Free Recall Test Experience Potentiates Strategy-Driven Effects of Value on Memory

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People tend to show better memory for information that is deemed valuable or important. By one mechanism, individuals selectively engage deeper, semantic encoding strategies for high value items (Cohen, Rissman, Suthana, Castel, & Knowlton, 2014). By another mechanism, information paired with value or reward is automatically strengthened in memory via dopaminergic projections from midbrain to hippocampus (Shohamy & Adcock, 2010). We hypothesized that the latter mechanism would primarily enhance recollection-based memory, while the former mechanism would strengthen both recollection and familiarity. We also hypothesized that providing interspersed tests during study is a key to encouraging selective engagement of strategies. To test these hypotheses, we presented participants with sets of words, and each word was associated with a high or low point value. In some experiments, free recall tests were given after each list. In all experiments, a recognition test was administered 5 minutes after the final word list. Process dissociation was accomplished via remember/know judgments at recognition, a recall test probing both item memory and memory for a contextual detail (word plurality), and a task dissociation combining a recognition test for plurality (intended to probe recollection) with a speeded item recognition test (to probe familiarity). When recall tests were administered after study lists, high value strengthened both recollection and familiarity. When memory was not tested after each study list, but rather only at the end, value increased recollection but not familiarity. These dual process dissociations suggest that interspersed recall tests guide learners’ use of metacognitive control to selectively apply effective encoding strategies.

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