Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Serial Position Effects in Short-Term Visual Memory: A SIMPLE Explanation?

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Serial Position Effects in Short-Term Visual Memory: A SIMPLE Explanation?

Article excerpt

A version of Sternberg's (1966) short-term visual memory recognition paradigm with pictures of unfamiliar faces as stimuli was used in three experiments to assess the applicability of the distinctiveness-based SIMPLE model proposed by Brown, Neath, and Chater (2002). Initial simulations indicated that the amount of recency predicted increased as the parameter measuring the psychological distinctiveness of the stimulus material (c) increased and that the amount of primacy was dependent on the extent of proactive interference from previously presented stimuli. The data from Experiment 1, in which memory lists of four and five faces varying in visual similarity were used, confirmed the predicted extended recency effect. However, changes in visual similarity were not found to produce changes in c. In Experiments 2 and 3, the conditions that influence the magnitude of c were explored. These revealed that both the familiarity of the stimulus class before testing and changes in familiarity, due to perceptual learning, influenced distinctiveness, as indexed by the parameter c. Overall, the empirical data from all three experiments were well fit by SIMPLE.

The vast majority of investigations of serial memory have been conducted within the verbal domain. These have shown familiar bow-shaped serial position functions, using a variety of paradigms, including probed recall (Avons, Wright, & Pammer, 1994; Nairne, Whiteman, & Woessner, 1995) and serial reconstruction (Nairne, Riegler, & Serra, 1991). Similar results arise if the stimulus materials are familiar pictures that can be verbally encoded (e.g., Manning & Schreier, 1988). The shape of the serial position curve and the error transposition patterns, however, are not a consequence of employing materials capable of being verbally encoded. Recent research has shown that serial reconstruction tasks in which random matrices (e.g., Avons, 1998) and unfamiliar faces accompanied by verbal suppression (Smyth, Hay, Hitch, & Horton, 2005) are used yield similarly shaped bow-shaped curves and similar transposition error patterns.

In contrast, when memory for visual stimuli is examined using probed recognition, the typical finding is not of a bow-shaped serial position curve but of one with no primacy and only last-item recency. Phillips and Christie (1977) first demonstrated this nonstandard serial position curve, using a range of paradigms, and this finding has been replicated with a variety of materials and methods (e.g., Avons, 1980, 1998; Broadbent & Broadbent, 1981; Hanna & Loftus, 1993; Kerr, Avons, & Ward, 1999; Korsnes, Magnussen, & Reinvang, 1996; Walker, Hitch, & Duroe, 1993; Ward, Avons, & Melling, 2005).

Two different forms of models have been proposed to explain the results from tasks investigating the probed recognition of visual stimuli. One is a domain-specific explanation first proposed by Phillips and Christie ( 1977), which postulates two distinct forms of visual memory representation. The first component is a newly generated internal representation, which Phillips and Christie termed a stable long-term visual memory. The second is a representation held in a fragile short-term visual memory (STVM) store with a capacity limited to a single item. In this model, attention is allocated to each presented item in turn. Each item is maintained by a process of visualization in STVM, and this is used to derive the internal representation. With presentation of the next stimulus, attention is switched to encoding that pattern. Recognition is superior for the pattern being maintained in the limited capacity STVM, thus explaining the superior last-item performance, and is poorer for items held in the long-term store. This model predicts single-item recency for all forms of novel visual material that cannot be verbally encoded.

An alternative, domain-independent interpretation of the serial position effects observed with visual stimuli was presented by Neath (1993), who invoked the concept of distinctiveness as the explanatory factor. …

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