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John H. Byrne

Department of Neurobiology & Anatomy,

The University of Texas Medical School at Houston,
Houston, Texas, USA
Volume Editors

Volume 1

Volume Editor
Randolf Menzel
Institut fur Biologie Neurobiologie, Freie Universitat Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Volume 2

Volume Editor
Henry L. Roediger III
Department of Psychology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Volume 3

Volume Editor
Howard Eichenbaum
Department of Psychology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Volume 4

Volume Editor
J. David Sweatt
Department of Neurobiology and McKnight Brain Institute,
University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, USA

A comprehensive reference work on learning and memory could not be better timed than this. During the
second half of the twentieth century, the study of learning and memory moved from a descriptive
science largely based on the pioneering behavioral analyses of Pavlov, Thorndike, Watson, Skinner, Kamin,
Rescorla, and Wagner to a new mechanistic science of mind that combines these brilliant behavioral studies
with an analysis of the underlying neural mechanisms, first in a regional manner by Milner, Tulving, Mishkin,
Squire, Schachter, and Morris, then on the cellular level, and finally on the molecular level.
The challenges that now face the field are outlined by the five great pioneers in the study of memory the
editor-in-chief Jack Byrne and the editors of these four extraordinary volumes: Learning Theory and Behavior,
edited by Randolf Menzel; Cognitive Psychology of Memory, edited by Henry Roediger; Memory Systems, edited by
Howard Eichenbaum; and Molecular Mechanisms of Memory, edited by David Sweatt. The challenge faced by the
contributors to these volumes was to combine the molecular mechanisms with the other three levels in order to
provide a coherent, systematically and intellectually satisfying understanding of learning and memory. This is
central to the new science of mind. Since memory is the glue that holds our mental life together, the topics
covered by these four volumes are central to and paradigmatic for all aspects of the neurobiology of mental life,
which has as its goal the understanding of all mental processes in neurobiological terms. Indeed, it is the
plasticity of the brain that is the key to understanding the continuity of all mental function. The goal for each of
these four volumes was to bridge the subdisciplines concerned with the various forms of memory into a
coherent science. The chapters of each of these volumes succeed admirably in doing just that. As a result, this
rich and rewarding reference work will serve as a superb framework for the decades ahead, a reference that will
provide both the student and the working scientist with the intellectual background necessary to understand
and function effectively in the study of learning and memory.

Eric R. Kandel, M.D.

University Professor, Fred Kavli Professor and Director, Kavli Institute for Brain Sciences
Senior Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Center for Neurobiology and Behavior
Columbia University, New York, NY, USA


L earning and Memory: A Comprehensive Reference is the most authoritative set of volumes ever produced on
learning and memory and represents the state of the science in the early 21st century. The study of
learning (the process of acquiring new information) and memory (retention of that information for future use)
has intrigued philosophers and writers for centuries because our memories and plans for the future consolidate
who we are, and disruption of these processes dramatically interferes with our daily lives. The fascination with
learning and memory is not limited to the humanities, but has been the subject of intense scientific research.
Psychologists are concerned with elucidating the features of learning and memory processes and systems,
neurobiologists seek to determine the neuronal mechanisms of learning and memory, and neurologists and
psychiatrists focus on research and treatment of failures or disruptions in learning and memory.
The study of learning and memory represents a scientific field that has matured at all levels from the
discovery of the protein chemistry and molecular biology of the cellular events underlying learning and
memory, through the delineations of the properties and functions of neuronal networks, to formulating and
testing the psychological and behavioral neuroscientific theories of learning and memory. In addition, many
basic research findings have applied implications on such diverse fronts as education, legal issues hinging on
eyewitness testimony, learning disorders in children, memory disorders following brain damage, and declines in
memory in older adults.
The volumes in this Comprehensive Reference are the result of a meeting in London in July of 2005 where the
editors planned the massive work of consolidating all facets of the study of learning and memory. We collected
nearly all the topics (albeit from many different disciplines and directions) that we considered constituted
scientific approaches to learning and memory and proceeded to parcel the topics into four volumes, resulting in
Learning Theory and Behavior edited by Randolf Menzel; Cognitive Psychology of Memory edited by Henry Roediger
III; Memory Systems edited by Howard Eichenbaum; and Molecular Mechanisms of Memory edited by David Sweatt.
This was a formidable task, not only because of the richness and diversity of the subject matter, but also because
we needed to logically place topics in the appropriate volume. Although some of the decisions may seem
arbitrary, and indeed there is overlap both within and between volumes, each editor ended up with a set of
coherent topics that they could organize and introduce in a logical manner.
With approximately 40 chapters per volume, it is no surprise that the editors cover an unusually wide range
of intellectual territory or that there is a difference in interpretation by some authors. The organization is a
significant editorial challenge and investment in and of itself. However, it is the editors selection of authors, and
the ensuing scholarship on learning and memory from different perspectives, that make this series unique.
Authors were identified and invited based on their expertise on a particular topic, and their contributions
represent a marvelous compendium of research in learning and memory. The chapters in this series not only
represent scientific strength and breadth, but also range from learning at the synaptic level to a systems level
approach, and include studies of remarkable learning capabilities in a variety of invertebrates and vertebrates,
including human beings.
The first volume in the series, Learning Theory and Behavior edited by Randolf Menzel, consists of 38 chapters
and sets the tone for the interdisciplinary and comparative approach to the study of learning and memory. He
introduces the volume by emphasizing both the value and the limitation of the comparative approach in natural
and laboratory settings, stressing that we need information from the behaving animal as well as the neuronal

xx Preface

structures in order to understand the processes involved in information storage and retrieval. Several chapters
review progress from using animal models, including worms, molluscs, insects, rodents, birds, and nonhuman
and human primates. In addition, concepts such as planning, decision-making, self-awareness and episodic-like
memory, usually reserved for human beings, are discussed at several taxonomic levels. The final chapters take
an engineering perspective and describe synthetic approaches, including modeling neuronal function and
developing a concise theory of the brain.
The second volume, Cognitive Psychology of Learning edited by H. Roediger, is comprised of 48 chapters on
various aspects of cognitive ability and the underlying neuroscience. The basics of attention, working memory,
forgetting, false memories, remembering vs. knowing, the process of recognition, and episodic memory are
covered. In addition, topics that are often not included in memory volumes deservedly receive attention here,
e.g., learning of concepts and categories, learning of perceptual and motor skills, language learning, and implicit
learning. This volume also covers memory processes throughout the human lifespan and includes chapters on
individual differences in memory ability, both subnormal (learning disabilities) and supranormal (performance
of mnemonists and experts in particular domains). Finally, chapters on applied aspects of memory research,
dealing with such topics as eyewitness identification in the legal system and applications of research to
educational issues, are included.
Volume 3, edited by H. Eichenbaum, consists of 29 chapters which represent a progress report on what we
know about memory systems and their relationship to different parts of the brain. Memory Systems returns to a
comparative approach of learning and memory. This volume introduces the concepts of multiple memory
systems, and many chapters discuss in extensive detail the different features of declarative memory and their
underlying brain structures. Procedural learning in humans and other animals is addressed, and a short section
details the involvement of hormones and emotions on memory retention or loss. Finally, changes in memory
systems associated with aging, disease processes, and drug use are addressed.
The final 42 chapters in Volume 4, Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms of Memory edited by J.D. Sweatt,
represent a review of the state of the science of what we know at the systems, cell, and molecular levels on
learning and memory formation, as well as providing a look at the emerging and future areas of investigation.
Once again, this volume covers an impressive amount of information derived from studies at many taxonomic
levels, from molecular associative learning mechanisms, through an array of studies on synaptic plasticity, to the
cell level of fear conditioning.
The centrality of learning and memory to our daily lives has led to intense analysis by psychologists and
neurobiologists for the past century, and it will undoubtedly remain at the forefront of research throughout this
new century as well. It is our intention that this set of volumes will contribute significantly to the consolidation
of this field, and it is meant as a resource for scientists and students interested in all facets of learning and
memory. No other reference work covers so wide a territory and in so much depth.
Learning and Memory: A Comprehensive Reference would not have been possible without the tremendous work of
the Editorial Board, who identified the topics and their authors, and reviewed each contribution. Special thanks
also go to Johannes Menzel, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Elsevier, for supporting the project and Andrew Lowe
and Laura Jackson, Production Project Managers, and Joanna De Souza, Developmental Editor, for ensuring
that the production schedule was maintained.

John H. Byrne
The following material is reproduced with kind permission of Nature Publishing Group
Figure 1 of Neurofibromatosis Type I Learning Disabilities
Figures 2 & 5 of Second Messengers: Calcium and cAMP Signaling
Figure 1b of Action Potentials in Dendrites and Spike-Timing-Dependent Plasticity
Figure 4 of Neurogenesis
Figure 12a-c of Neural and Molecular Mechanisms of Fear Memory
Figures 3 & 4 of Transmission of Acquired Information in Nonhuman Primates
Figure 4a-b of Behavioral Analysis of Learning and Memory in: C. elegans
Figures 2a, 6a-c, 7, 8a-b, 10a-b & 12a-b of Navigation and Episodic-like memory in Mammals
Figures 1, 4 & 6 of Animal models of amnesia
Figure 4a-e of Cortical Plasticity in Associative Learning and Memory
Figures 7a-b & 9a-b of Neurophysiology of Birdsong learning
Figure 6a-b of Visual Priming
Figures 2a & 4 of The Role of Sleep in Memory Consolidation

The following material is reproduced with kind permission of American Association for the
Advancement of Science
Figures 13 & 14 of Cognitive dimension of operant learning

The following material is reproduced with kind permission of Taylor & Francis Ltd
Figure 10 of Learning to Time Intervals

2.01 Introduction and Overview
H. L. Roediger III, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, USA
2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

2.01.1 The Cognitive Psychology of Memory: Introduction 1

2.01.2 Cognitive Approaches to Memory 1
2.01.3 Organization of the Volume 2
2.01.4 Conclusion 4
References 4

2.01.1 The Cognitive Psychology asked many fundamental questions about learning
of Memory: Introduction and memory, and virtually all his results have stood
the test of time in that they have been widely
The main problem in the scientific study of memory replicated. His work dates the start of the cognitive/
is that it proceeds on many different fronts. Neuro- behavioral study of learning and memory in humans,
chemical and neurobiological approaches propel although of course centuries of speculation and
some researchers; systems neuroscientists examine theorizing (particularly by the British empiricist
changes in larger pathways in the nervous system; philosophers) preceded and informed his first experi-
animal behaviorists examine learning and memory mental efforts. Bower (2000) provides a brief historical
as reflected in behavior of (mostly) infrahuman ani- overview of this approach to studying learning and
mals, such as birds finding caches of seed; cognitive memory.
psychologists study human memory through behav- Cognitive psychologists approach the problem of
ioral means using measures such as recall and memory through careful experimentation to examine
recognition; computer scientists endorse computa- theories that vary in their levels of specification.
tional approaches to memory that sometimes pay Some theories (say, transfer-appropriate processing)
little attention to behavioral or neuroscience con- are broad and seek to capture a wide range of per-
straints; and, of course, the study of memory has formance across many situations, whereas other
been the topic of discourse by philosophers for over approaches (such as mathematical models of perfor-
2000 years. This four-volume series covers a huge mance in specific tasks) are more formal and often
selection of topics that are central to the scientific attempt to capture memory performance only in
study of memory. In a different edited volume, tightly structured paradigms.
Roediger et al. (2007) considered 16 critical concepts Traditionally, up until perhaps 30 years ago,
in the science of memory from the various viewpoints cognitive psychologists paid little attention to neu-
described above. roscience discoveries, and likewise, neuroscientists
paid little attention to the experimental work of the
cognitive psychologists. Although this division of
2.01.2 Cognitive Approaches labor is honored to some degree in the separate
to Memory volumes of this work, the interests of scientists are
clearly broader today. Unlike the case 30 years ago,
Practitioners of what is today called cognitive psy- cognitive psychologists today follow advances in neu-
chology have a long tradition of the experimental roscience with great interest, and many of the
study of various aspects of memory. Experimental concepts and tasks used by neuroscientists were ori-
psychology is often dated from the founding of ginally developed by psychologists (either those
Wilhelm Wundts laboratory in Leipzig in 1879. studying animal learning and memory or those apply-
Coincidentally, that same year marks the year that ing cognitive methods to these topics in humans).
Hermann Ebbinghaus (18501909) began his pains- Although this volume is largely devoted to the cog-
taking research that led to his great book, Uber das nitive/behavioral study of memory, many chapters
Gedachtnis (On Memory) in 1885 (Ebbinghaus, 1885). lean heavily on neuroscience findings. The authors
Ebbinghaus conducted meticulous experiments that were given leeway to cover their particular topic from

2 Introduction and Overview

the vantage they deemed most appropriate, bringing Robert Greene provides a chapter on the funda-
in the types of evidence they considered most rele- mental topic of repetition and spacing effects (See
vant. Some chapters rely heavily on neuroscience Chapter 2.06). Perhaps the first principle of learning
evidence, whereas others refer to purely behavioral and memory is that repeated experiences are (almost)
experimentation. I see this as perfectly appropriate for always better remembered than single experiences;
the various topics covered in this volume. further, having two experiences distributed in time
(up to some limit that differs for various tasks and
retention intervals) leads to greater performance.
2.01.3 Organization of the Volume Another fundamental principle, dating at least to
George Millers (1956) pioneering work on recoding
One time-honored procedure in the study of cogni- in memory, is that events are not remembered as they
tive processes is sorting (e.g., Mandler, 1967). An are presented in the outside world (events do not
experimenter can give a subject a set of concepts somehow leap into the brain as veridical copies of
and ask him or her to sort them into groups. The experience), but, rather, events are coded (or
hope is to discover something about how the subjects recoded) as they are filtered through an individuals
mind organizes experiences into concepts or cate- personal experiences (or apperceptive mass, to bring
gories. The titles of chapters for this volume were back a useful term from early in psychology). Events
originally listed alphabetically, but then the editors of are remembered as they are coded and not as they
each volume were asked to organize them in some necessarily are in the environment. Reed Hunts
meaningful way, which corresponds reasonably well chapter on coding processes brings out this important
to a sorting task. I took several trials to reach criterion point and shows how recoding can improve retention
on this task and can still quibble with myself on in some cases but in other cases can lead to errors (See
various decisions. Luckily, the editors were not Chapter 2.07). Mental imagery is one type of code
asked to create sections of the volume and to label that has received great attention in the literature,
our categories. Here I provide some rationale for the and Cesare Cornoldi, Rossana DeBeni, and Irene
ordering of the chapters and, at the same time, out- Mammarella review this literature in the next chap-
line the contents of the volume. ter (See Chapter 2.08).
The volume begins with a chapter on attention An event that differs dramatically from many other
and memory by Neil Mulligan (See Chapter 2.02). events that are themselves similar is usually well
After all, events in the world that are not attended remembered, which constitutes a distinctiveness effect.
will not be encoded well and cannot be remembered For example, a picture of a horse embedded in the
later, so this seemed a logical starting point. Nelson middle of a 99-word list of other concrete nouns is
Cowans chapter on sensory memory (See Chapter much better remembered than if the word horse is
2.03) follows this one. Sensory memory (iconic stor- presented in a uniform list of 100 words (with horse
age, echoic storage, and similar processes in other embedded in the analogous position in the list). This
modalities) lies at the borderline between perceiving outcome occurs even if the mode of recall is verbal
and remembering. No one has ever proposed a good (i.e., people must recall the word horse both when it is
solution to the question of where perceiving ends and presented as a picture and as a word). Distinctiveness
remembering begins, and ideas about sensory storage effects are ubiquitous in memory research, and
bridge this gap. Susan Gathercoles chapter on work- Stephen Schmidt provides a review of what is known
ing memory comes next (See Chapter 2.04). The topic about this topic in his chapter A Theoretical and
of how people hold information in mind while Empirical Review of the Concept of Distinctiveness
manipulating it in reasoning and solving problems in Memory Research (See Chapter 2.09). The next
represents a huge topic in cognitive psychology chapter, Mnemonic Devices: Underlying Processes
over the past 40 years. The next chapter is on serial and Practical Applications, by James Worthen and
learning by Alice Healy and William Bonk (See Reed Hunt, brings together the chapters on recoding,
Chapter 2.05). Most research on serial learning uses imagery, and distinctiveness by reviewing techniques
paradigms requiring short-term recall (such as digit for memory improvement that have been developed
span and similar procedures), so placing it after the over the years (See Chapter 2.10). Some of these tech-
working memory chapter seems reasonable. However, niques date back to the ancient Greeks, but modern
the chapter also covers long-term processes in serial research has helped to uncover the reasons for their
organization. effectiveness. Many of these techniques depend on
Introduction and Overview 3

