Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Time, Space, and Memory for Order

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Time, Space, and Memory for Order

Article excerpt

Published online: 20 March 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Information about the order of items in a sequence can be conveyed either spatially or temporally. In the present investigation, we examined whether these different modes of presentation map onto compatible mental representations of serial order. We examined this issue in three immediate serial-recall experiments, in which participants recalled lists of letters in the temporal order in which they had appeared. Each letter in a to-be-remembered sequence was presented in a unique spatial position, with the order of these spatial positions progressing from either left to right or right to left. In this way, the visually presented lists contained both temporal and spatial order information. Recall of the temporal order information was more accurate with congruent spatial order information-that is, when the letters progressed from left to right, following the typical reading direction of English-than when the spatial order information was incongruent. These results suggest compatible representations of serial order when sequences are conveyed spatially and temporally.

Keywords Serial order · Temporal processing · Spatial processing · Immediate serial recall

Information about the order of items in a sequence can be conveyed either spatially or temporally. A comic strip read in the paper and a cartoon watched on television may convey the same order of events, but the former relies on spatial information, whereas the latter relies on temporal information. Some evidence suggests that themental frameworks for representing temporal and spatial order enjoy a natural compatibility. When participants have to remember both spatial and temporal information about a short sequence of items, they respond more quickly and accurately when those two dimensions convey similar order information then when they do not (see, e.g., Dutta & Nairne, 1993; Hitch, 1974). In a similar vein, when participants are asked to make a judgment about an item in temporally presented list, they respond more quickly with their lefthand when making judgments about items that appeared toward the beginning, and more quickly with their right hand for items presented toward the end (Previtali, de Hevia, & Girelli, 2010; van Dijck & Fias, 2011). These correspondence effects are all consistent with a view in which the representation of location in space (leftvs. right, top vs. bottom) is compatibly represented, and thus interchangeable with, representation of temporal order information.

However, none of these results provide clear-cut evidence for this compatible-representation view. Spatial-temporal congruence effects have primarily been reported in tasks in which participants only had to retrieve a single item; such tasks do not clearly tap into the processes required for recall of order. Furthermore, these congruence effects are clearest in tasks that require both temporal and spatial information.When one of these dimensions is irrelevant for the task, congruence effects are reduced (Previtali et al., 2010) or undetectable (Dutta & Nairne, 1993).

In the present study, we investigated whether spatially conveyed order information influences responses in a task that depends only on temporal order processing-that is, immediate serial recall (ISR) of a list of visually presented letters. In this task, letters can be presented in unique spatial positions. If the spatial positions lie on a horizontal axis, for readers of English, they convey order information, with the leftmost item corresponding to the beginning of the sequence, and the rightmost item corresponding to the end. This spatial order information can be either congruent with the temporal order information-when the sequence progresses fromleftto right-or incongruent-when the sequence progresses from right to left. This spatial order information is irrelevant for ISR. However, if compatible order representations are generated for spatially and temporally presented sequences, recall of temporal order should be better with congruent spatial order information. …

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