Expanding the Scope of Memory Search: Modeling Intralist and Interlist Effects in Free Recall

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Abstract

The human memory system is remarkable in its capacity to focus its search on items learned in a given context. This capacity can be so precise that many leading models of human memory assume that only those items learned in the context of a recently studied list compete for recall. We sought to extend the explanatory scope of these models to include not only intralist phenomena, such as primacy and recency effects, but also interlist phenomena such as proactive and retroactive interference. Building on retrieved temporal context models of memory search (e.g., Polyn, Norman, & Kahana, 2009), we present a substantially revised theory in which memory accumulates across multiple experimental lists, and temporal context is used both to focus retrieval on a target list, and to censor retrieved information when its match to the current context indicates that it was learned in a nontarget list. We show how the resulting model can simultaneously account for a wide range of intralist and interlist phenomena, including the pattern of prior-list intrusions observed in free recall, build-up of and release from proactive interference, and the ability to selectively target retrieval of items on specific prior lists (Jang & Huber, 2008; Shiffrin, 1970). In a new experiment, we verify that subjects’ error monitoring processes are consistent with those predicted by the model.

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