imagery, and some (such as the method of loci) rely on Chapter 2.18). Stephen Lindsay writes on the related
humans ability to remember routes and spatial layouts topic of source monitoring, or the issue of how people
well, especially ones experienced repeatedly. Timothy recollect the source of information they report as a
McNamara, Julia Sluzenski, and Bjorn Rump review memory did I read the fact in the newspaper, did a
the interesting topic of human spatial memory and friend tell me, or was it learned from television (See
navigation (See Chapter 2.11). Chapter 2.19)? Janet Metcalfe and John Dunlosky
The next chapters in the volume have to do with write on the issue of metamemory, or what people
memory losses and errors. Forgetting refers to the know about their own memories and the strategic
loss of information over time, and James Nairne and processes used in regulating encoding and retrieval
Josefa Pandeirada review the topic in their chapter by of information (See Chapter 2.20). Alan S. Brown has
that name (See Chapter 2.12). A complementary topic provided two chapters on puzzling phenomena of
is on inhibitory processes, a chapter by Karl-Heinz memory retrieval, the experience of deja vu (when a
Bauml (See Chapter 2.13). Inhibitory processes are person has the strange sensation that an event or scene
concerned with another set of phenomena that have has been experienced previously), and the tip-of-the-
to do with forgetting. The basic idea is that forgetting tongue phenomenon (the annoying experience when a
may result from an active process of memories being desired bit of information can almost, but not quite, be
inhibited and therefore forgotten, at least temporar- retrieved) (See Chapters 2.21, 2.22).
ily. Forgetting is often considered an error of omission Colleen Parks and Andrew Yonelinas provide the
information does not come to mind when we try to chapter Theories of Recognition Memory (See Chapter
retrieve it but errors of commission are of great 2.23), with particular emphasis on whether a single-
interest, too. False memories arise when we retrieve factor or two-factor theory best accounts for the data.
information differently from the way it was experi- William Hockley writes about the related topic of mem-
enced or, in the most dramatic cases, when we ory search in various types of memory tests, including
retrieve confident memories of events that never short-term recognition (S. Sternbergs (1966) item
happened at all. Elizabeth Marsh, Andrea Eslick, recognition test), long-term recognition, free recall,
and Lisa Fazio review this topic in their chapter titled and other tasks (See Chapter 2.24). Both the chapter on
False Memories (See Chapter 2.14). Eric Eich, Elke recognition and the chapter on memory search involve
Geraerts, Jonathan Schooler, and Joseph Forgas pro- considerations of mathematical modeling, and the next
vide a chapter on mood and emotion in memory, chapter by Jeroen Raaijmakers explicitly considers
titled Memory in and About Affect (See Chapter mathematical models of human memory (See Chapter
2.15). When people are in different moods when 2.25). His chapter is followed by a related one by
they experience events and then try to retrieve Michael Kahana, Marc Howard, and Sean Polyn on
them later, they often remember more poorly than associative retrieval processes in episodic memory (See
if the moods are the same between encoding and Chapter 2.26). Karl Szpunar and Kathleen McDermott
retrieval (the phenomenon of mood-congruent mem- provide an overview on the concept of episodic memory
ory). However, when people experience greater as it has developed since Tulvings seminal chapter in
emotional states during encoding (e.g., strong fear), 1972 (Tulving, 1972) (See Chapter 2.27). They discuss
they often remember events well. how neural processes involved in episodic memory may
The next few chapters have to do with retrieval of also subserve a persons envisioning the future as well as
information from memory, as well as associated states recollecting the past.
of consciousness and processes during this process. The next series of chapters involves memory of a
Suparna Rajaram and Sarah Barber provide an over- different kind from episodic memory. David Balota
view of retrieval processes in memory (See Chapter and Jennifer Coanes chapter on semantic memory
2.16). John Gardiner writes on the distinction between concerns representation of well-learned information
remembering and knowing, which are responses such as words and their meanings (See Chapter 2.28).
representing two states of conscious awareness during Brian Ross, Eric Taylor, Erica Middleton, and
retrieval (See Chapter 2.17). Asher Koriat, Morris Timothy Nokes survey the related field of how
Goldsmith, and Vered Halamish discuss control pro- humans learn concepts and categories in Concept
cesses in voluntary remembering, dealing with issues and Category Learning in Humans (See Chapter
such as the criterion people use when deciding that 2.29). Gideon Deak and Anna Holt describe research
recovered information should be reported as a mem- on the critical issue of language learning and report
ory and the factors affecting memory reports (See how theories have advanced over the years (See
4 Introduction and Overview

Chapter 2.30). Peter Frensch and Hilde Haider dis- Gilles Einstein, Mark McDaniel, Richard Marsh, and
cuss research on the venerable topic of transfer and Robert West discuss another popular topic in recent
expertise (See Chapter 2.31), a topic that really runs research how people remember to do things in the
throughout the book in many ways. future, such as taking an antibiotic pill four times a day
Pierre Perruchet reviews the evidence concerning when fighting an infection. Their chapter, Prospective
implicit learning, which uses transfer designs as a major Memory: Processes, Lifespan Changes, and Neuro-
tool for understanding (See Chapter 2.32). Dale Stevens, science, discusses this interesting line of research (See
Gagan Wig, and Daniel Schacter then review recent Chapter 2.45).
evidence on the related topic of implicit memory and The last three chapters of the volume examine
priming (See Chapter 2.33). Timothy Lee and Richard memory from a broader perspective. Most chapters
Schmidt provide an overview on the topic of motor previously described are based on laboratory tasks
learning and memory, which is related to implicit concerned with learning and memory. Martin
learning in some ways (See Chapter 2.34). Much recent Conway and Helen Williams write on the nature of
work has shown that procedural and motor skills (as autobiographical memory, which is concerned with
well as some other forms of learning) consolidate while how people recollect the events of their lives (See
people sleep. Jessica Payne, Jeffrey Ellenbogen, Chapter 2.46). Michael Ross, Craig Blatz, and Emily
Matthew Walker, and Robert Stickgold review this Schryer discuss social memory processes, which
exciting frontier in memory research in The Role of includes the issue of how people influence one
Sleep in Memory Consolidation (See Chapter 2.35). another as they remember (as well as other topics)
The next group of chapters is concerned with (See Chapter 2.47). Finally, James Wertsch discusses
development of memory across the lifespan, as well the emerging topic of collective memory (See
as individual differences among people in memory Chapter 2.48), which is a representation of the past
ability. Carolyn Rovee-Collier and Kimberly that is shared by members of a group. The group
Cuevas review evidence about infant memory (See might be people in a nation recollecting an important
Chapter 2.36), and then Peter Ornstein, Catherine historical event, such as how people in the United
Haden, and Priscilla SanSouci consider the develop- States remember the Revolutionary War. Different
ment of skilled remembering in children (See Chapter groups may see the past in different ways, as Wertsch
2.37). Elena Grigorenko discusses developmental dis- brings out in his chapter. The empirical study of
orders of learning (See Chapter 2.38), and Michelle collective memory is an emerging topic but one
Dawson, Laurent Mottron, and Morton Gernsbacher that is sure to be more important in the future.
describe learning in autism (See Chapter 2.39).
Michael Kane and Tina Miyake write about individ-
ual differences in episodic memory among adults (See 2.01.4 Conclusion
Chapter 2.40), and Moshe Naveh-Benjamin and
Susan Old discuss aging and memory (See Chapter The 47 substantive chapters in this volume represent
2.41). Finally, Anders Ericsson describes research on a marvelous, state-of-the art digest by leading scho-
superior memory of mnemonists and experts in var- lars as they summarize what is known about many of
ious domains (See Chapter 2.42). the critical topics in the cognitive psychology of
The next few chapters of the book focus on more learning and memory. The entries range from topics
applied aspects of learning and memory research. that have a long history (e.g., transfer) to those that
Mark McDaniel and Aimee Callendar discuss work have emerged only recently (prospective memory,
on cognition, memory, and education, focusing on collective memory). Editing the volume has caused
applying principles from learning and memory me to learn much, and I believe every reader of this
research to educational practice (See Chapter 2.43). volume will share this experience.
Jeffrey Neuschatz and Brian Cutler discuss the impor-
tant issue of eyewitness identification (See Chapter
2.44). Since the advent of DNA evidence, over 200 References
people convicted of crimes often on the basis of
eyewitness evidence - have been released from prison, Bower GH (2000) A brief history of memory research. In: Tulving
exonerated by DNA evidence. This state of affairs has E and Craik FIM (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Human Memory,
pp. 332. New York: Oxford University Press.
caused a searching examination of the typical methods Ebbinghaus H (1885) Uber das Gedachtnis. Leipzig: Dunker &
used by police to conduct eyewitness identifications. Humblot.
Introduction and Overview 5

Mandler G (1967) Organization and memory. In: Spence K and Roediger HL, Dudai Y, and Fitzpatrick SM (2007) Science of
Spence JT (eds.) The Psychology of Learning Memory: Concepts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
and Motivation , Vol. 1, pp. 327372. New York: Academic Sternberg S (1966) High speed scanning in human memory.
Press. Science 152: 652654.
Miller GA (1956) The magical number 7, plus or minus 2: Some Tulving E (1972) Episodic and semantic memory. In: Tulving E
limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychol. and Donaldson W (eds.) Organization of Memory,
Rev. 63: 8197. pp. 381403. New York: Academic Press.
2.02 Attention and Memory
N. W. Mulligan, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

2.02.1 Introduction 7 Varieties of Memory 7 Varieties of Attention 9
2.02.2 Attention, Memory, and the Beginnings of the Cognitive Revolution 9 Cherrys Dichotic Listening Studies 9 The Filter Model and the Debate between Early and Late Selection Theories 10
2.02.3 Working Memory and Attention 12
2.02.4 Attention and Episodic Memory 14 Attention and Encoding 14 Attention and Retrieval 16
2.02.5 Attention and Other Forms of Long-Term Memory 17 Attention and Implicit Memory 17 Attention and Procedural Learning 18
2.02.6 Concluding Comments 19
References 20

Very great is the dependence of retention and theoretical reasons rather than the practical demands
reproduction upon the intensity of the attention and of the rhetoricians art of memory. We shall see that,
interest which were attached to the mental states the despite disputes about the details, these quotations
first time they were present. [italics in original] remain quite apt regarding many aspects of the
(Ebbinghaus, 1885: 3) relationship between attention and memory.
At the outset, it should be noted that there is a
Whatever future conclusions we may reach as to
tremendous amount of research under the general
this, we cannot deny that an object once attended to will
heading of attention and memory, enough to require
remain in the memory, whilst one inattentively allowed
a book-length review even in the early days of the
to pass will leave no traces behind. [italics in origi-
cognitive revolution (Norman, 1969), and even
nal] ( James, 1890: 427)
more so in later eras (Cowan, 1995). Consequently,
this short review is necessarily selective and incom-
plete. My goal is simply to describe some of the most
2.02.1 Introduction important trends and results and to point the inter-
ested reader in the direction of additional resources.
This chapter provides a brief overview of the To begin, we briefly discuss the varieties of memory
relationship between attention and memory. The and the varieties of attention before proceeding to
above quotations, although specifically written about discuss the relationship between the two.
the relationship between attention and long-term
memory, provide a traditional viewpoint articulating Varieties of Memory
the intimate connection between these constructs.
Indeed, as Norman (1969) notes, a researcher would Psychologists have long found it useful to differenti-
have little difficulty finding similar speculations in the ate among forms or aspects of memory. The most
earliest surviving writings in philosophy of mind. basic distinction is based on duration, the difference
Ancient practical manuals on memory and rhetoric between immediate, fleeting retention of recently
begin with the fundamental assumption that successful presented material and longer-lasting, more perma-
memory starts with attention (Yates, 1966). Modern nent aspects of memory. This distinction was
researchers in cognitive psychology are likewise inter- captured early on in Jamess distinction between
ested in attention and memory, but typically for primary and secondary memory and was similarly

8 Attention and Memory

delineated in the modal model of Atkinson and of long-term memory based on phenomenology at
Shiffrin (1968), with its distinction between the retrieval, that is, whether the retrieval produces con-
short-term and long-term stores. Contemporary psy- scious recollection or not. This is critical to the
chology continues to distinguish between shorter- distinction between explicit memory, which refers to
term and longer-term memory, as well as among conscious, intentional recollection of the past, and
different forms of long-term memory, based on implicit memory, which refers to unconscious or
neuropsychological, neuroscientific, and behavioral unintentional influences of the past. Numerous differ-
evidence (e.g., Schacter et al., 2000). ences (or dissociations) between explicit and implicit
Working memory is the current term for short- memory lend credence to the importance of this
term or primary memory, although this conception is distinction (e.g., See Chapter 2.33; Mulligan, 2003b).
more complicated than the unitary short-term store The distinction between recollection and familiarity
envisaged in the modal model. Working memory is made in dual-process models of memory similarly
the system responsible for the short-term storage and relies on differences in the phenomenology of retrieval
manipulation of mental representations and contains (Yonelinas, 2002).
three primary components, the phonological loop, Distinctions based on informational content are
the visuospatial sketchpad, and the central executive important to the multiple systems view of long-
(Baddeley, 1986). The phonological loop is the term memory (e.g., Schacter et al., 2000), a view that
mechanism responsible for the storage and rehearsal overlaps with distinctions based on phenomenology.
of phonological/verbal information. In a similar way, First, and most important for our present purposes, is
the visuospatial sketchpad provides temporary main- episodic memory, long-term memory for personally
tenance of visual and spatial patterns. The central experienced events. This form of memory records
executive coordinates the operation of these two autobiographical experiences that occurred at a spe-
subsidiary components and mediates the manipula- cific time in a specific place. As noted by Tulving
tion and transformation of information in these (2002), this form of memory permits mental time
subsystems. The central executive is often associated travel, allowing a person to reexperience an event
with limited-capacity attentional resources (Engle, from the first-person perspective. Episodic memory
2002), as discussed later. Finally, a recent version of overlaps with the concept of explicit memory
the working memory model (Baddeley, 2002) pro- because it supports the conscious and intentional
poses an additional component, the episodic buffer, recollection of the past. Semantic memory refers to
responsible for binding together information repre- the organized body of general knowledge about the
sented in different forms or codes (Figure 1). world. This form of memory includes concepts, cate-
As short-term memory has been fractionated into
gories, vocabulary, and so on. This form of memory is
multiple components, recent theorizing also distin-
distinguished from episodic memory by its deperso-
guishes among multiple forms of long-term memory.
nalized nature. Retrieving information from semantic
These distinctions are based on several dimensions,
memory is tantamount to retrieving facts rather than
key among them differences in phenomenology and
reexperiencing prior episodes.
differences in informational (or representational) con-
The perceptual representation system (PRS) is
tent. First, it is common to differentiate among varieties
a collection of domain-specific modules that operate
on perceptual information about the form and struc-
ture of words and objects. (Schacter et al., 2000:
executive This system represents long-term knowledge of
perceptual objects in the modality in which they are
processed. Finally, procedural memory is the system
that represents skilled behaviors, including percep-
Visuospatial Episodic Phonological tual and motor skills, as well as more abstract
sketchpad buffer loop
cognitive skills. This system is marked by slow, incre-
Figure 1 The working memory model. Adapted from
mental strengthening of representations through
Baddeley AD (2002) Is working memory still working? Eur. repeated practice. Procedural memory encompasses
Psychol. 7: 8597, with permission. the learning of motor skills, such as riding a bike or
Attention and Memory 9

swinging a golf club, as well as cognitive skills, such 1999), such as the distinction between perceptual
as learning to read. and decisional attention (Ashby et al., 1998; Maddox,
Conscious recollection (explicit memory) is asso- 2002), the distinction between perceptual and execu-
ciated with the episodic system. Implicit memory is tive attention (Pashler, 1998; Engle, 2002), and the
more various, forms of which appear to be mediated distinction raised in the neuroscience literature
by each of the other nonepisodic systems. For between the posterior and the anterior attention sys-
example, perceptual priming (one manifestation of tems (Posner and Peterson, 1990; see also Freiwald and
implicit memory) is attributed to the PRS, whereas Kanwisher, 2004; Humphreys and Samson, 2004).
conceptual priming is attributed to the operation of Finally, the concept of central attention is often asso-
the semantic system. Finally, the expression of pro- ciated with the central executive component of
cedural skills is also associated with implicit memory. Baddeleys (1986) model of working memory (e.g.,
Engle, 2002).
Studies of selective attention and central attention Varieties of Attention have typically used different experimental paradigms.
In the typical experiment on selective attention, mul-
Just as memory is multifaceted, so too is attention. To tiple stimuli are presented in the same modality, and
begin, let us examine James classic definition of the participants attention is either directed at a cri-
attention: tical stimulus or directed away from the critical
stimulus by requiring the participant to respond to
It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and
other (distracter) stimuli. Studies of central aspects of
vivid form, of one out of what seems several simul-
attention typically use divided-attention (or dual-
taneously possible objects or trains of thought.
task) paradigms. In these experiments, the participant
Focalization, concentration of consciousness are of
is presented with two streams of stimuli in different
its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things
modalities (e.g., visual and audition) and required to
in order to deal effectively with others. ( James,
divide attention across the two sets. This is usually
1890: 403)
done by requiring the participant to respond to both
From such a description, researchers have typi- streams of stimuli and by instructing the participant
cally teased out several aspects or dimensions of that both types of responses are important (i.e.,
attention. First, attention is used for selection encouraging the participant to divide attention
among the multitude of stimuli that impinge on our equally over both tasks).
senses at any given moment. Perception would lack
coherence if we attempted extensive analysis of
every stimulus in the perceptual field. Second, atten- 2.02.2 Attention, Memory, and the
tion implies a limited ability to process information. Beginnings of the Cognitive
This is often characterized as a limited pool of atten- Revolution
tional resources. Third, attention pertains to control Cherrys Dichotic Listening
in several ways: control of the flow of information,
control of ongoing behavioral responses, and control
of prepotent responses (e.g., inhibition). Many of the landmark studies of the studies of the
The dominant distinction in recent research is modern era of cognitive psychology focused on
between peripheral (or modality-specific) aspects of attention and memory. Specifically, studies of dicho-
attention (such as visual attention) and central (or tic listening sought to analyze the role of selective
modality-independent) aspects of attention. For exam- attention in perception and memory. The initial
ple, Johnston et al. (1995) propose a distinction between study was that of Cherry (1953), who pioneered the
input and central attention, which distinguishes two experimental paradigm that would have such pro-
limited-capacity mechanisms: one responsible for found effect on later empirical and theoretical work.
selective aspects of attention, and the other involved Cherry and the other early researchers were taken by
in higher-level mental functions (decision making, the cocktail party problem, which serves as a natural
response selection, etc.). The distinction between selec- example of selective attention. At a cocktail party,
tive and central attention corresponds quite closely to there may be numerous conversations occurring all
similar distinctions made in the literature on attention around the listener, any one of which could, in prin-
systems (Wickens, 1984; Duncan et al., 1997; Duncan, ciple, be comprehended if attention were so directed.
10 Attention and Memory

