Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Remembering 'Primed' Words: The Effect of Prime Encoding Demands

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Remembering 'Primed' Words: The Effect of Prime Encoding Demands

Article excerpt

Increases in processing difficulty at study often improve memory on later tests. A variety of such findings have been reported, and collectively they comprise the desirable difficulty principle (R. A. Bjork, 1994). E. L. Bjork and Bjork (2011) discuss four such findings. The spacing effect occurs when massing practice or study sessions within a short period produces poorer long-term retention compared to shorter study sessions distributed over a longer period (Ebbinghaus, 1913; see also Mammarella, Russo, & Avons, 2002; Toppino & Bloom, 2002). The interleaving effect refers to improved memory performance when learners study topics or practice tasks in an interleaved fashion rather than a blocked fashion (Shea & Morgan, 1979). Blocked learning often gives the appearance of better learning when short-term retention is tested, but such short-term gains are often reversed when retention is tested after a longer interval. Finally, the generation effect refers to improved retention when participants must generate a study item using a cue (e.g., the first two letters, or an anagram) rather than simply reading the study item (Jacoby, 1978; Landauer & Bjork, 1978). This effect may also relate to the testing effect, whereby testing memory for studied material produces better retention than additional study opportunities (Goldstein, 2011; Roediger & Butler, 2011). These effects fit with the general principle that difficult processing at encoding, retrieval, or both results in improved long-term retention.

Desirable Disfluency

Bjork (1994) coined the desirable difficulty principle to capture the association between difficulties in cognitive processing and improved retention. In addition to these classic effects, many recent studies also point to an association between perceptual processing difficulties and improved long-term retention. Diemand-Yauman, Oppenheimer, and Vaughan (2011) demonstrated improved memory for information presented in hard-to-read fonts compared to an unmodified font. Nairne (1988) reported what may be a related effect that involved visual masking. During an initial phase of the experiment, participants identified words presented briefly, either unmasked or pattern masked. Performance on a subsequent surprise recognition test was better for the masked than for the unmasked items (see also Hirshman & Mulligan, 1991). In another example, Rosner, Davis, and Milliken (2015) reported superior recognition memory for words presented in a blurry font than for words presented in a clear font at the time of study (but see Rosner, Davis, et al., 2015, and Yue, Castel, & Bjork, 2013 for limiting conditions of this effect). Finally, Rosner, D'Angelo, MacLellan, and Milliken (2015) tested recognition memory for target words paired with interleaved distractor words. Recognition was superior for incongruent targets (i.e., a red target word interleaved with a different green distractor word) than for congruent targets (i.e., a red target word interleaved with the same word in green). Together, these results imply that perceptual difficulties can enhance encoding and retention in a manner that is broadly consistent with E. L. Bjork and Bjork's (2011) desirable difficulty principle.

Of most direct relevance to the present study, Rosner, LópezBenítez, D'Angelo, Thomson, and Milliken (2017) followed up on the selective attention study described above by offsetting the target and distractor items in time. That is, rather than a target and distractor presented simultaneously, participants first viewed a single green prime word followed by a single red target word, with the task being to name only the red target word. The key issue addressed in this study was whether repetition affected recognition in the same way as congruency. Indeed, recognition memory was better for not-repeated targets than for repeated targets just as it was better for incongruent than congruent items in the prior study (Rosner, D'Angelo, et al. …

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