probability of correct reconstruction, and phonologically similar items are more easily confused with other recall candidates.

In immediate serial recall (ISR), subjects must recall a short list of items immediately after their presentation. It is now well established that lists of high - frequency words produce better performance than lists of low - frequency words (Engle, Nations, & Cantor, 1990; Gregg, Freedman, & Smith, 1989; Kausler & Pucket, 1979; Roodenrys, Hulme, Alban, Ellis, & Brown, 1994; Watkins, 1977; Watkins & Watkins, 1977). The aim of the work reported here was to answer a further question: Does frequency enhance memory for an item's occurrence, memory for an item's position within a list, or both (Whiteman, Nairne, & Serra, 1994)?

Recent theoretical proposals can be seen as arguing either way. For example, Roodenrys et al. (1994) proposed a two - stage view of frequency effects, where partially degraded traces are retrieved from a phonological short - term store and are then subjected to a "deblurring" or pattern completion process. They suggest that this process depends on long - term representations, and that high - frequency words are better recalled because of their greater accessibility. In other words, frequency affects the probability of a successful deblurring attempt. A similar account of lexicality effects in ISR has been proposed (Hulme, Maughan, & Brown, 1991; Schweickert, 1993), and it has also been usefully applied to the semantic category advantage (Poirier & Saint - Aubin, 1995). This type of proposal predicts an effect of frequency on item identity (Poirier & Saint - Aubin, 1995; see also Estes, 1991). All else being equal, the probability of successful deblurring will be greater for high - frequency items, leading to better item identity recall. The main objective of the experiment reported here was to test this prediction.

In contrast to accounts emphasizing item information, a number of proposals attribute the frequency advantage to better order information encoding, the hypothesis being that high - frequency lists entail stronger inter - item links (Deese, 1960; Sumby, 1963; Whiteman et al., 1994). Notably, Lewandowsky and Murdock (1989) successfully applied the Theory of Distributed Associative Memory to frequency effects in ISR by assuming that higher frequency lists produced stronger inter - item associations.

A relevant empirical test of this class of proposals was recently conducted by Whiteman et al. (1994). They examined the effect of word frequency on a reconstruction task. After list presentation, subjects were provided with the items in a new random order and asked to reconstruct the original presentation sequence. It follows that the task is mainly one of order information recall (Whiteman et al., 1994). Based on the hypothesis that high - frequency enhances order memory, superior performance is expected in the high - frequency condition. The Whiteman et al. (1994) results did not support this prediction: Word frequency did not influence performance. However, the reconstruction task used by Whiteman et al. …

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