A person in a conversation must attend to one message were later remembered. After the shadowing
speaker (and filter out all of the competing messages) task was over, subjects were asked what they remem-
to successfully take part in the conversation. How bered of the ignored message. Typically, subjects
does this occur, and what is the fate of the unattended could remember whether it was human speech as
message(s)? To study this problem, Cherry devel- opposed to a tone or music. Furthermore, they
oped an experimental analogue that would set the could recall whether it was a male or female voice.
agenda for much of the early research on attention However, the subjects showed very little memory for
and memory. In this experimental technique, par- the content of the unattended speech. That is, they
ticipants attended to one of two simultaneously showed little memory for words or phrases in the
presented messages. The messages were presented unattended message. Moray (1959) showed that,
over different tracks of a stereo headset so that one even when the same word was presented repeatedly
message was presented to one ear, and a different as many as 35 times in the ignored ear, there was no
message was presented to the other ear. The attended memory for the stimulus. Furthermore, subjects were
message was human speech, and the ignored message not entirely certain that the language was English.
might consist of other human speech (in English or in Reversed speech and speech in other languages were
another language), reversed speech, music, a steady rarely recognized as non-English. Cherrys broad
tone, and so on. To ensure that subjects were attend- conclusion was that the unattended material is ana-
ing to the correct message, the message was repeated lyzed at the level of gross perceptual characteristics,
by the subject as it was heard a task called shadow- but that selective attention is required for the analysis
ing. The message that was not shadowed can be of and long-term memory of detailed aspects of the
characterized as ignored or irrelevant rather than message such as the language spoken, the identity of
unattended. Although the goal of the dichotic individual words, and semantic content.
listening task is to render the irrelevant message
unattended, this may not always happen. It is possible The Filter Model and the Debate
that subjects might shift their attention on occasion to
between Early and Late Selection Theories
the nonshadowed message, undermining the goal of
the experimental technique. This possibility makes a From research on dichotic listening, Broadbent
more neutral term (ignored or irrelevant) a better (1958) developed an early, highly influential infor-
designation for the nonshadowed input. mation processing account of attention, perception,
Cherry found that subjects were successful in the and memory (Figure 2). In this model, Broadbent
shadowing task when the two messages differed in depicted cognition as a series of discrete, serial
terms of their physical properties. The typical phy- information-processing stages. Processing begins with
sical difference between the messages was spatial sensory systems, which can process large amounts of
location, with one message presented to one ear and raw sensory information in parallel. Other research
the competing message presented to the other. The (e.g., split-span studies) indicated that sensory infor-
messages could also be successfully segregated (and mation may be preserved for a short time prior to
one successfully shadowed) when both messages selection. Thus, Broadbent argued that the initial
were presented on the same track, provided the mes- sensory processing of the perceptual characteristics
sages differed on another physical dimension, such as of inputs was deposited into a short-term memory
a male versus a female voice. However, if the two buffer. This is the point at which attention operates
messages were physically similar (e.g., same location, in Broadbents model, acting as a selective filter. The
or input ear, and same or similar voices), then the filter blocks out unwanted inputs based on selection
shadowing task became extremely difficult even if criteria that reflect the goals of the cognitive system.
the messages differed in other ways, such as the For example, given that the subjects goal is to suc-
topic or meaning of the messages. Cherry concluded ceed at the shadowing task, selection is based on the
that selection could only operate on the physical physical location of the to-be-attended message. The
characteristics of the message and not on their selection criteria operate on one of the perceptual
content. characteristics of inputs in the memory buffer. The
Most important for the present purposes was the attended material gains access to a limited-capacity
memorial fate of the ignored message. Consistent perceptual system (the P system in Figure 2), which
with his conclusions about selection, Cherry (1953) allows analysis for content, conscious awareness, and
found that only the physical properties of the ignored ultimately, encoding into long-term memory.
Attention and Memory 11


S System for varying

E output until some
Limited input is secured
N Short-term
memory capacity
S buffer
filter channel
E (P system)
Store of conditional
S probabilities of past

Figure 2 The filter model. Adapted from Broadbent DE (1958) Perception and Communication. London: Pergamon Press,
with permission.

It should be noted that Broadbents model has these results comports with Broadbents original filter
many similarities to the Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) model.
modal model. The memory buffer in Broadbents Treisman (1964) handled these new findings by
model corresponds to the sensory register of modifying Broadbents theory. Treisman argued that
Atkinson and Shiffrin, in that both store raw sensory selective attention does not operate as an all-or-none
information prior to selective attention and refined filter but, rather, operates like a gain control, attenu-
perceptual analysis. The limited-capacity perceptual ating unattended inputs. Such attenuated stimuli still
system of Broadbent is analogous to the short-term might be recognized (i.e., their content fully analyzed)
store of Atkinson and Shiffrin in terms of its limited if the stimulus is very important (such as ones own
capacity, its equation with the contents of awareness, name) or has been primed by attended semantic
and its role as a conduit to long-term storage. context. This attenuation view preserves the early
Broadbents model proposed that the selective placement of the selective filter (now an attenuator)
filter operates on the basis of physical characteristics as operating prior to semantic analysis and the pro-
of the message and prior to the analysis of meaning. cesses required for encoding into long-term memory.
Consequently, this model is referred to as an early- An alternate approach was adopted by late selec-
selection model of attention. Subsequent research on tion models (e.g., Deutsch and Deutsch, 1963;
the filter theory raised questions about early selec- Norman, 1968). These models proposed that stimuli
tion and gave rise to important competitor routinely undergo substantial analysis (up to identi-
models. For example, Moray (1959) found that parti- fication processing), whether attended or not. The
cipants often noticed their own name when it was selective mechanism in these models operates after
presented in the ignored channel. According to the perceptual and content analysis but before response
filter model, detailed content such as the identity of a selection. Under this view, semantic analysis helps
word or name should be unavailable from an unat- determine which stimulus is most relevant for cur-
tended message. A converging result came from rent goals and should guide behavioral response.
Treismans (1960) study, in which one story was A number of subsequent results were taken as
presented to the attended ear (and shadowed by the supportive of late selection. For example, Lackner
subject) and a second story was presented to the and Garret (1972) found that the interpretation of
ignored ear. Partway through the study, the first ambiguous sentences in the attended ear was biased
story switched tracks and replaced the story in the by words presented in the ignored channel. The
ignored ear (the first story itself being replaced in the results of Corteen and associates (Corteen and
attended track with a new, third, story). According to Wood, 1972; Corteen and Dunn, 1974) were similarly
the filter theory, if the subject is not attending to the interpreted as supporting late selection and memory
irrelevant ear, then they should not process any of its access without attention. Participants in these studies
content, and thus should have no awareness that the initially underwent a learning phase in which a set of
first story continued in the irrelevant channel. words was paired with electric shock. In a subsequent
However, subjects typically continued to shadow phase of the experiment, participants showed a
the first story even after it switched ears. Neither of heightened galvanic skin response (GSR) to the
12 Attention and Memory

shock-paired words even when these words were tasks; no such evidence was found for the more
presented to the ignored channel in a dichotic listen- demanding shadowing task, consistent with the idea
ing task. that covert shifts of attention may give the appear-
Results such as these imply semantic analysis of ance of semantic processing and long-term memory
unattended information (and late selection) but have for unattended materials (for thorough review of
been controversial because of the possibility of covert these issues, see Holender, 1986; Lachter et al., 2004).
shifts of attention. It is possible in dichotic listening Finally, working memory resources, to be discussed
tasks (and in other selective attention tasks) that a in more detail next, may play a critical role in selective
subjects attention might wander to the nominally attention. For example, Conway et al. (2001) investi-
unattended ear. The critical question is whether gated the cocktail-party effect of Moray (1959), with
results such as the above represent semantic analysis participants of high and low working memory capacity.
of unattended information or momentary shifts of Prior research indicates that low working memory
attention to the ignored ear. As framed by Lachter capacity is associated with distractibility. Conway
et al. (2004), the issue is whether there is leakage et al. (2001) reasoned that more distractible subjects
(penetration of the selective filter by semantic con- are more likely to allow their attention to shift to the
tent) or slippage (covert, perhaps unintentional, shifts irrelevant channel. This study found that the low-capa-
of attention). In a review of the literature, Holender city subjects were much more likely to notice their
(1986) concluded that results that appear to support name in the irrelevant channel. This result is consistent
late selection in auditory selective attention are actu- with the previous research suggesting that attention
ally the result of such attentional slippage. A more shifts may be responsible for the appearance of semantic
recent review comes to the same conclusion for stu- processing of the ignored channel. In addition, this
dies of both auditory and visual selective attention result indicates a close connection between working
(Lachter et al., 2004). Furthermore, Lachter et al. memory and selective attention. Similarly, deFockert
(2004: 884885) argue that the potential for slippage et al. (2001) found that increasing a working memory
was underestimated in early research because esti- load made subjects more susceptible to distraction in a
mates of the time necessary for attentional shifts were visual selective-attention task. Several researchers have
quite high (estimated to be 500 ms or longer in now suggested that selective attention processes are
Broadbent (1958)). More modern estimates are as controlled by working memory resources (e.g., Engle,
low as 150 ms for voluntary (endogenous) shifts of 2002; Lavie et al., 2004). That is, working memory
attention and 50 ms for involuntary (exogenous) capacity may dictate the extent to which we can suc-
shifts. If attention can be so rapidly shifted from one cessfully focus on one input in the face of distraction (as
stimulus (or channel) to another, it raises the possi- in dichotic listening). From a historical perspective, this
bility that rapid shifts of attention might go unnoticed is an interesting inversion. Psychology has traditionally
by the experimenter. described attention as controlling access to memory
This issue has been raised regarding a number of structures, but this view implies that a memory struc-
studies. Following up on the results of Corteen and ture (working memory) controls the function of an
Dunn (1974), Dawson and Schell (1982) presented attentional process (selective attention).
shock-associated words in the ignored channel of a
dichotic listening task. Trials were separated based
on evidence for attentional shifts to the ignored 2.02.3 Working Memory and
channel (based on on-line performance such as sha- Attention
dowing errors). The heightened GSR effect was
much greater on trials exhibiting evidence of atten- The concept of immediate or short-term memory has
tion shifts than on trials exhibiting no such evidence. long been defined in terms associated with attention.
In a similar vein, Wood et al. (1997) varied the For example, in the modal model of Atkinson and
difficulty of the primary shadowing task (by increas- Shiffrin (1968), the presence of information in the
ing the rate of speech to be shadowed) under the short-term store rendered it available to conscious-
assumption that, as the shadowing task becomes ness and allowed the information to guide and
more demanding, covert attentional shifts to the control ongoing behavior. Attention is likewise
ignored channel would be less likely. Evidence for associated with conscious awareness and control of
semantic processing and long-term memory of the behavior. The short-term store is defined as having a
ignored channel was only found for easier shadowing sharply limited capacity, as is attention when
Attention and Memory 13

discussed in terms of processing resources. The same interference provides part of the rationale for positing
points could be made about the limited- the two distinct storage systems (Logie, 1996).
capacity perceptual system in Broadbents filter Furthermore, this demonstrates that the two subsys-
model. Of course, short-term memory is currently tems are limited-capacity resources for specialized
conceptualized in terms of the working-memory purposes or information types.
model (Baddeley, 1986), which contains specialized Although the phonological loop and visuospatial
subsystems. However, the subsystems are simi- sketchpad can be related to the construct of attention
larly characterized as limited-capacity processing via limited capacity, it is the central executive com-
resources, although in the case of the phonological ponent of working memory that is most typically
loop and visuospatial sketchpad, the resources are associated with attention. In contrast to the special-
applied for specialized purposes. ized subsystems, the central executive is a general,
In the modal model, the digit span task was the amodal processing resource that monitors and
standard measure of the capacity of short-term mem- controls the actions of the working memory sub-
ory, which along with numerous other assessments of systems. Increasingly, the central executive is seen
capacity, yielded the famous estimate of 7  2 as playing the more general role of an attentional
(Miller, 1956). In the contemporary working memory controller, prompting Baddeley (1993) to wonder
model, digit span (along with other simple span tasks) whether working memory, particularly the central
is interpreted as a measure of the phonological loop. executive component, might be better labeled work-
Analogous measures assess the capacity for storing ing attention.
visual and spatial information in the visuospatial To assess the relationship between the central
sketchpad. For example, in one visual span task executive (and the entirety of working memory) and
(Logie, 1996), a subject is presented with a matrix of attentional control, it is useful to have a general
blocks for a brief time. Some of the blocks are filled measure of working memory capacity. These assess-
in, and others are unfilled. After a brief delay, the ments do not solely measure the central executive,
matrix is represented with one block changing from because the executive is assumed to regulate and
filled to unfilled (or vice versa). The participants task control the other processes in the system rather than
is to identify the changed block. This task is rela- provide active storage of information itself. Measures
tively easy if the matrix consists of few blocks but of working memory are called complex span tasks
becomes increasingly difficult as the size of the because they seek to assess the joint processing and
matrix increases. The matrix size at which the subject storage capacities of the whole system, in contrast
can no longer reliably identify the changed block is with simple span tasks (like digit span) that predomi-
taken as the upper bound of the storage capacity of nantly measure passive storage of a single subsystem
the visuospatial sketchpad. (such as the phonological loop). One example is the
The phonological loop and sketchpad are subject to reading span task (Daneman and Carpenter, 1980) in
dual-task interference, another of the ways in which which subjects read a series of sentences and simulta-
the subsystems of working memory can be character- neously try to maintain the last word from each
ized as capacity-limited resources. In the case of these sentence. At the end of a set of sentences, the partici-
subsystems, the limitations are most clearly exhibited pant recalls the final words. The number of words
for distracter tasks requiring the same working mem- recalled serves as the measure of working-memory
ory resource. For example, if subjects simultaneously span. This task requires both processing (for compre-
carry out a digit span task and a verbal distracter task hension) and storage. A similar task is the operation
(both tasks that draw on the phonological loop), the span task (Engle, 2002), every trial of which consists of
measure of capacity (i.e., digit span) is dramatically an equation and a word (e.g., 4/2  3 6? (yes or no)
reduced relative to baseline. Alternatively, if digit span DOG). The participants task is to verify whether the
is carried out along with a distracter task requiring equation is correct and remember the word for sub-
visual or spatial imagery (which should draw on the sequent recall. At the end of a small set of trials (e.g.,
sketchpad and not the phonological loop), minimal 27), the words are recalled (again serving as the
reduction of digit span occurs. Visual span exhibits measure of working memory span).
the opposite pattern of interference. A secondary task Working memory capacity, as measured in these
requiring visual or spatial imagery greatly reduces tasks, correlates with a number of higher cognitive
visual span, whereas a verbal secondary task produces skills, such as language comprehension, reading abil-
much less of an effect. This pattern of selective ity, reasoning, and general intelligence (see Engle
14 Attention and Memory

and Kane (2004), for a review). Importantly for the Furthermore, it is often the case that there is no
present purposes, working memory capacity also measurable episodic memory at all for ignored mate-
relates to the control of attention. As noted earlier, rial. For example, Eich (1984) found that recognition
individuals with higher working memory spans are memory was at chance for words presented in the
less distractible in dichotic listening tasks and exhibit ignored channel of a dichotic listening study. Of
greater control over inhibitory processes (e.g., course, it is also clear from this early research that
Conway et al., 2001). Experimental manipulations at least some rudimentary perceptual information
of working memory capacity produce similar effects about the unattended message persists. Even in stu-
in selection and inhibition paradigms (deFockert dies with tight controls for covert attentional
et al., 2001; Engle and Kane, 2004; Lavie et al., 2004). switching, subjects recall whether the ignored chan-
nel was human speech, a male or female voice, a tone,
and so on, implying that some encoding of perceptual
2.02.4 Attention and Episodic information occurs without selection (Lachter et al.,
Memory 2004). On the other hand, it should also be noted that,
even if perceptual information about ignored stimuli
The preceding section focused on the relationship is encoded to some degree, the encoding of this
between attention and working memory. Returning information is enhanced by focused attention
to the quotations that began this chapter, we now (Cowan, 1995).
turn to research on attention and long-term memory, Research on visual selective attention reveals
beginning with episodic memory. The vast majority similar results. For example, Wolford and Morrison
of research on long-term memory has focused on (1980) developed a visual analogue to dichotic listen-
episodic (or explicit) memory, conscious recollection ing in which the study trials consisted of a word
of the past on direct tests of memory such as recogni- flanked by two digits (e.g., 3 DOG 5). In one condi-
tion, free recall, and cued recall. Furthermore, most tion, participants attended to the digits, judging if
of this research on memory and attention examines they were of the same parity (both odd or both
the role of attention during encoding. The bulk of even) or of different parity. Although the word was
this research provides little challenge to the intuitive focally presented, it was not the object of attention. In
sense that attention is critical for long-term memory; another condition, participants attended to the word.
that is, memory for a stimulus is negatively affected Several blocks of trials were presented to fully accus-
by manipulations of selective or divided attention. tom the participants to the encoding task. Later,
Rather, research in this domain typically examines participants were given a recognition test for the
whether some aspects of stimulus encoding might be words. Not surprisingly, recognition memory was
less reliant on attention than others and whether any greater when participants attended to the words as
elements of episodic encoding can be thought of as opposed to the digits. In addition, when tested on
being free of attentional influence. In addition, there words from the final study blocks (after practicing the
has been recent interest in determining whether parity judgment task over many trials), participants in
retrieval from episodic memory requires attention the parity-judgment condition exhibited no recogni-
to the same degree as encoding. tion memory for the words. This is quite similar to
dichotic listening results that imply that selective
attention is critical for later long-term memory and Attention and Encoding
may be absent in an unattended condition (Merikle
The deleterious effects of reduced attention during and Reingold, 1991).
encoding have been amply documented from the It is clear that selective attention to a stimulus
earliest days of psychological research (Smith, enhances (and may be necessary for) long-term epi-
1895). This holds for manipulations of selective sodic memory for the stimulus. Substantial research
attention as well as dual-task manipulations meant has also been conducted to examine the role of cen-
to divide central attentional resources. Beginning tral attentional resources in memory encoding,
with selective attention, the research on dichotic typically by using a dual-task paradigm (i.e., a
listening makes clear that memory for the content divided-attention manipulation), in which encoding
of material presented in the unattended channel is is carried out under full or divided attention condi-
greatly diminished on explicit memory tests tions. For example, in the full attention condition, the
such as recognition and recall (Broadbent, 1971). participant might read a series of study words and
Attention and Memory 15

