Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Exploring the Characteristics of the Visuospatial Hebb Repetition Effect

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Exploring the Characteristics of the Visuospatial Hebb Repetition Effect

Article excerpt

Using the dot task (see Jones, Farrand, Stuart, & Morris, 1995)-regarded as a good visuospatial analogue of the verbal serial recall task-we examined whether the Hebb repetition effect and its characteristics can be extended to visuospatial material. Classically, the Hebb effect has been associated with serial verbal memory: Repetition of a to-be-remembered sequence of verbal items every third trial markedly improves serial recall of that sequence. In the present study, Hebb effects were observed with visuospatial information, and a direct comparison between verbal and spatial sequence learning revealed that the Hebb repetition effect for visuospatial information shares similar characteristics with its verbal analogue. Our results cast some doubt regarding the parsimony of the view that the classical verbal Hebb effect is driven by a store specialized for phonological information and impose some further constraints on modeling serial memory and implicit sequence learning.

The capacity to remember the order of events continues to be a key topic of study within experimental psychology, given that the processing of serial order is thought to underpin a wide range of cognitive functions and behaviors (e.g., Lashley, 1951). In the last 40 years or so, serial recall has been used extensively to investigate memory for order over the short term; however, the study of long-term learning of order information has received less attention. In a seminal study by Donald O. Hebb (1961), participants performed an auditory-verbal serial recall task in which one particular series of digits was repeated every third trial. Recall performance increased dramatically for the repeated sequence, in comparison with the nonrepeated sequences, although many of the participants were unaware of the repetition. This phenomenon is referred to as the Hebb repetition effect and has been classed as a form of implicit long-term learning (see, e.g., Seger, 1994).

There has been a reemergence of interest in the Hebb repetition effect with recent studies in which the mechanisms by which temporarily retained order information is translated into a more stable representation have been examined (see, e.g., Gumming, Page, & Norris, 2003). The Hebb repetition effect has been tested primarily with verbal information, such as digits or letters in both auditory (e.g., Hebb, 1961) and visual (e.g., Hitch, Fastame, & Flude, 2005) modalities. It has been suggested that long-term verbal sequence learning (including the Hebb effect) is driven by the action of the phonological loop (see, e.g., Baddeley, Gathercole, & Papagno, 1998; Burgess & Hitch, 1999; dimming et al., 2003). Our purpose is to examine the Hebb repetition effect when the critical to-be-learned information consists of a sequence of visuospatial items and to establish whether verbal and spatial sequence learning share the same characteristics.

The characteristics of short-term serial recall are well established, and evidence of similarities between verbal and spatial information is accumulating (e.g., Jones, Farrand, Stuart, & Morris, 1995; Ward, Avons, & Melling, 2005). For example, serial position curves for serial spatial memory are strikingly similar to those obtained for serial verbal memory, exhibiting both marked primacy and recency effects (e.g., Avons, 1998; Farrand & Jones, 1996; Nairne & Dutta, 1992). Similarities are also observed in the pattern of errors found with verbal and spatial serial memory: An item is most often recalled near to its correct serial position (see Smyth & Scholey, 1996). Other effects that have traditionally been associated with verbal shortterm memory (STM) occur in the spatial domain. First, the increase in the length of the to-be-remembered (TBR) list is associated with a decrease in performance (see Jones et al., 1995). second, the mere presence of a to-be-ignored item at the end of the TBR list reduces recency for verbal, as well as spatial, information (Parmentier, Tremblay, & Jones, 2004; see also Tremblay, Nicholls, Parmentier, & Jones, 2005). …

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