Basic and Applied Memory Research: Practical Applications - Vol. 2

By Douglas J. Herrmann; Cathy McEvoy et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THIRTEEN Answering Question Sequences: Attention Switching and Memory Organization

Paul A. Mullin Erin R. Cashman Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, DC

Holly R. Straub University of South Dakota, Vermillion, SD

Survey respondents are sometimes asked to report about various events in the past involving different activities, persons, and time periods. For example, in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Expenditure Interview Survey, respondents report the various types of expenditures that have been made by different members of their household over the past three months. Respondents often do not employ a systematic approach to such recall tasks on their own, and confusion or incomplete reports result ( Lessler, 1989). To reduce problems of this nature, a survey designer might choose to organize the recall task hierarchically so that certain event features (time, person, activity) are nested within other event features. For example, the questions might focus on one person at a time and ask about his or her participation in various activities before switching to another person and asking about that person's participation in those activities. Alternatively, they might focus on a particular activity and ask about each person of concern before switching to another activity. An important question is whether the choice of the question sequence organization affects the recall performance of the respondents.

Virtually all memory theories hold that retrieval access is an associative process, and that activated information in short-term memory renders related information more accessible (e.g., Anderson, 1983; Gillund & Shiffrin, 1984; Ratcliff & McKoon, 1988). With respect to successive question answering, this principle of associative priming implies that the information needed to answer a question will be accessed more quickly if it is closely integrated with the information used to answer the previous question. One may rea-

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