Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Are Forward and Backward Recall the Same? A Dual-Task Study of Digit Recall

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Are Forward and Backward Recall the Same? A Dual-Task Study of Digit Recall

Article excerpt

Published online: 22 December 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract There is some debate surrounding the cognitive resources underlying backward digit recall. Some researchers consider it to differ from forward digit recall due to the involvement of executive control, while others suggest that backward recall involves visuospatial resources. Five experiments therefore investigated the role of executive-attentional and visuospatial resources in both forward and backward digit recall. In the first, participants completed visuospatial 0-back and 2-back tasks during the encoding of information to be remembered. The concurrent tasks did not differentially disrupt performance on backward digit recall, relative to forward digit recall. Experiment 2 shifted concurrent load to the recall phase instead and, in this case, revealed a larger effect of both tasks on backward recall, relative to forwards recall, suggesting that backward recall may draw on additional resources during the recall phase and that these resources are visuospatial in nature. Experiments 3 and 4 then further investigated the role of visual processes in forward and backward recall using dynamic visual noise (DVN). In Experiment 3, DVN was presented during encoding of information to be remembered and had no effect upon performance. However, in Experiment 4, it was presented during the recall phase, and the results provided evidence of a role for visual imagery in backward digit recall. These results were replicated in Experiment 5, in which the same list length was used for forward and backward recall tasks. The findings are discussed in terms of both theoretical and practical implications.

Keywords Working memory . Short term memory

In immediate serial recall, participants are presented with series of stimuli and are asked to recall them. Direction of recall is known to be an important determinant of performance, with participants typically achieving higher scores when recalling items in their original (forward) order, relative to reverse or backward order (e.g., Li & Lewandowsky, 1995; St Clair-Thompson, 2010; but see Anderson, Bothell, Lebiere & Matessa, 1998). Studies have shown both primacy (advantage for early list items) and recency (advantage for late list items) effects for forward recall but minimal primacy and steeper recency for backward recall (e.g., Bireta, Fry, Jalbert, Neath, Suprenant, Tehan & Tolan, 2010; Li & Lewandowsky, 1995). Recall direction also interacts with the prevalence of traditional short-term memory effects, including those of word length, irrelevant speech, phonological similarity, and concurrent articulation (e.g., Bireta et al., 2010). Evidence suggests that the effects are either absent or greatly attenuated when participants are asked to recall items in reverse order (e.g., Bireta et al., 2010; Madigan, 1971; Tehan & Mills, 2007).

These studies of immediate serial recall have employed various stimuli, including letters (e.g., Li & Lewandowsky, 1995), words (e.g., Bireta et al., 2010; Tehan & Mills, 2007), and digits (e.g., Anderson et al., 1998; St Clair-Thompson, 2010). In the present study, we focus on the recall of digits, because forward and backward digit recall form an integral part of all Wechsler Intelligence Scales and the Wechsler Memory Scales (Wechsler, 1955, 1981, 1997). These are among the most commonly used measures in psychological research and clinical evaluation. However, many theoretical approaches to short-term or working memory (e.g., Baddeley, 2000) assume a domain-specific store for verbal information, including letters, words, and digits. There is no a priori reason to suspect that different patterns of findings would emerge for different types of verbal stimuli.

Several approaches have been taken to account for differences between forward and backward recall. One dominant view explains the differences in terms of attentional demands. …

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