Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

On the Importance of Looking Back: The Role of Recursive Remindings in Recency Judgments and Cued Recall

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

On the Importance of Looking Back: The Role of Recursive Remindings in Recency Judgments and Cued Recall

Article excerpt

Published online: 1 February 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Suppose that you were asked which of two movies you had most recently seen. The results of the experiments reported here suggest that your answer would be more accurate if, when viewing the later movie, you were reminded of the earlier one. In the present experiments, we investigated the role of remindings in recency judgments and cued-recall performance. We did this by presenting a list composed of two instances from each of several different categories and later asking participants to select (Exp. 1) or to recall (Exp. 2) the more recently presented instance. Reminding was manipulated by varying instructions to look back over memory of earlier instances during the presentation of later instances. As compared to a control condition, cued-recall performance revealed facilitation effects when remindings occurred and were later recollected, but interference effects in their absence. The effects of reminding on recency judgments paralleled those on cued recall of more recently presented instances. We interpret these results as showing that reminding produces a recursive representation that embeds memory for an earlier-presented category instance into that of a later-presented one and, thereby, preserves their temporal order. Large individual differences in the probabilities of remindings and of their later recollection were observed. The widespread importance of recursive reminding for theory and for applied purposes is discussed.

Keywords Recursive remindings · Recency judgments · Cued recall

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.

-So re ? Kierkegaard (1869/1996)

Although life must be lived forward, memory can serve as a source of assistance when dealing with the present and planning for the future. As an example, being reminded of a prior event by the occurrence of a later event can influence the encoding and subsequent memory of both the earlier and the later events (e.g., Wahlheim & Jacoby, 2013). However, such reminding is not likely to always be spontaneous, but instead may sometimes rely on purposeful looking back to the past. In the present article, we examine the importance of looking back for judgments of recency and for performance when participants are asked to recall the most recently presented instance of a category. For both types of task, we show that looking back, along with resultant remindings, are important for performance and can be brought under task control.

We begin by describing the importance of reminding for a variety of memory tasks, and then consider advantages of bringing remindings under task control as a means of investigating their effects. To anticipate, we show that as compared to a control condition, proactive facilitation is found in cued recall of the most recently presented instance of a category in the presence of recollection of a prior reminding, whereas proactive interference is found in its absence. In the General Discussion, we describe the widespread importance of remindings and discuss results suggestive of large individual differences in the likelihood of looking back, along with the potential importance of those individual differences.

Berntsen, Staugaard, and Sorensen (2013) provided an excellent review of research revealing spontaneous episodic remembering, and they reported results to contrast voluntary with spontaneous remembering. Spontaneous remembering was described as being faster and more dependent on stimulus control than is voluntary memory. Berntsen et al. focused on intrusive recollections such as flashbacks (see also ?. A. Anderson, Jacoby, Thomas, & Balota, 2011, and Ste-Marie & Jacoby, 1993, for research showing interfering effects of spontaneous remembering). However, spontaneous rememberin (reminding) also has beneficial effects, as in the case of its contributing to the effects of repetition. An early example of this can be seen in paired-associate learning experiments by Asch, Rescorla, and Linder, as reported by Asch (1969). …

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