Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

A Deeper Analysis of the Spacing Effect after "Deep" Encoding

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

A Deeper Analysis of the Spacing Effect after "Deep" Encoding

Article excerpt

Published online: 3 April 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract The most common encoding strategies used by participants in word list studies include rehearsal and using the story mnemonic. Previous studies have suggested that with a rote-rehearsal strategy, mixed lists lead people to borrow rehearsal time from massed items and to give it to spaced items. Using rehearse-aloud methodologies, we demonstrated in Experiment 1 that the borrowing effect does not occur in the story mnemonic. However, the rates of rehearsal of individual items provided a good prediction of their subsequent recall rates, with spaced items being rehearsed more often in both mixed and pure lists. In Experiment 2, we demonstrated that creating "story links" between items enhanced recall, but it did not affect the magnitude of the spacing effect. These results suggest that a massed-item deficit in encodingmay underlie the spacing effect in the story mnemonic.

Keywords Memory * Recall * Spacing effect * Mnemonics

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

The spacing effect is a robust phenomenon that refers to superior memory for repetitions that are spaced apart in time, as compared to repetitions that are massed together. Except at very short retention intervals, the spacing effect is observed in most circumstances (Cepeda, Pashler, Vul, Wixted, & Rohrer, 2006). A common approach to finding the cause of an observed phenomenon is to try to wipe the effect out with a manipulation, thus demonstrating the causal power of some factor. However, finding such a factor has proven difficult with the spacing effect, which emerges under a wide range of conditions (for reviews, see Delaney, Verkoeijen, & Spirgel, 2010; Greene, 1989, 2008).

Recent reviews have argued that the spacing effect is actually a family of effects that produce similar patterns in recall, and that trying to interpret all effects that produce better memory for spaced than for massed repetitions as instances of a single "spacing effect" is probably futile (Delaney et al., 2010; Greene, 2008). Instead of asking what causes "the" spacing effect, we should try to classify observed spacing effects into a family of similar-seeming effects. One would not say, for example, that the story mnemonic and survival processing-which both produce superior memory, as compared to free-study instructions-are both instances of "the deepening effect," and then assume that they have the same cause. However, for spacing studies, this is precisely the approach that the field has often taken.

Because of the growing consensus that the spacing effect is really several different effects caused by diverse mechanisms, recent work has sought to identify the likely causes of the spacing effect in particular circumstances. As one example of how designs may produce different mechanisms, Greene (1989) examined cued tasks like recognition and cued recall separately from free recall, using either intentional or incidental learning. He found that incidental learning eliminated the spacing effect on recognition and cued recall, but not on free recall, suggesting that different mechanisms are involved in the spacing effect in free recall and "cuedmemory" tasks. Although the situation has proved to be more complicated than Greene (1989) envisioned (Challis, 1993; Greene & Stillwell, 1995; Toppino & Bloom, 2002), there is independent evidence that different mechanisms contribute to the spacing effect in different kinds of tests (Glenberg & Smith, 1981). Further dissociations were identified in Delaney andVerkoeijen's (2009) studies, inwhich they required people either to rehearse only the item on the screen or to freely rehearse whatever came to mind. Delaney and Verkoeijen found that rehearsal borrowing enhanced the spacing effect on mixed lists but reduced it on pure lists. Allowing people to rehearse only the currently visible item produced similar spacing effects on both pure and mixed lists. …

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