Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Exploring the Repetition Paradox: The Effects of Learning Context and Massed Repetition on Memory

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Exploring the Repetition Paradox: The Effects of Learning Context and Massed Repetition on Memory

Article excerpt

Published online: 6 December 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Although repetition is generally assumed to enhance the accessibility of memory for rehearsed material, recent research has suggested that prolonged repetition might actually be detrimental under some conditions. In the present work, we manipulated repetition duration and learning condition (intentional vs. incidental) in an effort to clarify the relationship between repetition and memory. Replicating previous findings, memory for repeated items declined with increased repetition under incidental-learning conditions. However, increased repetition had the opposite effect under intentional-learning conditions. Taken together, these results provide evidence for distinctive mechanisms of memory acquisition during repetition that vary depending on learning context.

Keywords Priming · Incidental vs. intentional learning · Cued recall · Massed repetition

For over a century, repetition has been regarded as an impor- tant precursor to learning new material, fostering memory encoding and successful retrieval (Ebbinghaus, 1885/1913). An example of this comes from the repetition-priming litera- ture, which has shown that merely repeating a stimulus has widespread beneficial effects, such as faster lexical decision times (Scarborough, Gerard, & Cortese, 1979), more accurate object identification (Jacoby & Dallas, 1981), and enhanced implicit memory in amnesic patients (Cave & Squire, 1992; Jacoby & Witherspoon, 1982; Shimamura & Squire, 1984).

Although continual repetition usually eventuates in dimin- ished returns (Chen & Squire, 1990; Miller, 1978), repetition rarely leads to poorer recall. One example is the phenomenon of semantic satiation, in which prolonged exposure to a word invokes a subjective feeling of "loss of meaning," and reduces the word's accessibility in semantic tasks (Balota & Black, 1997; Black, 2001). In one of the first reliable measures of this effect, Smith (1984) asked participants to repeat a category name aloud for 3 or 30 s before viewing a target that was to be classified as a member or not a member of the repeated category. Surprisingly, response times were significantly longer when the category was repeated for 30 s, as compared to only 3 s.

Inspired by semantic-satiation research, Kuhl and Anderson (2011) recently investigated the effects of repetition on short- and long-term memory. Participants were first presented with a series of words to be repeated aloud for 5, 10, 20, or 40 s. The participants then completed an ostensibly unrelated cued-recall task. In results reminiscent of those from semantic-satiation studies, participants who repeated the words for 5 or 10 s were significantly more likely to use them in the recall task, relative to chance level (no repetition). However, words repeated for 20 or 40 s were reported no more often than chance level. Kuhl and Anderson termed this decline in performance with prolonged rehearsal the massed repetition decrement.

Although Kuhl and Anderson's(2011) findings might ini- tially appear to clash with much of the previous memory literature, the source of this discontinuity may stem from the nature of learning in their paradigm. Specifically, word learn- ing in their design was entirely incidental in nature, rather than intentional. Intentional learning offers several potential advan- tages over incidental learning, including the opportunity to use memorization strategies (Eagle & Leiter, 1964) and increased ability to employ deeper levels of information encoding (Craik & Lockhart, 1972). These critical differences may play a key role in determining whether prolonged repetition benefits or impairs later memory. Our chief aim was to examine this possibility.

An additional goal of our work was to clarify the impact of prolonged repetition on recall. Although Kuhl and Anderson (2011) clearly demonstrated that priming effects faded to approximately chance levels after 40 s of repetition, it is unclear whether additional repetition might actually drive performance below chance level. …

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