Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Generation Effect: A Meta-Analytic Review

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Generation Effect: A Meta-Analytic Review

Article excerpt

The generation effect refers to the finding that subjects who generate information (e.g., produce synonyms) remember the information better than they do material that they simply read. Meta-analytic techniques were used to summarize 445 effect sizes over 86 studies, thereby assessing the magnitude and 11 potential moderators of the generation effect. The size of the generation effect across the 86 studies was .40-a benefit of almost half a standard deviation of generation over reading. The variability of the effect size due to moderator type was substantial, and we attempted to use this information to clarify several theories that have been proposed to explain the generation effect.

The generation effect is the experimental finding that when a subject is asked to generate all or part of a stimulus item, that item is almost always remembered better than material the subject only read (Jacoby, 1978; Slamecka & Graf, 1978). The proportion of the number of previously generated items to the previously read items that were remembered constitutes the size of the generation effect. Over the last 20-plus years, a substantial body of research has evolved around this seemingly simple cognitive task. Nevertheless, controversy still exists over many of the particulars of the generation effect, including its true magnitude (see, e.g., J. C. Brown, Niinikoski, & Duke, 1993; Toth & Hunt, 1990), the underlying cognitive processes that are responsible for it (e.g., Fiedler, Lachnit, Fay, & Krug, 1992; Gardiner, Gregg, & Hampton, 1988), the exact experimental conditions that are required to produce it (e.g., Nairne, Riegler, & Serra, 1991), the influences that moderate its size (e.g., Peynircioglu & Mungan, 1993; Reardon, Durso, Foley, & McGahan, 1987), and even the conjecture as to whether it is real or merely an experimental design artifact (e.g., Slamecka & Katsaiti, 1987). Using the techniques of meta-analysis, the goal of the present article is to address two of these questions: the true population magnitude of the generation effect and the degree to which suggested moderator variables influence the size of the effect.

The basic generation effect paradigm involves the presentation of some type of paired-associates list to subjects. Nonsense word pairs, number and letter bigrams, word lists, and mathematical equations are some of the most common examples. Half the pairs are provided intact by the experimenter, and the subject is instructed to simply read the pair (e.g., cold, hot). For the remaining items, the subjects are presented with the first half of the pair intact (COLD, ___) and they are also provided with a rule that they must use to generate the second half of the pah· (e.g., creation of synonyms, rhymes, or various category generation rules). Variations of this paradigm include presenting complete sentences whose last word is either read or generated (e.g., Peynircioglu & Mungan, 1993); reading or completing multiplication (e.g., Pesta, Sanders, & Nemec, 1996) or addition (e.g., McNamara & Healy, 2000); and providing anagrams whose solutions are intact or jumbled (e.g., Gardiner, Dawson, & Sutton, 1989).

Tests of recognition, cued recall, or free recall for the read and/or generated stimuli are conducted following the learning trials. The retention tests are scored as the proportion of generated and the proportion of read items correctly remembered out of the total tested. When the difference score is calculated (generate minus read), the resultant number indicates the memory benefits (in percentage terms) that self-generation of material had during the study phase.

Part of the difficulty in explaining the cognitive processes involved in the generation effect stems from the varied and sometimes conflicting results obtained in primary studies. For example, Fiedler et al. (1992, Experiment 1) found that the effect was larger when the subjects were required to generate more of the target word (i. …

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