Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

When and Why Do Retrieval Attempts Enhance Subsequent Encoding?

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

When and Why Do Retrieval Attempts Enhance Subsequent Encoding?

Article excerpt

Abstract Unsuccessful retrieval attempts can enhance subsequent encoding and learning. In three experiments, subjects either attempted to retrieve word pairs prior to studying them (e.g., attempting to recall tide-? before studying tide-beach) or did not attempt retrieval and retention of the studied targets was assessed on a subsequent cued recall test. Experiment 1 showed that attempting retrieval enhanced subsequent encoding and recall relative to not attempting retrieval when the word pairs were semantically related, but not when the pairs were unrelated. In Experiment 2, studying a different word pair prior to the correct pair (e.g., studying tide-wave prior to tide-beach) did not produce the same effect as attempting retrieval prior to studying. Constraining retrieval to a particular candidate word prior to study (e.g., recalling tide-wa__ before studying tide-beach) produced a negative effect on subsequent recall. Experiment 3 showed that attempting retrieval did not enhance encoding when a brief delay occurred between the retrieval attempt and the subsequent study trial. The results support the idea that a search set of candidates related to the retrieval cue is activated during retrieval and that this retrieval-specific activation can enhance subsequent encoding of those candidates.

Keywords Memory . Semanticmemory. Retrieval processes

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

Retrieving knowledge is not a neutral event: Every act of retrieval modifies the state of memory (Bjork, 1975). Most research on the mnemonic effects of retrieval has focused on the effects of successful retrieval, and this research has consistently shown that repeated retrieval directly enhances the subsequent retrievability of knowledge (e.g., Karpicke & Blunt, 2011; Karpicke & Roediger, 2007, 2008; Pyc & Rawson, 2009). In addition, other research has suggested that unsuccessful retrieval attempts can enhance learning by improving the encoding of unrecalled items during subsequent study trials (e.g., Izawa, 1970; Karpicke, 2009; Karpicke & Roediger, 2007; Kornell, Hays, & Bjork, 2009; Pastötter, Schicker, Niedernhuber, & Bäuml, 2011; Richland, Kornell, & Kao, 2009; Slamecka & Fevreiski, 1983; Wissman, Rawson, & Pyc, 2011). This article explores the circumstances under which unsuccessful retrieval attempts improve subsequent encoding and enhance learning.

Recently, Kornell et al. (2009) revived a paradigm originally developed by Slamecka and Fevreiski (1983) to examine the effects of failed retrieval attempts on subsequent encoding. In this procedure, subjects learned weakly associated word pairs (e.g., tide-beach). Some items were "pretested" immediately before each study trial, while others were only studied. For pretested items, subjects were given the cue word and told to guess the target word (tide-?) immediately prior to studying the target (tide- beach). Because the target words were weakly related to the cues, subjects almost always failed to guess the correct target word and typically produced a different related word (e.g., wave). Thus, the procedure was designed to ensure high rates of retrieval failure prior to the encoding of the correct target. On a final cued recall test, subjects recalled a greater proportion of the pretested items than of the studied items. Therefore, the failed retrieval attempts seemed to have enhanced the subsequent encoding of the pretested items.

Kornell et al. (2009) mentioned three theoretical ideas, which we have elaborated and defined here, that might explain why failed retrieval attempts would enhance subsequent encoding. According to the first theory, which we refer to as a search set theory, the presentation of a cue on the pretest (tide-?) initiates a search process wherein related candidates become activated. The activation of candidates during retrieval enhances the encoding of those candidates when they are subsequently presented as target words to study (tide-beach). …

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