Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Why Does Guessing Incorrectly Enhance, Rather Than Impair, Retention?

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Why Does Guessing Incorrectly Enhance, Rather Than Impair, Retention?

Article excerpt

Published online: 14 August 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract The finding that trying, and failing, to predict the upcoming to-be-remembered response to a given cue can enhance later recall of that response, relative to studying the intact cue-response pair, is surprising, especially given that the standard paradigm (e.g., Komell, Hays, & Bjork, 2009) involves allocating what would otherwise be study time to generating an error. In three experiments, we sought to eliminate two potential heuristics that participants might use to aid recall of correct responses on the final test and to explore the effects of interference both at an immediate and at a delayed test. In Experiment 1, by intermixing strongly associated to- be-remembered pairs with weakly associated pairs, we eliminated a potential heuristic participants can use on the final test in the standard version of the paradigm-namely, that really strong associates are incorrect responses. In Experiment 2, by rigging half of the participants' responses to be correct, we eliminated another potential heuristic-namely, that one's initial guesses are virtually always wrong. In Experiment 3, we examined whether participants' ability to remember-and discriminate between-their incorrect guesses and correct responses would be lost after a 48-h delay, when source memory should be reduced. Across all experiments, we continued to find a robust benefit of trying to guess to-be-1 earned responses, even when incorrect, versus studying intact cue-response pairs. The benefits of making incorrect guesses are not an artifact of the paradigm, nor are they limited to short retention intervals.

Keywords Testing * Forgetting * Generation * Errors

An abundance of research on testing and generation effects has shown that the act of retrieval is a learning event- and often a powerful learning event-in the sense that the retrieved information becomes more retrievable in the future than it would have been otherwise (see, e.g., Roediger & Karpicke, 2006). The retrieval processes triggered by testing are, therefore, opportunities for learning-a basic fact about human learning that is often not appreciated or, at least, is underappreciated, by students (see, e.g., Karpicke, Butler, & Roediger, 2009; Komell & Bjork, 2007).

Testing effects and generation effects, however, typically refer to the consequences of successful retrieval or generation. One justifiable concern about testing or generation is that what is retrieved, whether correct or incorrect, will be learned: That is, by virtue of the very power of retrieval as a learning event, it seems likely that any errors that are produced will persist. One influential school of thought, for example, inspired by Skinnerian principles of learning, has emphasized "errorless learning" procedures (Skinner, 1958; Terrace, 1963), and a number of studies have, in fact, shown that initially incorrect responses often persist on subsequent tests (e.g., Cunningham & Anderson, 1968; Elley, 1966; Kaess & Zeaman, 1960; Marsh, Roediger, Bjork, & Bjork, 2007). Additionally, gener- ating errors before being given feedback mirrors a classic A- B/A-D interference paradigm (e.g., Briggs, 1954), in which researchers have found that participants do, indeed, become more likely to output the initial "B" response as the retention interval increases.

The picture, though, is not so clear. Other studies investi- gating the effects of errors on multiple-choice tests (e.g., Butler, Marsh, Goode, & Roediger, 2006), for example, have shown no effect of generating errors, and other recent-and not so recent-findings suggest that there might, in fact, be benefits of trying to generate a correct response, even when the effort fails.

That even failed efforts to generate a to-be-remembered response might have benefits is suggested by the results of early research by Slamecka and Fevreiski (1983). Participants were presented with a list of related cue-target word pairs and were asked to say the target word aloud. …

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