attempt to memorize them for a later test. In the That is, participants merely had to remember whether
divided-attention condition, the participant attempts the test word was presented during the study phase.
to read and memorize the study words while simul- Associative memory was assessed with a paired recog-
taneously carrying out a secondary task. The nition test, using several types of test pairs. Some of
secondary tasks take on a number of forms but are the test pairs were identical to pairs on the study list
all designed to compete for central attentional (intact pairs), some test pairs consisted of two old
resources. For example, in the three-odd task, the words from different study pairs (rearranged pairs),
participant hears a series of digits and signals when- and other test pairs contained one or two new words.
ever he/she detects a sequence of three odd numbers On this test, participants try to recognize intact pairs
in a row. Alternatively, one might divide attention from the study list, a discrimination requiring memory
with a short-term memory load, in which the parti- for a particular association formed during the encod-
cipant keeps in mind a set of digits or letters while ing phase. Divided attention reduced accuracy in both
reading and trying to memorize a set of study mate- of the item and associative tests, but as predicted, the
rials (the participant recalls the memory load at the deficit was substantially greater for associative recog-
end of the study trial to ensure that the material was nition. Similar results are found on tests of context and
kept in mind). order memory, tests that likewise require episodic
It is abundantly clear that dividing attention with binding of previously unrelated information (e.g.,
tasks such as these degrades later memory on explicit Troyer et al., 1999; Troyer and Craik, 2000).
tests, such as recognition or free and cued recall (e.g., Dual-process models of episodic memory, which
Craik et al., 1996; Mulligan, 1998). It should be noted, propose two independent memory processes, recollec-
however, that even quite demanding secondary tasks tion and familiarity ( Jacoby, 1991; Yonelinas, 2002), are
are unlikely to eliminate explicit memory (Mulligan, similar to the distinction between item and associative
1997, 1998). In addition, the effects of divided atten- information. Recollection refers to consciously remem-
tion on encoding are graded: As the secondary task bering both the specific test item and the context in
becomes more and more difficult, later memory for which it occurred, whereas familiarity is an undif-
the study materials is reduced accordingly (e.g., ferentiated feeling that a stimulus was previously
Mulligan, 1997). encountered. Recollection is assumed to entail a
Much of the research in this area focuses on recall-like search process that is consciously controlled
whether there are certain aspects of episodic memory and intentional. Familiarity, however, is assumed to be
that are more or less dependent on central attention. unconscious and unintentional, reflecting processing
For example, Castel and Craik (2003) examined fluency. Recollection is reliant on binding processes
whether memory for item versus associative informa- during encoding that associate items and their spatio-
tion has differential reliance on attention. Item temporal context. This suggests that recollection
memory refers to the recognition or recall of individ- should be quite sensitive to divided attention during
ual stimuli as having been present in some particular encoding. Alternatively, familiarity is assumed to have
episode (e.g., the study phase of a memory experi- much less reliance on associative processing, and con-
ment). Associative memory refers to memory for a sequently less reliance on attention. Several lines of
newly formed association between stimuli. This goes research support these notions. First, different types of
beyond memory for which stimuli were present in a episodic tests show differential sensitivity to divided
given context but requires remembering which stimuli attention at encoding, with free recall being the most
were associated with one another. Castel and Craik affected and recognition memory the least (e.g., Craik
argued that the formation of new associations requires et al., 1996). Given that free recall is assumed to be
binding processes that are carried out in prefrontal heavily reliant on recollective search processes and
cortex and are highly dependent on central attention recognition is more heavily influenced by familiarity,
(e.g., Moscovitch, 2000). Consequently, these authors it makes sense that recall is more affected by divided
predicted that dividing attention during encoding attention than recognition. Second, methods used to
should disrupt associative memory more than item tease apart recollection and familiarity within recogni-
memory. To test this prediction, participants were tion memory (such as the process-dissociation and
presented with pairs of study words under either full remember/know procedures) generally indicate that
or divided attention (attention was divided with the dividing attention during encoding has robust effects
three-odd task). Item memory was assessed by a on later recollection but little effect on familiarity (see
recognition test for the second word of each pair. Yonelinas (2002) for a review).
16 Attention and Memory Attention and Retrieval 0.7

Because the traditional view states that attention is 0.65

critical for the creation of memory traces (e.g., James, 0.6
1890; Cherry, 1953; Broadbent, 1958; Norman, 1969),

Proportion recall
it is not surprising that the vast majority of the 0.55
research on attention and episodic memory has 0.5
focused on encoding. Interest in the role of attention
in memory retrieval is a more recent development. In 0.45
an early study on the topic, Baddeley et al. (1984) 0.4
examined the effects of divided attention on both
episodic encoding and retrieval using free-recall,
cued-recall, and recognition memory tests. As one 0.3
Full attn DA-retrieval DA-encoding
would expect, dividing attention during encoding
Attention condition
decreased performance on all the memory tests.
However, when attention was divided during retrie- Figure 3 Craik et al. (1996) found that dividing attention
during encoding produced a substantial decrease in recall,
val there was little decrease in memory accuracy, whereas dividing attention during retrieval produced
leading Baddeley et al. to conclude that retrieval minimal effect. Full attn full attention at both encoding and
processes are relatively automatic. retrieval; DA-encoding divided attention during encoding,
Craik et al. (1996) likewise varied attention during full attention during retrieval; DA-retrieval full attention
during encoding, divided attention during retrieval.
encoding and during retrieval but came to somewhat
different conclusions. Craik et al. used a secondary
task that permitted two complementary assessments retrieval accuracy from the deleterious effects of a
of the role of attention in memory retrieval. First, secondary task.
as in Baddeley et al. (1984), accuracy in the memory Although Baddeley et al. (1984), Craik et al.
task was compared under the full and divided (1996), and several other studies (see Craik (2001)
attention conditions. Second, performance on the for a review) found no effect of divided attention at
secondary task in the divided-attention condition retrieval on memory accuracy, such effects sometime
was compared with performance in this task when emerge. Some studies report significant effects on
performed alone (in a baseline condition, in which free and cued recall without finding a comparable
the secondary task was the sole task). The first com- effect on recognition accuracy (e.g., Park et al., 1989;
parison indicates whether the secondary task has an Anderson et al., 1998). In other studies, a significant
effect on memory retrieval. The second comparison decrement to recognition accuracy is reported
indicates whether memory retrieval has an effect on (Fernandes and Moscovitch, 2000; Hicks and
the secondary task. Such secondary task costs are a Marsh, 2000; Lozito and Mulligan, 2006). It is impor-
traditional way to measure whether a process (like tant to ascertain why such effects might be found.
memory retrieval) requires attention. The results of Fernandes and Moscovitch (2000, 2003) have
the first comparison were consistent with Baddeley argued that memory retrieval is more likely to be
et al. (1984): dividing attention during retrieval disrupted when the secondary task and the memory
produced little decline in memory accuracy (of task use the same type of materials. For example,
course, divided attention during encoding prod- Fernandes and Moscovitch (2000) used either a
uced the typical reduction in memory performance, number-based or word-based secondary task as par-
Figure 3). However, the second comparison indi- ticipants carried out a recall or recognition test
cated that performance in the secondary task was for studied words. The number-based task did not
disrupted when paired with memory retrieval. This disrupt test accuracy (consistent with Craik et al.,
contradicts the proposal that retrieval processes are 1996), whereas the word-based task significantly
automatic. Rather, Craik et al. argued, retrieval reduced memory accuracy. Although the results indi-
processes make use of attentional resources (as evi- cate a divided attention deficit in recognition,
denced by the secondary task costs) but proceed in an Fernandes and Moscovitch argued that decrements
obligatory (or protected) manner (Naveh-Benjamin obtained were not caused by competition for central
et al., 2000). Under this view, retrieval takes prece- attentional resources but were, rather, a result
dence over other ongoing activities, protecting of competition for word-specific representational
Attention and Memory 17

systems. Fernandes and Moscovitch labeled this a evidenced by striking population and functional disso-
material-specific interference effect. ciations (See Chapter 2.33; Roediger and McDermott,
Hicks and Marsh (2000), in contrast, posited that 1993; Mulligan, 2003b). Coupled with neuroimaging
competition for central resources can also lead to a evidence (e.g., Schacter and Badgaiyan, 2001), these
divided attention effect under certain conditions. dissociations indicate separable components of memory
They based this claim on the dual-process model underlying implicit and explicit memory phenomena.
described above, arguing that search-based recollec- Given the centrality of attention in theories of memory
tion processes should be disrupted by a secondary encoding and the rather uniform effects of divided
task, whereas familiarity processes should be less attention on episodic memory, it is important to evalu-
susceptible. Consequently, encoding conditions that ate the role of attention in implicit memory.
produce higher levels of recollection should exhibit With regard to manipulations of selective atten-
divided-attention effects. Hicks and Marsh had par- tion, the results are quite clear: Directing attention
ticipants either read or generate words during away from a stimulus diminishes the amount of prim-
encoding under the standard assumption that ge- ing detected (e.g., Eich, 1984; Bentin et al., 1998;
neration enhances later recollection. During the Crabb and Dark, 1999; Mulligan and Hornstein,
recognition test, memory accuracy was reduced by 2000). This implies that selective attention is neces-
divided attention in the generate condition but not in sary for robust levels of priming. A separate question
the read condition. Lozito and Mulligan (in press) is whether implicit memory can arise in the absence
also found significant divided-attention effects on of attention. This question is a matter of some debate.
both conceptual and perceptual recognition tests, A study by Eich (1984) indicated this possibility. In
converging on a similar conclusion: Memory re- this dichotic listening experiment, subjects shadowed
trieval that is recollective in nature is susceptible to a prose passage presented to one ear while word pairs
divided-attention effects during retrieval. In light of were presented in the other ear. Each word pair
the results of Fernandes and Moscovitch (2000), it is consisted of a homophone and a word biasing its
critical to note that the secondary tasks of Hicks and less common meaning (e.g., taxi-FARE). Subjects
Marsh and of Lozito and Mulligan used numbers, showed no explicit recognition for these words. In
whereas the memory test used words, implying that an implicit test condition, subjects were given a spel-
the divided-attention effect is general (i.e., implicat- ling test for aurally presented words. This test
ing central attention), rather than material specific. contained the homophones presented during the sha-
dowing task as well as a control set of homophones.
The subjects were more likely to choose the uncom-
2.02.5 Attention and Other Forms mon spelling for homophones from the ignored
of Long-Term Memory channel than for the control homophones, demon-
strating above-chance priming for the word pairs Attention and Implicit Memory
presented in the irrelevant channel. This has been
At the outset of this chapter we differentiated taken as evidence of implicit memory for unattended
between explicit (episodic, recollective, intentional, stimuli. It should be noted that, when the word pairs
conscious) memory and implicit (unconscious, unin- were presented to the shadowed ear, even greater
tentional, nonepisodic) memory. Explicit memory is levels of priming resulted. So Eichs results demon-
typically measured with traditional memory tests, strate reduced priming for the ignored versus
such as recognition and free and cued recall, in attended channel, coupled with above-chance prim-
which participants are directed to think back about ing for the material presented in the ignored ear.
a prior event and report on it. Implicit memory tests Merikle and Reingold (1991) showed a similar pat-
simply require participants to perform a task (e.g., tern of results for visual selective attention.
completing word fragments, generating category Although the results of Eich (1984) were impress-
examples) without reference to any prior experience. ive and indicate that implicit memory has less
Memory for prior events is inferred from the reliance on selective attention than does explicit
increased ability to complete, generate, identify, or memory, there is reason to wonder whether these
otherwise process recently presented stimuli. The results represent implicit memory for unattended
enhanced processing is called priming. material. Wood et al. (1997) suggested that the pre-
The principles that govern implicit and explicit sentation rate of the material in Eichs (1984) study
memory appear to differ in a number of ways, as was too slow to preclude rapid, covert switches of
18 Attention and Memory

attention. As noted in the earlier discussion of processes (e.g., Jacoby et al., 1989, 1993; Parkin
dichotic listening, there is always the concern of et al., 1990; Parkin and Russo, 1990; Bentin et al.,
attentional slippage. Wood et al. investigated this 1995; Isingrini et al., 1995; Aloisi et al., 2004).
issue by varying the speed with which the attended The notion that implicit memory reflects automatic
materials was presented. At the slower rate used by encoding processes has not withstood subsequent
Eich, Wood et al. found the same results: chance- research, however (see Mulligan and Brown (2003)
level recognition coupled with above-chance prim- for a review). First, this initial research focused on
ing on the spelling task. However, at the faster rate (a perceptually based priming tasks (such as perceptual
rate at which subjects could still successfully sha- identification and word and picture fragment comple-
dow), priming in the spelling task was not above tions), in which degraded or partial perceptual cues
chance. Wood et al. argued that a faster rate in the guide memory retrieval. Implicit memory may also be
attended channel renders the shadowing task more assessed with conceptually based tests in which mem-
attention demanding and diminishes the likelihood of ory retrieval is guided by conceptual cues, such as
covert (and undetected) switches of attention to the category names or associates. Mulligan and Hartman
putatively unattended channel. Consequently, even (1996; Mulligan, 1997, 1998) demonstrated that con-
though the unattended materials were presented at ceptual priming is quite sensitive to division of
the same slow rate as in the Eich study, no priming attention during encoding. Second, even perceptually
was found. This argues against the notion that based implicit tests have proven susceptible to divided-
implicit memory is found for unattended stimuli. attention manipulation under some conditions. For
Similarly, Berry et al. (2006) recently failed to repli- example, Mulligan (2003a) found that a divided-atten-
cate Merikle and Reingolds results with visual tion task requiring frequent response selection affected
selective attention, strengthening the concern about perceptual priming, whereas a divided-attention task
implicit memory in the absence of attention. requiring less frequent response selection left priming
A related line of research has used dual-task para- unaffected.
digms to examine the role of central attention To summarize the results, it is now clear that
resources in implicit memory. As with selection implicit memory is generally affected by a variety
attention studies, initial studies implied important of selective- and divided-attention manipulations,
differences in the role of attention in implicit and indicating that implicit memory relies on both selec-
explicit memory, with later studies modifying this tive attention and central attentional resources. In
conclusion. Consider an experiment by Parkin and addition, the effects of these attention manipulations
Russo (1990), in which participants named pictures of are generally larger on explicit than implicit mem-
everyday objects during the study phase. In the full- ory. At present, the results indicate that implicit and
attention condition, this was the sole task. In the explicit memory differ quantitatively rather than
divided-attention condition, participants named the qualitatively in terms of their reliance on attention.
pictures and carried out a tone-monitoring task, in Both forms of memory rely on attention (in both the
which a series of tones were categorized as high, selective and central-resources senses), but explicit
medium, or low. Participants were later given an memory appears to rely on attention more heavily
explicit test, in which they recalled the names of (see Mulligan, 2003a, for speculation as to why).
the pictures, or an implicit test, in which they identi-
fied fragmented pictures. Priming in this task is Attention and Procedural Learning
indicated by identification of studied (or old) pictures
at lower levels of clarification than the new pictures. Procedural learning encompasses the acquisition of
As would be expected, recall was greatly diminished perceptual, motor, and cognitive skills and is another
by divided attention. However, the amount of prim- form of nonconscious memory. Skill acquisition is
ing on the picture-fragment task was essentially the characterized by gradual improvements in perfor-
same for the full- and divided-attention conditions. mance over many sessions of practice. To isolate
Several other studies produced similar results (see processes of procedural learning and make it amen-
Jacoby et al., 1989; Parkin et al., 1990; Russo and able to experimental analysis, researchers have
Parkin, 1993; Mulligan and Hartman, 1996; typically turned to a small set of laboratory tasks.
Schmitter-Edgecombe, 1996a,b), giving rise to the The most prominent example is the serial reaction
claim that implicit memory has little reliance on time (SRT) test. In this test, participants identify the
attention and largely reflects automatic encoding location of a target as it moves among a fixed set of
Attention and Memory 19

