Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Remembering "Primed" Words: A Counter-Intuitive Effect of Repetition on Recognition Memory

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Remembering "Primed" Words: A Counter-Intuitive Effect of Repetition on Recognition Memory

Article excerpt

Experimental psychologists have used stimulus repetition in diverse ways to understand basic principles of perception, learning, and memory. The present study focuses on a tension between two opposing influences of stimulus repetition. On the one hand, it has long been known that stimulus repetition facilitates perceptual identification (e.g., Jacoby & Dallas, 1981; Scarborough, Cortese, & Scarborough, 1977), and that multiple opportunities to encode the same stimulus lead to improved retention (e.g., R. A. Bjork & Allen, 1970; Cuddy & Jacoby, 1982). On the other hand, stimulus repetition impedes the orienting of attention; attention tends to be captured by new rather than old perceptual objects (Yantis & Jonides, 1984), and it shifts preferentially to locations and objects that have not recently been attended (Posner & Cohen, 1984).

The tension between these two well-documented influences of stimulus repetition rests in that they appear not to fit with a third well-documented principle: attention is fundamentally important to memory encoding (e.g., Craik, Govoni, Naveh-Benjamin, & Anderson, 1996). If stimulus repetition impedes attention, and if attention is fundamental to memory encoding, then it seems that stimulus repetition must hurt memory encoding. Yet this prediction runs counter to intuition-there is a general sense that remembering typically benefits from multiple opportunities to engage in memory encoding. The present study examines the relation between immediate stimulus repetition (i.e., repetition over a very short temporal interval) and memory performance. To our knowledge, no study to date has demonstrated that immediate stimulus repetition can hurt memory performance. In the present study, we describe several experiments in which this result does indeed occur-superior memory performance for a word presented once is better than for a word presented twice in rapid succession.

This result was discovered as part of a research program that examined the link between cognitive control and recognition memory. Our first study in this line of research tested the influence of selective attention at the time of encoding on recognition memory (Rosner, D'Angelo, MacLellan, & Milliken, 2015), whereas a subsequent line of research examined the influence of perceptual degradation on recognition memory (Rosner, Davis, & Milliken, 2015). In these studies, we found that items that were difficult to process at study (i.e., incongruent rather than congruent selective attention items, or blurry rather than clear items) were recognised more accurately at test. These results led us to examine whether a related result might occur with a manipulation of stimulus repetition at the time of encoding, and we report here that indeed it did. Although not originally motivated by this idea, we came to appreciate that the results of these studies are a good fit for the desirable difficulty principle introduced long ago by R. A. Bjork (1994).

The Desirable Difficulty Principle

Desirable difficulties are defined as conditions that increase encoding difficulty, but in doing so improve learning (E. L. Bjork & Bjork, 2011; R. A. Bjork, 1994). For example, completing practice tests is typically more difficult than repeated studying of to-be-learned information, but leads to better performance on a final test (Roediger & Karpicke, 2006). Varying the conditions associated with encoding, and intermixing rather than blocking encoding conditions, also increase encoding difficulty but lead to better retention. Perhaps the best example of desirable difficulty is the spacing effect. In spacing effect studies, information is studied (or learned) in either a massed condition (in which study sessions occur in close succession) or a spaced condition (in which study sessions are separated by longer amounts of time). Learning typically occurs more slowly in the spaced than massed condition, but performance on a final recall test is superior in the spaced condition. …

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