A Spacing Account of Negative Recency in Final Free Recall

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Abstract

The well-known recency effect in immediate free recall reverses when subjects attempt to recall items studied and tested on a series of prior lists, as in the final-free-recall procedure (Craik, 1970). In this case, the last few items on each list are actually remembered less well than are the midlist items. Because dual-store theories of recall naturally predict negative recency, this phenomenon has long been cited as evidence favoring these models. In a final-free-recall study, we replicate the negative-recency effect for the within-list serial position curve and the positive-recency effect for the between-list serial position curve. Whereas we find prominent negative recency for items recalled early in the initial recall period, this effect is markedly reduced for items recalled later in the recall period. When considering initial recall as a second presentation of studied items, we find that the probability of final free recall increases as the number of items between initial presentation and initial recall increases. These results suggest that negative recency may reflect the beneficial effects of spaced practice, in which end-of-list items recalled early constitute massed repetitions and end-of-list items recalled late are spaced repetitions. To help distinguish between the spacing account and the prevailing dual-store, rehearsal-based account, we examined negative recency in continual-distractor free recall. Contrary to the dual-store account, but in accord with the spacing account, we find robust negative recency in continual-distractor free recall, which is greater for those items recalled early in output.

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