(usually four to seven) locations by pressing the key the final test in an AG task produced no effect on
that corresponds to each new location. Embedded in the expression of procedural information that was
the sequence of locations is a repeating pattern. initially acquired in a full attention condition.
Reaction times gradually decrease over hundreds or Eversheim and Bock (2001) present a single study of
thousands of trials. Procedural learning is assessed in procedural learning, which reveals the typical pattern
a transfer block in which the pattern is no longer of results across early acquisition trials and later
present. An increase in reaction times indicates that expression of a practiced skill. These authors used a
something about the repeating pattern had been tracking task in which the visual feedback had been
learned. Another commonly used task is the artificial reversed. Over the early trials of the tracking task,
grammar (AG) learning task developed by Reber performing a secondary task greatly diminished the
(1967). In this task, participants are presented with rate of improvement. However, after extensive prac-
strings of elements (e.g., letters) that were produced tice with the task, a dual-task condition produced
by a complex set of rules the underlying grammar little decrement in performance. That is, the acquisi-
that dictates the order in which the elements may tion of this new perceptual-motor skill was harmed by
occur. After exposure to the learning set, a new set of distraction, whereas the expression of the attained
strings is presented, some of which are consistent skill was little disrupted by divided attention.
with the grammar (i.e., these are strings generated Although the majority of the relevant studies
by the grammar), and others that violate the gram- examined central-attentional resources, a few have
mar. The participants task is to categorize the test examined the relationship between selective attention
strings as grammatical or nongrammatical. Above- and procedural learning. Perhaps not surprisingly,
chance accuracy on this test in the absence of verba- most have concluded that procedural learning
lizable knowledge of the grammatical rules is usually requires selective attention to the stimuli of the learn-
taken as evidence of implicit learning of (at least ing task (e.g., Jiang and Chun, 2001; Turk-Browne
some aspects of) the underlying grammar (see et al., 2005; see also Wulf and Prinz, 2001).
Dienes and Berry, 1997, for a review).
The bulk of the research on attention and proce-
dural learning has examined the role of central 2.02.6 Concluding Comments
attentional resources, using dual-task paradigms. In
an early study, Nissen and Bullemer (1987) reported This chapter began with quotations from James and
that dividing attention during learning eliminated Ebbinghaus articulating the traditional view that
procedural learning in the SRT task. The dual task attention is critically important for memory. Modern
used in that study was a tone counting task, in which researchers differentiate among multiple forms of
participants heard high and low tones and kept a both memory and attention, which has allowed a
running count of the number of low tones. However, more fine-grained analysis of this relationship. We
there is evidence that the tone-counting task may have seen the ways in which attention is intertwined
disrupt procedural learning by interfering with the with the concept of working memory, so much so that
timing or organization of responses in the SRT task aspects of working memory (i.e., the central execu-
rather than through its demands on central attention tive) are sometimes equated with central attention. It
(e.g., Stadler, 1995). An arguably less problematic is also apparent that attention is critical for acquisition
secondary task, the symbol counting task, produces in long-term memory. This is especially clear with
similar effects, disrupting procedural learning relative regard to episodic memory, although reliance on
to a full-attention condition (e.g., Shanks and attention might be greater for certain aspects of epi-
Channon, 2002; Shanks et al., 2005). Research using sodic encoding (e.g., associative information) than for
the AG task produces similar results. Procedural others (e.g., item information). Furthermore, recent
learning in this task is reduced by a concurrent deci- research highlights the importance of attention during
sion task (Dienes et al., 1991). The learning of encoding for nonepisodic forms of memory, such as
complex motor skills has a similar reliance on atten- implicit and procedural memory phenomena. It is
tion (Wulf and Prinz, 2001). Thus, the acquisition of only in the case of long-term memory retrieval
procedural skills appears to rely on central attentional that the role of attention is debated. Retrieval from
mechanisms. However, the expression of highly episodic memory appears to be attention demanding,
learned skills may not. For example, Helman and albeit less so than memory encoding. In contrast,
Berry (2003) found that dividing attention during retrieval in procedural memory, especially of
20 Attention and Memory

well-learned skills, is much less dependent on atten- Craik FIM (2001) Effects of dividing attention on encoding and
retrieval processes. In: Roediger HL, Nairne JS, Neath I, and
tion. Finally, there is little research on the role of Surprenant AM (eds.) The Nature of Remembering: Essays in
attention in implicit memory, an area in need of Honor of Robert G. Crowder, pp. 5568. Washington DC:
systematic research. American Psychological Association.
Craik FIM, Govoni R, Naveh-Benjamin M, and Anderson ND
(1996) The effects of divided attention on encoding and
retrieval processes in human memory. J. Exp. Psychol. Gen.
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2.03 Sensory Memory
N. Cowan, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA
2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

2.03.1 Introduction 23
2.03.2 Defining Characteristics of Sensory Memory 24 Memory for Stimuli As Opposed to Ideas 24 Memory for Information More Fine-Grained Than a Familiar Category 25 Memory Even for Unattended Stimuli 25
2.03.3 Why Study Sensory Memory? 26 Understanding Qualia and Consciousness 26 Understanding Group Differences in Information Processing 27 Eliminating Contamination from Nonsensory Aspects of Cognition 27
2.03.4 Techniques to Examine Sensory Memory 28 Sensory Persistence Procedures 28 Partial-Report Procedures 28 Selective-Attention Procedures 29 Backward-Masking Procedures 29
2.03.5 Theories of Forgetting From Sensory Memory 29 Modality-Specific Rates of Decay 29 Two Phases of Sensory Memory with Different Rates of Decay 29 No-Decay Theories 30
2.03.6 Comments on the Future of Research on Sensory Memory 30
References 31

2.03.1 Introduction example, one may form an image of a U.S. penny (one-
cent coin), but it is distinguished from a sensory
Sensory memory refers to the short-lived memory for memory in its vagueness, such as not really knowing
sensory details of events. This can include how things which way Lincolns head faces.
looked, sounded, felt, smelled, and tasted. To some It has long been recognized that at least some sorts
extent, this type of information must persist in long- of sensory memory operate in a manner that is dif-
term memory. It allows us to recognize a familiar voice ferent from other forms of memory. In classic
over the telephone or to recognize the taste of a research on attention, subjects were asked to repeat
favorite food. However, the human information pro- a message presented to one ear and ignore a conflict-
cessing system seems to be designed in such a way that ing message presented to the other ear concurrently.
the richness of sensory memories is quickly lost, leav- Although they could recall little of the message pre-
ing behind more categorized memories. For example, sented to the ear to be ignored, when the task ended
when one hears or reads a sentence, the gist is strongly the last few words of that message often could be
saved but the exact manner in which the material was recalled (Broadbent, 1958). This suggested that the
presented is more quickly lost; verbatim wording is information in the unattended message was held
readily accessible only for the most recent phrase, and temporarily in a form that soon would be lost if it
it is incomplete even for that phrase (Sachs, 1967; were not attended. A natural way to understand that
Jarvella, 1970). Physical features of stimuli do leave phenomenon is that the temporary storage consists of
long-term memory traces that influence later behavior sensory information and a longer-lasting record can
(Kolers, 1974; Cowan, 1984; Weldon et al., 1995), but be saved only if that sensory information is attended
these may lack the fine-grained subtlety of short-lived before it fades away, which allows the formation of
sensory memories. Sensory memory is typically dis- memory for the words that were spoken.
tinguished from mental imagery, which can include Sperling (1960) carried out a classic study that
sensory-like qualities but is typically less detailed. For dramatically illustrated the difference between

24 Sensory Memory

sensory and abstract forms of memory for a recent separately. In Sperlings (1960) type of procedure, for
event. Subjects saw a briefly presented array with example, the errors that crop up as the partial-report
three rows of characters and then received a tone cue is delayed (or omitted) appear to be primarily
indicating whether the top, middle, or bottom row location errors, in which a character is reported at the
should be recalled (a partial-report cue). If the tone wrong location rather than forgotten completely
was presented soon enough, almost all characters in (Townsend, 1973; Mewhort et al., 1981; Irwin and
the designated row could be recalled, provided that Yeomans, 1986). Consistent with this, a great deal of
there were four or fewer characters in the row. As the neurological research suggests that different features
delay between the array and the tone cue was of an object, such as its identity versus its location, are
increased, performance diminished, quickly at first perceived using different neural subsystems (in
and then more slowly, curving down to a steady vision: Haxby et al., 1991; in hearing: Alain et al.,
level (asymptote) within 1 s. By that point, the cue 2001; in touch: Pons et al., 1992), and that perception
came too late to be of use, and subjects could remem- of an object therefore requires a subsequent integra-
ber only as many characters as one would expect if tion of these features. Sensory memory could include
the limit were about four characters retained from a constellation of features that have not necessarily
the entire display. This pattern of results could be been integrated. The full integration of these features
accounted for on the basis of two types of memory: a into objects could require attention (Treisman and
sensory memory that held the entire display like a Gelade, 1980), which could result in a nonsensory
snapshot for a very short time, even though the type of memory.
number of characters was far too large to be attended It also may be that the brief sort of sensory mem-
at once, and a more abstract memory that could hold ory is not truly a memory as such but, rather, a side
only about four items. The partial-report cue could effect of perceptual processing. The difference is that
influence which part of the sensory memory was the neural effect of a stimulus giving rise to sensation
transferred to an abstract form and then reported, begins before the stimulus ends and, for very brief
but the cue had to be presented before the sensory stimuli, may not even reach a peak until some time
memory faded. after the stimulus has ended. The duration of this
One can see from this finding that an understand- sensory memory appears longer for less intense
ing of sensory memory is critical for an understanding stimuli. Such findings suggest that the sensory persis-
of performance on memory tests. Even if one is trying tence of the stimulus may reflect conscious access
to assess the availability of abstract forms of memory, to neural processes involved in perception (cf.
the contribution of sensory memory must be either Weichselgartner and Sperling, 1985; Dixon and Di
eliminated or taken into account. Beyond that, sen- Lollo, 1994; Massaro and Loftus, 1996; Loftus and
sory memory is an important aspect of our conscious Irwin, 1998).
experience of the outside world, as we will see. Given such debates, it is important to back up and
One thing that makes sensory memory controver- examine the distinctions regarding sensory memory
sial is that the boundaries between it and other that often are taken as its defining characteristics.
types of memory are debatable. By some accounts,
there is a distinction between sensory storage that
comes before perception and postperceptual storage
(Massaro and Loftus, 1996). It does appear that there 2.03.2 Defining Characteristics of
are two phases of temporary memory for stimulus Sensory Memory
qualities: a brief phase that seems like a continuation Memory for Stimuli As Opposed to
of the stimulus for about a quarter second, and a
second phase that seems like a vivid recollection for
some seconds (Massaro, 1975a; Cowan, 1984, 1988, Consider how the perception of a newborn infant
1995). However, one could argue that the process of must differ from that of an adult: it differs in many
perception begins quite rapidly in the brain, and that ways, but one important difference is as follows.
the first phase of memory for sensation is already part The infant has a range of sensory experiences, but
of perception. When this brief memory begins to fade there is not yet any way to attach significance or
away, it is not the same thing as a picture becoming meaning to most of those experiences. An adult
hazy or indistinct, as if viewed through a fog. Instead, does have meanings, or ideas, to attach to
it is as if different features of each object can be lost experiences. For example, if an American adult
Sensory Memory 25

sees a red octagon, it may remind him or her of a Memory Even for Unattended
traffic stop sign. Yet it seems reasonable to believe Stimuli
that there is perception and memory of the shape
As mentioned in the introduction, the concept of
and color that can be separated from its meaning.
sensory memory arose to explain how people can
That may not be exactly true, inasmuch as it is
briefly retain more information than they can
difficult for people to remember or perhaps even
process. The concept of a short-lived sensory mem-
to perceive objects without some influence of their
ory for unattended information was present in the
knowledge that apples are red, grass is green, and selective listening procedure (Broadbent, 1958) and
so on (Bartleson, 1960; Ratner and McCarthy, the partial-report procedure using visual arrays
1990). After identification of a stimulus and its (Sperling, 1960). Darwin et al. (1972) brought these
meaning has taken place, there may be neural two lines of research together by constructing an
feedback to the parts of the brain that perceive auditory analogue of Sperlings procedure. In this
sensations. Nevertheless, to a first approximation, analogue, an array of three simultaneous spoken
we can think of sensory memory as the memory characters presented to left, center, and right spatial
for the knowledge-free, sensation-based character- locations was followed by a second such array and
istics of stimuli that resemble what a newborn then a test for the information presented at one loca-
would perceive. If it turns out to be impossible to tion. Similar findings were obtained using arrays of
think of sensory memory in this way, the postula- tones (Treisman and Rostron, 1972; Rostron, 1974).
tion of a distinction between sensory and In the auditory studies, it was not possible to pres-
nonsensory forms of memory may have to be ent 12 or more simultaneous stimuli as Sperling (1960)
weakened. did in the visual modality. Consequently, it is possible
that subjects were able to carry out a perceptual anal-
ysis of the sounds. Nevertheless, other evidence Memory for Information More suggests that the perceptual analysis is incomplete
Fine-Grained Than a Familiar Category and that the items need not have received full atten-
tion to have been remembered in the procedure of
A critical step in perception is categorization: gaining Darwin et al. (1972). Cowan et al. (1990) carried out a
the knowledge that a particular stimulus is an exam- procedure in which nine syllables (bee, bih, beh, dee, dih,
ple of items in a certain category, whether or not one deh, gee, gih, geh) were presented at random intervals
knows a verbal label for that category. For example, through headphones while the subject ignored them
one can perceive two successive piano notes as com- and silently read a novel. When a light signal occa-
ing from different tone categories even if one does sionally appeared, the subject was to stop reading and
not know or remember the names of those categories. identify the last spoken syllable, which occurred 1, 5,
Sensory memory is typically viewed as coming or 10 s ago. Generally, performance was good at a 1-s
before that step of categorization. As a result, it can retention interval and decreased dramatically across
include fine details that distinguish items within a the longer intervals. However, in an experiment in
category, such as differences in tone frequency too which subjects had to monitor the speech stream
small to change the identity of the note, except to while reading (pushing a button if dih was presented),
make it slightly out of tune (Keller et al., 1995), there was no forgetting across retention intervals, even
differences between two slightly different pronuncia- though the monitoring task was performed correctly
tions of the same vowel (Pisoni, 1973), or differences on only 60% of the trials. In another experiment, the
between two slightly different shades of the same reading was whispered by the subject and recorded so
color (Massaro, 1975a). In each case, if slightly dif- that diversions in attention away from the reading
ferent stimuli are presented in close succession could be observed (as 1-s pauses in reading). It was
(ideally within about 250 ms of each other), the sen- found that consonant perception was much better on
sory memory of the first stimulus can be compared to trials in which there were diversions of attention while
the second stimulus with good acuity. This charac- the target syllable was presented. The sensory form of
teristic could be important, as when one is trying to memory may only be adequate for vowel perception,
learn exactly how to imitate a word spoken in an and memory for consonants may be nonsensory in
unfamiliar language or, in infants, learning language nature and may require attention to be formed.
in the first place. Vowels are more or less steady-state sounds, whereas
26 Sensory Memory

stop consonants involve rapid acoustic changes that Understanding Qualia and
may be too complex to be maintained in a long form of Consciousness
sensory memory.
Philosophers speak of qualia, the essential mental
In sum, it seems apt to say that sensory memory is
states corresponding to experiences. These may be
a special type of memory that may not require atten-
considered the building blocks of conscious experi-
tion to be formed. It cannot hold all aspects of
ence. The equivalent notion within psychology is the
the environment; perhaps it comprises a snapshot
study of subjective experience that can be traced back
of information or slice of time and is unable to
to the introspectionist method of Wilhelm Wundt,
hold much information that changes over time.
who founded the first laboratory of experimental
Nevertheless, it is sufficient to save information
psychology in 1879. Experimental methods related
about far more than one can attentively process at
once and thereby serves as a sort of multichannel to introspection make use of similarities in the
bulletin board helping the perceiver to shift attention verbal descriptions of an event across individuals.
from one sensory channel to another as the incoming Descriptions of fleeting events get at the smallest
information warrants. temporal unit of consciousness, or psychological
moment, during which all events appear simultaneous
even if they are not (e.g., Stroud, 1955; Lichtenstein,
1961; Allport, 1968; Eriksen and Collins, 1968; Creel
2.03.3 Why Study Sensory Memory? et al., 1970; Robinson and Pollack, 1971). In the typical
experiment to examine this concept, multiple visual
Cognitive psychologists and other students of human displays (such as two sets of dots) are presented
behavior have not been consistently enthralled by the rapidly, and when they are presented in close enough
concept of sensory memory. The majority of them are temporal proximity, they are perceived as a single
interested in learning how meaningful information is image that includes all of the presented items (e.g.,
processed, and for that enterprise, the fate of sensory all of the dots together). The presentation time within
information seems to be of secondary interest. Taking which there is perceived simultaneity depends on
this paucity of interest further, Haber (1983) asserted stimulus factors but is typically in the range of 100 to
that sensory memory is a byproduct of processing that 200 ms. One account of the psychological moment
is not really of any use in ecologically relevant cir- states that the sensory memory of the first presentation
cumstances, with rare exceptions such as when one still must be sufficiently active when the second pre-
wants to read on a dark, rainy night by the light sentation arrives, so that it becomes impossible to tell
produced by flashes of lightning. However, there are the difference between sensory memory and sensation,
several key reasons why sensory memory is of interest. allowing them to be fused into an apparently simulta-
Some important phenomena in the modern world neous percept. On that basis one can explain, for
make use of visual sensory memory; without its smear- example, why a loud noise and a closely following
ing of the effects of sensation, we would not perceive quieter noise can be perceptually fused into a single
motion pictures as moving but, rather, as a rapid noise if the gap between them is no more than 100 ms
succession of still frames. It seems likely, as well, that or so (Plomp, 1964). The second noise must be mis-
there are analogous phenomena in the natural world. taken for part of the decaying sensory trace of the first
As one spots a deer running across the forest, the noise, and the chances of that happening increase as
continual disappearance of parts of the animal behind the gap between them gets shorter and the second
trees and reappearance of those parts is reconstructed noise gets quieter.
by ones perceptual system to form a continuous event, There were two competing hypotheses of the
the deer running. Sensory memory may be critical in psychological moment, and only one of them is con-
allowing this smooth percept to be formed. In audition, sistent with a sensory memory account. According to
the case is straightforward, inasmuch as sounds inher- a continuous-moment hypothesis, the psychological
ently change over time. Some mental device must moment is a sliding window of time. This is compa-
capture segments of the sounds in order to interpret tible with the notion that the sensory memory of each
them. For example, as we already have noted, lan- stimulus can be combined with immediately succes-
guage learning may depend on sensory memory for sive stimuli. In contrast, according to a discrete-
how words are pronounced. Some less obvious reasons moment hypothesis, there are successive windows
to be interested in sensory memory are as follows. defined by internal neural events (e.g., oscillation in
Sensory Memory 27

