Memory, Aging and the Brain: A Festschrift in Honour of Lars-Göran Nilsson

By Lars Bäckman; Lars Nyberg | Go to book overview

3
Memory for actions:
How different?

Henry L. Roediger, III and Franklin M. Zaromb

In the early 1980s, several groups of researchers began research on a topic variously called action memory, the enactment effect, and the subjectperformed task effect. We take this as the topic of our chapter for several reasons. First, research by Lars-Göran Nilsson and his colleagues has played an important role in this research arena; second, Nilsson’s supervisor, Ronald L. Cohen, was one of the initiators and champions of this line of research until his early death; and third, the effect is quite interesting in its own right and is now a central topic in the field.

The study of action memory arose independently among three different groups of researchers in the early 1980s (Zimmer & Cohen, 2001). The first published report was by Engelkamp and Krumnacker (1980) from Saarland University in Germany. They had subjects listen to a series of instructions that described a series of mini-tasks that could be performed in the lab (e.g., break the toothpick, comb your hair, touch your left ear with your right hand, pick up the toy car). All subjects heard the actions described (“pick up the toy car”) with intentional learning instructions, but three different conditions were manipulated within subjects. In one condition, students simply heard the commands, in a second condition they heard them and were asked to imagine performing the action described, and in a third condition they were instructed to actually perform the action. During a later test, they were instructed to recall the actions by writing down the phrases that had been presented. The results are presented in the left panel of Figure 3.1. Recall was best after performing the action, next best after imagining performance of the action, and worst when the command had simply been heard. Engelkamp and Krumnacker referred to the superiority of recall following performance of the relevant action as the enactment effect.

At roughly the same time, Ronald Cohen (1981), then working at Glendon College, York University in Toronto, developed a similar procedure. His subjects studied four lists of action phrases either under instructions to listen to them or to perform the actions. He called the experimental condition one of using subject-performed tasks, or SPTs. His finding was perfectly consistent with that of Engelkamp and Krumnacker (1980), as subjects recalled the subject-performed tasks better than those that were merely heard (see the

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