Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Mnemonic Effects of Recall on Immediate Retention

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Mnemonic Effects of Recall on Immediate Retention

Article excerpt

In three experiments, we investigated the mnemonic effects of an initial recall on later recall in an immediate memory setting. Recall is generally assumed to interfere with the recall of subsequent items (output interference), but previous experiments have failed to control for the confounding effects of time. In the experiments reported here, the passage of time was held constant on all trials; what varied was whether an additional item was recalled (or simply presented) during the retention interval. The results revealed clear evidence of recall's mnemonic effects, but output interference seemed strongest when the initial recall was of an item that followed the target item in the memory list. When participants initially recalled an item immediately preceding the target, target recall improved. This pattern of results places constraints on current models of immediate retention.

The act of recall can be either self-propagating or self-limiting (Roediger, 1978). In free recall, recalling one item often facilitates the recall of another, particularly if those items are related along a conceptual or temporal dimension (Deese, 1959; Kahana, 1996). Recalled items potentially serve as cues for retrieving additional items; this, in turn, enables the recall process to self-propagate (see Raaijmakers & Shiffrin, 1981). Yet recall can be an important source of forgetting as well. The recall process takes time, which increases the effective retention interval for unrecalled items, and unrecalled items can be actively inhibited as a consequence of earlier retrievals (see Anderson, 2003; Bjork, 1989).

The self-limiting qualities of recall are particularly apparent in immediate serial recall, a task that requires events to be recalled in sequence. One of the signature characteristics of immediate serial recall is primacy: Beginning items are recalled best, even though early list items are susceptible to interference from later items during presentation (see Murdock, 1968). Various accounts of the primacy gradient have been proposed (e.g., early items receive a richer or stronger encoding; Farrell & Lewandowsky, 2002; Page & Morris, 1998), but the interference arising directly from output-so-called output interference-is widely assumed to play a significant role (see Nairne, 1990; Oberauer, 2003).

Evidence for output interference in immediate retention comes from several sources: First, when only a single item is tested on a given trial, either through probed recall or recognition, one typically finds large recency effects and substantially reduced primacy (Sternberg, 1969; Waugh & Norman, 1965). Similar patterns are found for backward recall: Items recalled early, in this case the recency items, are recalled best, and few or no primacy effects are often found (Madigan, 1971; Thomas, Milner, & Haberlandt, 2003). Finally, when list items are tested in random order after list presentation, or when participants are cued to begin recall at various points in the list, performance generally declines as a function of the item's position in the testing sequence (Cowan, Saults, Elliott, & Moreno, 2002; Oberauer, 2003; Tulving & Arbuckle, 1963).

Defined in terms of testing position, the evidence for output interference is clear and unequivocal. However, in each of the relevant experiments conducted to date, testing position has been confounded with the passage of time. Items tested (or output) late in a sequence, by definition, suffer from a longer effective retention interval than those tested (or output) early. Although time per se may not control performance in most immediate recall settings (Lewandowsky, Duncan, & Brown, 2004; Nairne, 2002), events occurring in time can certainly play a significant role. To attribute output interference to the recall process itself, as opposed to decay or some other form of interpolated interference, requires an unconfounding of time and output position (Cowan et al. …

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