the firing of neurons so as to collect incoming sensory sensory memory than adults do. The procedure that
signals). Two brief events occurring, say, 80 ms apart was used was one of auditory backward recognition
would fall in either the same psychological moment masking (Massaro, 1975b). In that type of procedure
or in different moments, depending on when they in adults, two brief sounds are presented in rapid
happened to occur relative to the boundary between succession, and the subject is to identify the
successive moments. first sound in a multiple-choice test. Performance
Allport (1968) carried out an experiment to decide improves as the time between the onsets of the first
between these hypotheses that seems especially ele- and second sounds (the stimulus onset asynchrony or
gant and decisive. On every trial, 12 horizontal lines SOA) increases to about 250 ms. Even if the choices
were presented in rapid succession, over and over, are so close that performance is substantially below
progressing from a line high on the oscilloscope 100%, performance levels off to an asymptotic level
screen to lines lower and lower on the screen. Only at about that SOA. The explanation (in concert with
one line was presented at a given time, but because of other, convergent procedures that we discuss later) is
perceived simultaneity, multiple lines were visible at that information must be extracted over time from
once. The rate of succession was adjusted for each sensory memory into a more abstract form of mem-
subject until exactly 11 of the 12 lines were visible at ory until the second sound masks or overwrites the
once. At this rate, one could observe what was termed sensory memory of the first sound, interrupting the
shadow movement as the remaining line that could process of extracting information. By an SOA of
not be seen changed over time. Now, according to a 250 ms, the auditory sensory memory fades, so delays
continuous-moment hypothesis, the shadow should of the second, masking stimulus beyond that point
move from top to bottom. While the 12th, lowest would not help. For infant study, an ah-ah vowel pair
line is presented, the sensory afterimage of the 1st, was presented repeatedly, but with different SOAs
highest line is the oldest and fades. While this line 1 is among the pairs. Sometimes, an eh-ah pair was pre-
again presented, the sensory afterimage of line 2 sented instead, but the access to this different pair
becomes the oldest and fades; while line 2 is again was restricted to pairs with a particular SOA. The
presented, the sensory afterimage of line 3 becomes dependent measure of sound discrimination was how
the oldest and fades; and so on. In contrast, according long and how vigorously infants were willing to suck
to a discrete moment hypothesis, the shadow should on a pacifier that yielded not food but access to pairs
move from bottom to top. If lines 111 fit within one that changed from ah-ah to eh-ah, rather than being
discrete perceptual moment, line 12 is not visible. stuck with a monotonous repetition of ah-ah. (For
Then line 12, along with the next presentation of other infants, the assignment of the two vowels was
lines 110, will all fit into the next moment, and line reversed.) Higher sucking rates for this condition
11 will not be visible; then lines 1112 along with the than for a condition in which there was no acoustic
next presentation of lines 19 will all fit into the next benefit of sucking yielded evidence of sound discrim-
moment, and line 10 will not be visible; and so on. ination when the changes occurred within pairs with
The results consistently showed downward shadow a 400-ms SOA, but not when the changes occurred
movement, supporting a continuous psychological within pairs with the 250-ms SOA that is sufficient
moment and a sensory memory explanation. for optimal performance in adult studies.
Various methods also have been used to show that
the duration of sensory memory may differ from the Understanding Group Differences
norm in children with mental retardation (Campbell,
in Information Processing
and Meyer, 1981) or reading disability (Sipe and
If the psychological moment is determined by sen- Engle, 1986) and in patients who have had unilateral
sory memory, then group differences in sensory temporal lobectomy (Efron et al., 1985). It is not
memory have important implications for how the known whether sensory memory abnormality con-
groups perceive the world. It determines which tributes to cognitive disabilities in these groups.
events will be grouped together within the duration
of sensory memory and which will be separated, Eliminating Contamination from
beyond that duration (e.g., Dixon and DiLollo,
Nonsensory Aspects of Cognition
1994; Loftus and Irwin, 1998).
A study by Cowan et al. (1982) suggested that Even if one is interested in abstract forms of memory,
8- to 9-week-old infants have a longer first phase of it is necessary to examine sensory memory in order
28 Sensory Memory

to control its contribution in various test procedures. might result from an integration of the neural
A good example is the procedure of Luck and Vogel response intensity over time (cf. Cowan, 1987;
(1997) to examine working memory. An array of Loftus and Irwin, 1998).
simple, schematic objects is presented and then fol-
lowed by a second array identical to the first or Sensory Persistence Procedures
differing in the identity of one of the objects. In
such procedures, people can remember about four In the most straightforward types of investigation,
items (cf. Sperling, 1960). If the interest is on that stimuli extended over time are perceived as being
working memory limit, then one needs to be sure that simultaneous, as in the investigations of the psy-
sensory memory has faded away before the test. One chological moment described above. Johann Andreas
could use a partial-report cue to determine when it Segner, a German physicist and mathematician living
has faded, as Sperling did. Another method is to mask in the 1700s, attached a glowing coal to a cartwheel,
the array with another, interfering array after various rotating the wheel at various speeds. He found that a
intervals and to determine how much information complete circle was perceived if the wheel was rotated
already has been transferred from sensory memory at a rate of at least 100 ms per rotation. This implies
to working memory. Woodman and Vogel (2005) did that the sensory memory of the glowing coal fell below
that and suggested that sensory memory for items in some minimal level of brightness by about 100 ms.
an array was transferred to working memory at a rate Efron (1970a,b,c) carried out quite a nice set of
of about 50 ms per item in the array. experiments to refine the sensory persistence proce-
A similar point could be made with respect to dure. An indicator (e.g., a click) stimulus was
understanding attention. Imagine an experiment in presented along with a target stimulus (e.g., a light
which different word lists are presented simulta- flash), and the study estimated when the indicator
neously to the left and right ears. Suppose one has sounded as if it occurred at the same time as the offset
evidence suggesting that an individual can attend to of the target (or, in a control condition, the onset of
both channels of speech at once. Such evidence may the target). The result was that the onset of the target
be misleading. If the speech is presented too slowly, was only very slightly overestimated, whereas the
there is the possibility of instead (1) attending to the offset was overestimated by up to about 200 ms.
word presented to one ear, and then (2) switching The nature of the overestimation depended heavily
attention to the other ear in time to perceive the on the duration of the target, such that the target
sensory memory of the word presented to that ear. appeared to have a minimal perceived duration of
If this is the case, speeding up the presentation may about 200 ms. Very similar results were obtained
eliminate evidence that both channels are being when the target was visual and when it was auditory.
perceived. For an example of this see Wood et al. The duration of a perception appears to be the dura-
(1997). In attention research, as in working memory tion of the perceptual response, and if the target
research, the effect of sensory memory must be taken stimulus is brief, it reflects the duration of the target
into account. plus its perceptual afterimage or sensory memory. Partial-Report Procedures

2.03.4 Techniques to Examine
Sensory Memory We already have described the procedures like that
of Sperling (1960) and Darwin et al. (1972), in which
Of necessity, we already have discussed a number of an array of items is followed by a partial-report cue
techniques used to examine sensory memory. Now it that allows part of the sensory memory representa-
should be helpful to take a brief inventory of these tion to be transferred to a more abstract, categorized,
methods. In taking this inventory it is important to reportable state, working memory. One enigma
keep in mind that different methods disagree. Still, it worthy of consideration is that, whereas persistence
may be proposed that different outcomes theoretical- procedures have produced similar results for vision
ly might result from a common sensory memory. For and audition, partial-report procedures seem to pro-
example, a subjective impression of the duration of a duce much shorter periods of cue utility for vision
stimulus might result from the duration for which the (under 1 s) than for audition (about 4 s). We return to
sensory neural response exceeds a certain intensity, this enigma when discussing theories of forgetting
whereas a measure of information about the stimulus from sensory memory.
Sensory Memory 29 Selective-Attention Procedures showed that substantial backward masking occurs

even when the target was presented to one ear and
We have touched upon procedures in which an audi-
the mask was presented to the other ear. (For con-
tory stimulus is ignored at the time of its presentation
vergent evidence of a central locus of the visual
and only subsequently receives the benefit of atten-
afterimage using a persistence technique, see Haber
tion applied to the sensory memory (Broadbent,
and Standing, 1969, 1970.) Kallman and Morris
1958; Cowan et al., 1990; there are various other
(1984) showed something similar in audition, though
examples such as Treisman, 1964; Norman, 1969;
the opposite conclusion is often cited (Hawkins and
Glucksberg and Cowen, 1970).
Presson, 1977). Cowan (1995, Section 2.5) cited phys-
It is possible also to examine memory for unat-
iological studies supporting the notion that auditory
tended material in the visual modality. Various
sensory memory has a central locus.
techniques can be used to get the subject to contract
or expand the focus of visual attention (Eriksen and
St. James, 1986; LaBerge and Brown, 1989), and one
2.03.5 Theories of Forgetting From
can then examine memory for information inside or
Sensory Memory
outside of the attentional focus. One difficulty is that
there is poorer perceptual analysis of information in Modality-Specific Rates of Decay
the periphery of the visual field, regardless of whether
It is interesting to see how a scientific field responds
that part of the field is the focus of attention. Usually,
to inconsistency. Although the methods described
the center of the visual field of gaze is also the focus of
above have been present for quite some time, most
attention, so attention and visual acuity are con-
theoretical mentions of sensory memory in textbooks
founded. (That is not the case in audition, for which
seem to go along with the conclusion that auditory
there is no change in the effectors accompanying
memory outlasts visual memory. That could account
attention.) Luckily, it is possible to direct a subjects
for the findings of partial-report and selective-
attention to an area outside of the center of gaze (e.g.,
attention procedures, but not the findings of persistence
Brefczynski and DeYoe, 1999). For this reason, it is
and backward-masking procedures. An alternative view
theoretically possible to determine the effects of
is described in the sections that follow.
attention on visual perception and examine memory
for centrally presented but unattended stimuli. It does
seem clear that visual attention affects perception, but Two Phases of Sensory Memory
more research is needed to reveal the details of unat- with Different Rates of Decay
tended sensory images in the center of gaze.
The study of Sperling (1960) was truly seminal in the
field. When Darwin et al. (1972) found that sensory
memory appeared to be useful for a much longer Backward-Masking Procedures
period in audition (about 4 s) than Sperling found in
We already have touched upon the technique of vision (less than 1 s), it led to the belief that auditory
backward masking, in which a brief target stimulus memory lasts longer than visual memory. However,
is followed by a mask and impedes recognition of the Massaro (1976) offered a different interpretation.
target. Notably, little masking occurs if the mask Whereas Sperlings experiments used a large number
precedes the target (Massaro, 1973). This confirms of simultaneous characters (e.g., 12), the smaller
that the critical aspect of backward masking is over- number of simultaneous characters used by Darwin
writing of the targets sensory memory by the mask, et al. (1972) allowed perceptual analysis. According
not the mere proximity of target and mask. It is also to this view, the sensory memory observed by
noteworthy that the period of backward masking Sperling was preperceptual, whereas that was not
obtained in the auditory modality is quite similar to true of the memory observed in the auditory studies.
the visual modality (Turvey, 1973). That appears to Consistent with Massaros view, Cowan (1984, 1988,
be true also in persistence procedures, but not in 1995) summarized evidence from various procedures
partial-report or selective-attention procedures, a that there are two phases of sensory memory in both
point to which we return shortly. the visual and auditory modalities (as well as in other
One benefit of the masking procedure is that it can modalities): a short, literal phase lasting about 250 ms
be used to show that the neural locus of sensory and a longer, second phase lasting several seconds.
memory is not entirely peripheral. Turvey (1973) The second phase was said to comprise temporarily
30 Sensory Memory

activated sensory features in long-term memory and list (Neath and Crowder, 1990; Crowder, 1993;
was said to be both functionally similar to temporar- Nairne, 2002). That type of theory, combined with
ily activated semantic features in long-term memory the notion that there is better temporal distinctive-
and much more processed than the first phase. ness in the auditory modality (e.g., Glenberg and
A couple of studies, one in vision and one in Swanson, 1986), could help to explain why there is
audition, provide striking evidence that there are an advantage for items at the end of a verbal list
two types of sensory memory. Phillips (1974) pre- presented in the auditory as opposed to the visual
sented two spatial patterns of black and white squares modality (cf. Penney, 1989; Marks and Crowder,
that differed in at most the fill of one square. At short 1997; Beaman and Morton, 2000; Cowan et al.,
interpattern delays, performance was excellent but 2004). However, it is not an easy matter to distinguish
was harmed if there was a displacement of the screen between decay and distinctiveness accounts.
location from the first pattern to the second. It was as Cowan et al. (1997) considered that there might be
if the subject actually could see the superimposition of a distinctiveness explanation for performance in two-
the patterns. In contrast, at longer delays, performance tone comparison procedures, in which performance
was poorer, and displacement of the screen location did decreases as a function of the time between the stan-
not matter. This suggests that the longer representation dard and comparison tones. As that time increases, it
was more abstract than the shorter representation. may become larger than the time between trials, so
Kallman and Massaro (1979) carried out a back- that the tones are not neatly grouped in episodic
ward-masking procedure in which a standard tone memory into the trials to which they belong. To over-
had to be compared to a subsequent comparison tone. come this problem Cowan et al. manipulated the time
Either the standard or the comparison tone was fol- between trials as well as the time between the standard
lowed by a masking tone. At issue in this experiment and comparison tones within a trial. Examining trials
was the effect of the similarity between the mask and with the ratio between these two times held constant,
the tone it masked. When the mask followed the and performance decreased only slightly as the time
standard tone, it could result in either interference between the standard and comparison tone increased,
with extraction of information from the sensory trace, until it exceeded 6 s. Between 6 and 12 s, the drop was
which could be termed Masking Type 1, or over- a bit more severe. However, Cowan et al. (2001)
writing of information about the tone even after it has reexamined the evidence, taking into account distinc-
been extracted from the sensory trace, which could tiveness caused by intervals before the penultimate
be termed Masking Type 2. As the interval between trial, and found no strong evidence of decay (although
the standard tone and the mask increased, Masking the data were preliminary in this regard).
Type 1 presumably disappeared, whereas Masking A remaining possibility is that, in these proce-
Type 2 remained. On other trials, it was the compar- dures, sensory memory information that is attended
ison tone that was masked, and therefore, only can be rehearsed (Keller et al., 1995). A study that
Masking Type 1 was possible; a judgment could be argues against the effects of time on nonsensory
made as soon as information was extracted from that short-term memory (Lewandowsky et al., 2004)
comparison tone. Given that similarity effects were takes into account verbal rehearsal, but not the pos-
obtained only for Masking Type 2, it was possible to sibility of an attention-based, possibly nonverbal type
distinguish two phases of auditory memory with dif- of rehearsal (cf. Barrouillet et al., 2004). It remains to
ferent properties. These were termed preperceptual be seen whether sensory information that is unat-
auditory storage and synthesized auditory memory, tended at the time that it is presented, and thus
respectively. These terms correspond to the short cannot be rehearsed, is lost over time in a way that
and long auditory stores of Cowan (1984). can be explained by temporal distinctiveness or in a
way that cannot be so explained. No-Decay Theories
Last, it must be mentioned that some investigators 2.03.6 Comments on the Future of
have proposed that there are no decaying memories, Research on Sensory Memory
including no decaying sensory memory. These inves-
tigators view the decline in performance with Sensory memory is one of the oldest topics in experi-
increasing retention intervals as a matter of a loss of mental psychology. Currently, there is only a small to
temporal distinctiveness of the items at the end of the moderate amount of ongoing research on the topic,
Sensory Memory 31

but that does not imply that the great problems in Cowan N, Suomi K, and Morse PA (1982) Echoic storage in
infant perception. Child Dev. 53: 984990.
the field have been solved, or that the field has Creel W, Boomsliter PC, and Powers SR, Jr. (1970) Sensations
become trivial or uninteresting. Sensory memory is of tones as perceptual forms. Psychol. Rev. 77: 534545.
an intrinsically fascinating set of neural mechanisms Crowder RG (1993) Short-term memory: Where do we stand?
Memory and Cognition, 21: 142145.
that must be strongly associated with basic conscious Darwin CJ, Turvey MT, and Crowder RG (1972) An auditory
experience. As brain researchers investigate how analogue of the Sperling partial report procedure: Evidence
humans know what is real and what is only imagin- for brief auditory storage. Cognit. Psychol. 3: 255267.
Dixon P and Di Lollo V (1994) Beyond visible persistence: An
ary, their research no doubt will lead them back to alternative account of temporal integration and segregation
the persistent mysteries within the topic of sensory in visual processing. Cognit. Psychol. 26: 3363.
Efron R (1970a) The relationship between the duration of a
stimulus and the duration of a perception. Neuropsychologia
8: 3755.
Efron R (1970b) The minimum duration of a perception.
Neuropsychologia 8: 5763.
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2.04 Working Memory
S. E. Gathercole, University of York, York, UK
2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

