Testing Theory I: A Close Look at the Methods and Logic Used in Evaluating a Theory of Short-Term Memory Search
A good theory makes many testable predictions, which in turn prompt many experimental tests of the theory. Saul Sternberg ( 1966, 1969, 1970) developed a theory of short-term memory that generated many predictions, and has been responsible for a good deal of research. It is a frequently cited model, and has been supported, at least in part, by much of the research. It offers an interesting example of theoretical work in experimental psychology. His theory, and the kinds of research it inspired, are described in this chapter. A brief history of some related early work on reaction-time measures precedes the description of Sternberg's model.
F. C. Donders, a 19th century Dutch physiologist, developed a method that he believed would permit the measurement of the time required for some mental acts ( Sternberg, 1969; Woodworth, 1938). First he defined a situation in which a simple reaction time could be measured. An electrical stimulus was applied to one foot, and the subject pressed a key with the hand on the same side as the foot, at the instant that the subject felt the stimulus. Donders called this an a reaction. It indicates the basic time required to react to a particular