2.04.1 Introduction 33
2.04.2 The Working Memory Model 34 The Phonological Loop 34 Empirical phenomena 35 A computational model of the phonological loop 36 The phonological loop and language 37 Summary 39 The Visuospatial Sketchpad 39 Theory and empirical phenomena 39 Summary 41 The Central Executive 41 The supervisory attentional system 41 Complex memory span 42 The Episodic Buffer 43 Other Models of Working Memory 45 Attentional based models 45 The resource-sharing model 46 Time-based theories 47 Summary 47
2.04.3 Overview 47
References 48

2.04.1 Introduction juggling attempt will fail, either because the capacity
of working memory is exceeded, or because we
A common feature of our everyday mental life is the become distracted and our attention is diverted
need to hold information in mind for brief periods of away from the task in hand.
time. We frequently have to remember a new tele- Working memory which is the term widely used
phone or vehicle registration number, to write down by psychologists to refer to the set of cognitive pro-
the spelling of an unusual name that has been dic- cesses involved in the temporary storage and
tated to us, or to follow spoken instructions to find manipulation of information supports all of these
our destination in an unfamiliar environment. At activities and many more. A useful informal way of
other times, we need to engage in mental activities conceptualizing working memory is as a mental jot-
that require both temporary storage and demanding ting pad that we can use to record useful material for
cognitive processing. Mental arithmetic provides a brief periods of time, as the need arises in the course
good example of this: successfully multiplying two of our everyday cognitive activities. Although it a
numbers such as 43 and 27 in our heads involves valuable and highly flexible resource, working mem-
storing not only the numbers but the products of ory has several limitations: its storage capacity is
the intermediate calculations, accessing and applying limited, and it is a fragile system whose contents are
the stored rules of multiplication and addition, and easily disrupted. Once lost from working memory,
integrating the various pieces of information to arrive material cannot be recovered.
at the correct solution. Our conscious experience of The basic features of working memory are de-
the calculation attempt is of a kind of mental juggling, scribed in this chapter. Leading theoretical accounts
in which we try to keep all elements of the task the of the cognitive processes involved in working mem-
numbers we are trying to remember as well as ory are described, and key findings and experimental
the calculations going at the same time. Often, the phenomena are outlined. As it is now also known that

34 Working Memory

working memory is important not only for the

temporary retention of information, but also for the Central
acquisition of more permanent knowledge, theories of executive

how different aspects of working memory mediate

learning are also considered in this chapter.

Visuospatial Episodic Phonological

sketchpad buffer loop
2.04.2 The Working Memory Model

One influential theoretical account of working mem- Figure 1 The Baddeley (2000) working memory model.
ory has framed much of the research and thinking in
this field for several decades. In 1974, Baddeley and
Hitch advanced a model of working memory that has two tasks are combined indicate that they share a
been substantially refined and extended over the reliance on the same component. This empirical
intervening period. The influence of the working approach has proved invaluable in fractionating
memory model extends far beyond the detailed working memory into its constituent parts, leading
structure of its cognitive processes, which are con- to the most recent version of the working memory
sidered in the following sections. The radical claim model, advanced by Baddeley in 2000 (Baddeley,
made by Baddeley and Hitch was that working mem- 2000) (Figure 1).
ory is a flexible multicomponent system that satisfies This model consists of four components. Two of
a wide range of everyday cognitive needs for tem- these components, the phonological loop and the
porary mental storage in other words, it does visuospatial sketchpad, are slave systems that are
important work for the user. The distinction between specialized for the temporary storage of material
short-term memory and working memory is a key in particular domains (verbal and visuospatial,
element in the philosophy of this approach. The term respectively). The central executive is a higher-
working memory refers to the whole set of cognitive level regulatory system, and the episodic buffer
processes that comprise the model, which as we will integrates and binds representations from different
see includes higher-level attentional and executive parts of the system. The nature of each of these
processes as well as storage systems specialized for components and associated empirical evidence are
particular information domains. Activities that tap a described in the following sections. Note also that
broad range of the functions of working memory, components of working memory are directly linked
including both storage and higher-level control func- with longer-term memory systems in various informa-
tions, are often described as working memory tasks. tional domains. The nature of the interface between
The term short-term memory, on the other hand, is working memory and the acquisition of knowledge is
largely reserved for memory tasks that principally considered in later sections of the chapter.
require the temporary storage of information only.
In this respect, short-term memory tasks tap only a
subset of working memory processes. Detailed exam- The Phonological Loop
ples of each of these classes of memory task are
provided in later sections. Originally termed the articulatory loop by Baddeley
A further key element of the Baddeley and Hitch and Hitch (1974), the phonological loop is a slave
(1974) approach is its use of dual-task methodology system dedicated to the temporary storage of mate-
to investigate the modular structure of the working rial in terms of its constituent sounds, or phonemes.
memory system. These researchers have developed a The two-component model of the phonological loop
set of laboratory techniques for occupying particular advanced by Baddeley in 1986 is shown in Figure 2.
components of the working memory system, which Representations in the phonological short-term store
can then be used to investigate the extent to which are subject to rapid time-based decay. Auditory
particular activities engage one or another compo- speech information gains obligatory access to the
nent. By the logic of dual-task methodology, any two phonological store.
activities that are unimpaired when conducted in Subvocal rehearsal reactivates serially the contents
combination do not tap common limited capacity of the short-term store, in a process that corresponds
systems. In contrast, performance decrements when closely to overt articulation (speaking), but which does
Working Memory 35

The obligatory access of auditory speech informa-

tion to the phonological loop is demonstrated by the
irrelevant speech effect. Serial recall of visually pre-
Subvocal rehearsal
Phonological short-term store sented verbal items is impaired if spoken items are
presented during list presentation, even though par-
Non-speech ticipants are told to ignore these stimuli. Moreover,
the recall advantage to phonologically distinct over
phonologically similar sequences is eliminated under
such conditions of irrelevant speech (Colle and Welsh,
Speech inputs
1976; Suprenant et al., 1999). This finding indicates
that irrelevant speech operates on the same process
Figure 2 The phonological loop model, based on
Baddeley (1986).
that gives rise to the phonological similarity effect, so
that the unwanted stimuli generate representations in
the phonological store that disrupt those of the list
not necessarily involve the movement of the speech items to be recalled.
apparatus or the generation of speech sounds. Evidence for the existence of a distinct subvocal
Representations in the phonological store that are rehearsal process that operates on the contents of the
rehearsed before they have time to decay can be phonological store is provided by other empirical
maintained in the phonological loop indefinitely, pro- phenomena. An important finding first reported by
vided that rehearsal continues. Rehearsal consists of Baddeley et al. (1975) is that serial recall accuracy is
the high-level activation of speech-motor planning impaired when memory lists contain lengthy items
processes (Bishop and Robson, 1989; Caplan et al., (e.g., aluminum, hippopotamus, tuberculosis) than
1992) and is a time-limited process in which lengthier otherwise matched short items (e.g., zinc, stoat,
items take longer to activate than short items. Material mumps). Detailed analyses have established that a
that is not presented in the form of spoken language linear function related recall accuracy to the rate
but which is nonetheless associated with verbal labels, at which participants can articulate the memory
such as printed words or pictures of familiar objects, sequence: items that are be spoken more rapidly are
can enter the phonological store via rehearsal, which recalled more accurately, to a commensurate degree.
generates the corresponding phonological representa- This phenomenon, known as the word length effect,
tions from stored lexical knowledge. is present for visually and auditorily presented verbal
material and is suggested to reflect the serial rehear-
sal process, which requires more time to re-activate Empirical phenomena
This fractionated structure to the phonological loop is lengthy than short items. As a consequence, repre-
consistent with a wide range of experimental phenom- sentations in the phonological store of lengthy items
ena from the serial recall paradigm, in which lists of are more likely to have decayed between successive
items are presented serially for immediate recall in the rehearsals, leading to decay and loss of information.
original input sequence. Evidence that verbal material Support for this interpretation is provided by
is held in a phonological code is provided by the fact findings that the word length effect disappears if par-
that irrespective of whether the memory lists are ticipants engage in articulatory suppression by saying
presented in auditory form or in the form of print, something irrelevant such as hiya, hiya, hiya during
recall is poorer for sequences in which the items presentation of the memory list, for both visually and
share a high degree of phonological similarity (e.g., auditorily presented lists (Baddeley et al., 1975, 1984).
C, G, B, V, T) than for those which have little overlap These results can be simply explained. Having to
in phonological structure (e.g., X, H, K, W, Q). This engage in irrelevant articulation during a memory
effect of phonological similarity, first reported by task prevents effective rehearsal of the memory items
Conrad (1964) and replicated many times subse- themselves it simply is not possible to say one thing
quently, indicates that serial recall is mediated by and to rehearse subvocally something else. As rehearsal
phonological representations. Degradation of these is prevented in this condition, there can be no further
representations, possibly due to decay, will thus cause impairment of recall with lengthy as opposed to short
confusion between representations of items with highly memory items, as this effect is also tied to the rehearsal
similar phonological structures. process.
36 Working Memory

It should be noted that because visually presented characterize older children. Children below 7 years
material requires rehearsal to access the phonological of age are also not disrupted by recalling memory
store, preventing rehearsal via articulatory suppres- sequences composed of lengthy rather than short
sion should also eliminate the phonological similarity items (Hitch and Halliday, 1983), although word
effect with visual presentation, as the material will length effects do emerge in children as young as 5
not reach the store for the similarity-based interfer- years of age if they are trained in the use of rehearsal
ence to occur. This prediction has been supported by strategies (Johnson et al., 1987). Also, there is also no
findings from many studies (Murray, 1968; Peterson consistent association between the articulatory rate
and Johnson, 1971). and memory span in 5-year-old children, although
The claim that the word length effect arises only strong links are found in adults (Gathercole et al.,
from subvocal rehearsal has not gone uncontested. 1994a). Together, these findings indicate that although
Lengthier items are slower not only to rehearse but the phonological store is present at a very early point
also to recall, and there is convincing evidence that in children, the use of subvocal rehearsal as a means of
the increased delay in recalling longer items is one maintaining the rapidly decaying representations in
cause of lower performance, probably due to the the store emerges only during the middle childhood
increased opportunity for time-based decay of the years.
phonological representations. Cowan et al. (1992) The phonological store and rehearsal process also
employed mixed lists composed of both short and appear to be served by distinct neuroanatomical
long words to investigate the effects of recall delay. regions of the left hemisphere of the brain. Evidence
They found a linear relation between the amount of from patients with acquired brain damage resulting in
time elapsing from the beginning of the recall impairments of verbal short-term memory indicates
attempt and the accuracy of recall, with recall declin- that short-term phonological storage is associated with
ing as the delay increased (see also, Cowan et al., the inferior parietal lobule of the left hemisphere,
1994). One possibility is that the word length effect is whereas rehearsal is mediated by Brocas area, in the
multiply determined, and that the slower rate of left premotor frontal region (see Vallar and Papagno,
rehearsal for long than short items is just one of 2003; Muller and Knight, 2006, for reviews). Findings
several mechanisms causing lower levels of recall from neuroimaging studies using methods such as
accuracy for lists composed of lengthy stimuli. positron emission tomography and functional mag-
Debate concerning the detailed processes under- netic resonance imaging to identify the areas of the
pinning experimental phenomena such as the effects brain activated by verbal short-term memory tasks in
of word length and irrelevant speech (e.g., Neath typical adult participants have further reinforced the
et al., 2003; Jones et al., 2006) continues, and will in neuroanatomical distinction between the phonological
time result in a fuller understanding of the precise store and rehearsal (see Henson, 2005, for review).
mechanisms of serial recall. More generally, though,
the broad distinction between the short-term store A computational model of the
and rehearsal subcomponents of the phonological phonological loop
loop has received substantial support from several Despite its simplicity, the Baddeley (1986) model of
different empirical traditions. It is entirely consistent the phonological loop is capable of explaining much
with evidence of developmental fractionation of the of the evidence outlined in the preceding section and
subcomponents of the phonological loop during the several other experimental phenomena. It does, how-
childhood years (see Gathercole and Hitch, 1993; ever, have one notable shortcoming as a model of
Palmer, 2000, for reviews). The phonological store serial recall. Although this paradigm requires the
appears to be in place by the preschool period: by accurate retention of both the items in the memory
roughly 4 years of age, children show adult-like list and their precise sequence, the model focuses
sensitivity to the phonological similarity of the lists exclusively on the representation of item information
items for auditorily presented material (Hitch and and therefore fails to account for how the serial order
Halliday, 1983; Hulme and Tordoff, 1989). The sub- of list items is retained in the phonological loop. As a
vocal rehearsal strategy, in contrast, emerges at a consequence, it cannot accommodate many detailed
later time, typically after 7 years of age. Flavell aspects of serial recall behaviour. One important
et al. (1967) observed many years ago that very characteristic of serial recall is the serial position
young children do not show the overt signs of rehear- function, the asymmetric bow-shaped curve that
sal, such as lip movements and overt repetition, that arises from high levels of accuracy of recalling initial
Working Memory 37

list items (the primacy effect), relatively poor recall and currently active context nodes. The item node is
of mid-list items, and a moderate increase in accu- then suppressed, allowing the same process to be
racy for items at the end of the sequence (the recency repeated for the next item in the sequence. In this
effect). Another key finding is that the most common model, rehearsal consists of feedback from the output
category of errors in serial recall is order errors, in phonemes (activated following selection of the win-
which items from the original position migrate to ning item node) to the input phonemes.
nearby but incorrect positions in the output sequence At recall, the original context signal is repeated
(Bjork and Healy, 1974; Henson et al., 1996). The and evolves over successive items in the same way as
Baddeley (1986) model of the phonological loop pro- at input. For each signal, item nodes receive activa-
vides no explanation of either of these features of tion based on their initial pairing with context in the
verbal short-term memory. original sequence, and the winning item is selected
Burgess and Hitch (1992) addressed this problem and activates consistent output phonemes. Noise is
by developing and implementing a connectionist added to this final selection process to induce errors.
network model that incorporated a mechanism for Where serial order errors do occur that is, incorrect
retaining the serial order of items in addition to item nodes are selected they tend to migrate to
temporary phonological representations and an target-adjacent positions as a consequence of the high
analog of rehearsal that corresponds to the phono- degree of overlap in the context nodes active in
logical loop. The structure of the model is shown in successive context states.
Figure 3. It consists of four separate layers of nodes In addition to generating the classic experimental
that represent input phonemes, words, output pho- phenomena associated with the phonological loop
nemes, and a context signal. Serial order is encoded such as the phonological similarity, word length,
by associating the activated item representation with and articulatory suppression effects, this model simu-
a slowly evolving context signal containing a subset lates many of the features of serial order behavior
of active nodes that change progressively during that the phonological loop model on which it was
presentation of the list, and can be conceptualized based could not address. Consider first the serial
as a moving window representing time such that position function. Primacy effects arise largely from
successive context states are more similar to one the greater number of rehearsals received by early
another than temporally distant states. Presentation list items, and recall of both initial and final items is
of an item causes temporary activation of input pho- enhanced by the reduced degree of order uncertainty
neme nodes, word nodes, and output phoneme nodes at these terminal list positions. A preponderance of
via existing interconnections. When one item node order errors is also readily generated because context
succeeds in becoming the most active, a temporary signals, like item representations, degrade with time.
association is formed between the winning item node Thus on some occasions, the retrieved item repre-
sentation will have been associated with an adjacent
context signal, yielding recall of a list item at an
incorrect output position. When items do migrate in
Contextual input Stimulus
simulations of the model, they show the bell-shaped
Context nodes Input phoneme nodes
migration function in which the distances traveled in
the sequence are usually small rather than large,
which has also been established in the behavioral
Word nodes The phonological loop and
Although the cognitive processes underpinning the
phonological loop are well understood, one puzzle
Output phoneme nodes for many years was exactly why this system exists. It
may have turned out to be useful for remembering
telephone numbers, but why do we have the system
Recall in the first place? A number of possibilities were
Figure 3 Simplified architecture of the Burgess and Hitch considered. One plausible hypothesis was that the
(1992) network model of the phonological loop. phonological loop acts as a buffer for planned speech.
38 Working Memory

The presence of a phonological output buffer that and foreign language vocabulary (e.g., Gathercole
stores the retrieved phonological specifications of and Baddeley, 1989; Service, 1992; Cheung, 1996;
intended lexical items and enables the smooth and Masoura and Gathercole, 1999). The accuracy of
rapid production of speech has long been recognized nonword repetition in which a child hears a spoken
as a logical necessity by speech production theorists nonword such as woogalamic and attempts to repeat
(e.g., Bock, 1982; Romani, 1992). There is, however, it immediately is particularly highly correlated
little evidence that the phonological store fulfills this with vocabulary knowledge, although so too are more
function (see Gathercole and Baddeley, 1993 for conventional measures of verbal short-term memory
review). It has consistently been found that adult such as digit span (Gathercole et al., 1994b). A similar
neuropsychological patients with very severe deficits link is found between verbal memory skills and the rate
of verbal short-term memory leading to memory of learning nonwords in paired-associate learning
spans of only one or two items can nonetheless paradigms, in which participants learn to associate
produce spontaneous speech normally: utterance unfamiliar phonological forms with either novel objects
length rates of hesitations and self-corrections are (Gathercole and Baddeley, 1990a, used toy monsters
comparable to those of control adults (Shallice and with names such as Pimas), unrelated words (such
Butterworth, 1977). as fairy-kipser), or semantic attributes (e.g., bleximus
A second hypothesis was that the phonological is a noisy, dancing fish). Both of the latter examples
loop provides an input buffer to incoming language are from a study reported by Gathercole et al. (1997),
that is consulted in the course of normal comprehen- in which the phonological memory skills of the partic-
sion processes (Clark and Clark, 1977). Once again, ipating 5-year-old children were in contrast found
findings from adult short-term memory patients pro- to be independent of the ability to learn wordword
vided the opportunity to test this hypothesis. The pairs.
prediction was clear: if short-term memory plays a Further evidence that the phonological loop is
significant role in comprehension, the very low mem- involved in the long-term learning of phonological
ory span of short-term memory patients should lead structures in particular has been provided by the
to substantial impairments in processing the meaning study of individuals with developmental or acquired
of language. Findings from many research groups and deficits in language learning. Specific language
many different patients provided little support for impairment (SLI) is a condition in which children
this prediction. Despite severe deficits in phonolog- fail to develop language at a normal rate despite
ical loop functioning, short-term memory patients normal intellectual function. Word learning repre-
typically had few difficulties in processing sentences sents a particular problem for affected children. It has
for meaning, except under conditions in which consistently been found that children with SLI have
lengthy, unusual, and ambiguous syntactic structures substantial impairments of nonword repetition and
were used, or the sentences were essentially memory of other measures of verbal short-term memory
lists (see Vallar and Shallice, 1990; Caplan and (e.g., Gathercole and Baddeley, 1990b; Bishop et al.,
Waters, 1990; Gathercole and Baddeley, 1993; for 1996; Archibald and Gathercole, 2006). A corre-
reviews). It therefore appears that although under sponding neuropsychological patient, PV, had a
most circumstances the language processor operates severe deficit of the phonological loop, and was
online without recourse to stored representations found to be completely unable to learn wordnon-
in the phonological loop, these representations may word pairings such as rosesvieti, but performed
be consulted in an off-line mode to enable backtrack- within the typical range on a wordword learning
ing and possible re-analysis of spoken language task (Baddeley et al., 1988). Experimental studies of
under some conditions (McCarthy and Warrington, paired-associate learning with normal adult partici-
1987). pants have shown that wordnonword learning is
There is, however, one area of language function- disrupted by variables known to interfere with pho-
ing in which the phonological loop appears to play a nological loop functioning, such as phonological
central role, and that is in learning the sound struc- similarity and articulatory suppression (Papagno
ture of new words. Evidence from many sources et al., 1991; Papagno and Vallar, 1992). In contrast,
converges on this view. Studies of typically develop- learning of wordword pairs is not influenced by
ing children have consistently found close and these variables.
selective associations between measures of verbal On this basis, it has been proposed that the pri-
short-term memory and knowledge of both native mary function of the phonological loop is to support
Working Memory 39

learning of the sound structures of new words in the The Visuospatial Sketchpad
course of vocabulary acquisition (Baddeley et al., Theory and empirical
1998b). It is suggested that initial encounters with
the phonological forms of novel words are repre-
The second slave system of the working memory
sented in the phonological short-term store, and
model is the visuospatial sketchpad, specialized in
that these representations form the basis for the grad-
the storage and manipulation of information that
ual process of abstracting a stable specification of the can be represented in terms of either visual or spatial
sound structure across repeated presentations characteristics. Short-term memory for visuospatial
(Brown and Hulme, 1996). Conditions that compro- material is associated with increased activity in the
mise the quality of the temporary phonological right hemisphere regions of the inferior prefrontal
representation in the phonological loop will reduce cortex, anterior occipital cortex, and posterior parie-
the efficiency of the process of abstraction and result tal cortex, and acquired damage to these regions of
in slow rates of learning. In a recent review of this the brain leads to selective deficits in remembering
theory and associated evidence, Gathercole (2006) these domains of material (see Gathercole, 1999, for
has suggested use of the phonological loop to learn review).
new words is a primitive learning mechanism that Several tasks have been designed to tap the visuo-
dominates at the early stages of learning a language spatial sketchpad. These include recognizing the
and remains available as a strategy throughout life. pattern of filled squares in a two-dimensional grid
However, once a substantial lexicon is established in (Phillips and Christie, 1977; Wilson et al., 1987),
a language, word learners increasing rely on lexically remembering the order in which a set of blocks are
mediated learning of new words, thereby building on tapped (often known as the Corsi blocks task), using a
the phonological structures that they have already grid to generate a mental image corresponding to a
acquired. set of spatial instructions (Brooks, 1967), and recal-
ling the path drawn through a maze (Pickering et al.,
2001). Summary Like its sister slave system the phonological loop,
The phonological loop model advanced by Baddeley the sketchpad has now been fractionated into two
(1986), consisting of a short-term store and a subvocal distinct but interrelated components: A visual store
rehearsal process, is the most influential current or cache that preserves the visual features of per-
account of verbal short-term memory. Convergent ceived or internally generated objects and a spatial
evidence for the model is provided from a range of or sequential component that may serve a recycling
research traditions including experimental cognitive function analogous to subvocal rehearsal (Logie,
psychology, developmental psychology, neuropsy- 1995). The strongest evidence for the separation of
chology, and neuroimaging. A similar diverse range the sketchpad into these two components is provided
of findings indicate that the phonological loop plays a by studies of neuropsychological patients with
key role in vocabulary acquisition (Baddeley et al., acquired brain lesions resulting in selective impair-
1998; Gathercole, 2006). ments of visual storage but preserved spatial short-
The successful implementation of the model in term memory (Hanley et al., 1991) and converse
the form of a connectionist network by Burgess and deficits in spatial but not visual short-term memory
Hitch (1992) is an important development that has (Della Sala et al., 1999; Della Sala and Logie, 2003).
stimulated competing computational models of serial Dual task studies have played an important role in
recall with distinct architectures. The network model illuminating the functional organization of the visuo-
has also been further developed to simulate learning spatial sketchpad. One popular method for tapping
of novel sequences by the phonological loop (Burgess the capacity for the generation and temporary stor-
and Hitch, 1999). The availability of detailed models age of spatial material is the Brooks (1967) task, in
of short-term memory and the reciprocal stimulation which the participant is presented with a 4  4 empty
of empirical findings and computational simulations grid in which one particular cell was designated
is a sign of advanced theoretical development that is as the starting square. The experimenter then gives
in large part due to the guiding influence of the a series of verbal instructions which participants are
phonological loop concept on this field over many encouraged to remember by mentally filling in
years. the grid, as shown in Figure 4. Following the
40 Working Memory

Listening recall Odd-one-out

Backward Working Mr. X

digit recall memory
Spatial span
Counting recall
.50 .80
Dot matrix
Digit recall

Verbal STM Block recall
Word recall STM
Nonword recall memory

Figure 4 Measurement model of working memory, based on data from children aged 411 years. STM, short-term memory.
From Alloway TP, Gathercole SE, and Pickering SJ (2006) Verbal and visuo-spatial short-term and working memory in
children: Are they separable? Child Dev. 77: 16981716; used with permission from Blackwell Publishing.

instructions, participants recall the sequence by fill- sketchpad. Other studies have shown that the
ing in the grid with the numbers. This condition engagement of other movement systems such as
facilitates the use of spatial imagery and hence the hands (finger tapping), legs (foot tapping), and arms
visuospatial sketchpad. In a control condition which exerts similar disruptive influences on memory for
does not encourage the use of such spatial imagery, spatial sequences such as Corsi block recall (e.g.,
the spatial terms up, down, left, right were replaced Smyth and Scholey, 1988). It therefore appears that
by the nonspatial adjectives good, bad, slow, and fast the maintenance of spatial representations in the
to yield nonsensical sentences. Presumably, recall in sketchpad is supported by a central motor plan that
this condition was supported by the phonological is not specific to any particular effector system, by
loop rather than the sketchpad. which is recruited the planning and execution of
Evidence that participants use mental imagery to movements in the full range of motor systems.
mediate performance in the spatial but not the non- There is some evidence that the visual storage
sense condition is provided by the superior levels of component of the spatial sketchpad is selectively
recall accuracy in the former condition (Brooks, 1967). disrupted by the concurrent perception of irrelevant
In a systematic study of the effects of concurrent visual features. In a series of studies reported by
activities on memory performance in the two cases, Quinn and McDonnell (1996), memory for detailed
Baddeley and Lieberman (1980) reported further evi- visual characteristics was selectively impaired by
dence that distinct components of working memory visual noise that corresponded to a randomly flicker-
are employed in the two conditions. Performing a ing display of pixels similar to an untuned television
concurrent task tracking an overhead swinging pen- screen that participants were required to view but
dulum disrupted recall in the spatial but not the asked to disregard. This finding is important, as it is
nonsense condition. Thus, spatial recall appears to be directly analogous to the irrelevant speech effect in
selectively impaired by the encoding of unrelated verbal serial recall (Colle and Welsh, 1976), which
spatial content, consistent with the employment of a has been interpreted as reflecting obligatory access to
spatial code to mediate recall performance. the short-term store component of the phonological
Subsequent investigations indicate that eye move- loop for auditory speech material.
ments may play a key role in the maintenance of One interpretational problem raised by many stud-
spatial images in the sketchpad. Postle et al. (2006) ies of visuospatial short-term memory is the extent to
reported a series of experiments showing that volun- which these and other similar tasks reflect a genu-
tary eye movements impair memory for spatial inely distinct component of working memory, or
locations but not for nonspatial features of visual alternatively draw on the more general resources of
objects, providing further support for a distinction the central executive. The central executive, which is
between visual and spatial components of the described in more detail in the following section, is a
Working Memory 41

limited-capacity domain-general system capable of particularly of the prefrontal cortex, are activated by
supporting a wide range of cognitive activities. activities known to tax the central executive (See
Several different lines of evidence indicate that the Collette and Van der Linden, 2002; Owen et al.,
central executive plays a major role in many visuo- 2005, for reviews).
spatial short-term memory tasks. Performance on
visual storage tasks has been found to be strongly The supervisory attentional
disrupted by concurrent activities that lack an overt system
visuospatial component but which are known to tax In 1986, Baddeley suggested that central executive
the central executive, such as mental arithmetic may correspond in part at least to the model of the
(Phillips and Christie, 1977; Wilson et al., 1987). supervisory attentional system (SAS) advanced by
Also, studies of individual differences have consis- Shallice (1982) to explore the control of attention in
tently shown that measures of visuospatial short-term action. The SAS has two principal components. The
memory are much more closely associated with per- contention scheduling system consists of a set of
formance on central executive tasks than are schemas, which are organized structures of behavior-
phonological loop measures, in both typically devel- al routines that can be activated by either internally
oping children (Gathercole et al., 2004a, 2006a; or externally generated cues. When a schema reaches
Alloway et al., 2006) and in a clinical study of adults a particular level of activation, it is triggered and the
with bipolar mood disorder (Thompson et al., 2006). appropriate action or set of actions is initiated. Thus,
we have schemas that govern all our skilled beha- Summary viors: walking and talking, breathing and jumping,
Although current understanding of the detailed cog- opening doors and using a telephone. Schemas can
nitive processes involved in visuospatial short-term be hierarchically organized. Skilled car drivers, for
memory is less well advanced than that of the pho- example, will have a driving schema that is composed
nological loop, two basic facts have now been of linked subschemas such as steering and braking
established. First, the sketchpad functions indepen- schemas. Many of our actions are governed by the
dently of the phonological loop it is associated with automatic activation of these schemas in response to
activity in the right rather than the left hemisphere of environmental cues. So, once we are behind the
the brain and is selectively disrupted by concurrent wheel of a moving car, the sight of a red brake light
activities that do not influence the phonological loop. in the car in front will probably be sufficient to
Second, the processes involved in manipulating and trigger the automatic activation of the braking sub-
storing visual features and spatial patterns appear to schema. Activation levels of all incompatible schemas
be distinct from one another, again showing neuro- (such as the accelerating schema, in this case) are
psychological and experimental dissociations. It is inhibited when a schema is triggered.
rather less clear to what extent the visuospatial The second component, the SAS, controls behav-
sketchpad represents a distinct component of work- ior via a very different process. The SAS can directly
ing memory that is dissociable from the central activate or inhibit schemas, thereby overriding their
executive. routine triggering by the contention scheduling sys-
tem. The intervention of the SAS corresponds to
volitional control and prevents us from being endless
slaves to environmental cues it allows us to choose The Central Executive
to change the course of our actions at will. However,
At the heart of the working memory model is the because the SAS is a limited capacity system, there
central executive, responsible for the control of the are finite limits on the amount of attentional control
working memory system and its integration with we can apply to our actions.
other parts of the cognitive system. The central Baddeleys (1986) suggestion was that the central
executive is limited in capacity, and is closely linked executive corresponds to the limited-capacity SAS.
with the control of attention and also with the reg- He also proposed that two types of behavioral dis-
ulation of the flow of information within working turbance associated with damage to the frontal lobes
memory, and the retrieval of material from more arise from malfunctioning of the central executive,
permanent long-term memory systems into working and coined the term dysexecutive syndrome to
memory. Neuroimaging studies indicate that the describe this disorder. These neuropsychological
frontal lobes of both hemispheres of the brain, and patients are typically characterized by one of two
42 Working Memory

possible types of behavior. Perseveration is a form of Complex memory span

behavioral rigidity in which the individual continu- The central executive also plays a key role in com-
ally repeats the same action or response. An example plex memory span tasks, which require both
would be greeting a newcomer by saying Hello processing and storage. The first reported complex
and then continuing to make the same response span task, reading span, was developed by Daneman
many times to the same individual, increasingly inap- and Carpenter in 1980. In this task, participants must
propriately. Distractibility consists of unfocused read aloud each of a sequence of printed sentences,
behavior in which the individual fails to engage in and at the end of the sequence they must recall the
meaningful responses but may, for example, continu- final word of each sentence in the same order as the
ously walk around a room manipulating objects. sentences were presented. The number of sentences
Baddeley suggested that such individuals have an read on each trial is then increased until the point at
impairment in central executive resources that which the participant can no longer reliably recall the
reduces their capacity for volitional control of behav- sequence of final words. Findings from this task were
ior via the SAS, which is instead dominated by the impressive complex memory span scores were
contention scheduling system. Perseveration results highly correlated with the performance of the partic-
when a schema becomes highly activated and cannot ipating college students on their scholastic aptitude
be effectively inhibited by the SAS to allow the tests completed on entry to college. Importantly, the
triggering of other appropriate behaviors, and dis- correlations with scholastic aptitude were consider-
tractibility results from the background triggering of ably higher than those found with storage-only
behavior by environmental cues with no overriding measures of verbal short-term memory.
A range of other complex span paradigms have
focus by the SAS.
been subsequently developed, all sharing the common
This conceptualization of the central executive
feature of requiring both memory storage while par-
has proved useful in guiding the development of
ticipants are engaged in significant concurrent
laboratory tasks that engage the central executive.
processing activity. A listening span version of the
One such task is random generation (Baddeley,
reading span test in which the sentences were heard
1986). In a typical task, the participant is required
rather than read by participants was employed by
to generate in a random manner exemplars from a
Daneman and Carpenter (1983), and was found to be
familiar category, such as digits or letters, paced by a
correspondingly associated with academic abilities.
metronome. The importance of generating random
Complex span tasks suitable for use by young children
sequences rather than stereotyped ones such as 1, 2, 3
have also been developed. One popular task is count-
or a, b, c is emphasized. In 1998, Baddeley et al. ing span, in which the child has to count the number of
(1998a) conducted a series of experiments to investi- elements in a series of visual displays, and at the end of
gate the hypothesis that the central executive is the sequence to recall the totals of each array, in the
needed to intervene to override the activation of order of presentation (Case et al., 1982). The odd-one-
stereotyped response sequences in this task. There out task (Russell et al., 1996; Alloway et al., 2006) is a
were several key findings consistent with this view. complex memory span task that requires visuospatial
First, the degree of randomness of the sequences rather than verbal storage and processing (see also,
generated by the participants diminished (i.e., the Shah and Miyake, 1996). Participants view a series of
responses became more stereotyped) when the gen- displays each containing three unfamiliar objects, two
eration rate was increased. This result indicates that identical and one different. The task is to point to the
the randomness of the responses was constrained by location of the odd one out, and then at the end of the
a limited capacity process. Second, the degree of sequence to recall the sequence of spatial locations of
randomness of the generated sequences was not the different items. In other complex span tasks, the
impaired when the task was combined with other material to be stored is distinct from the contents of
activities requiring stereotyped responses such as the processing activity. An example of one such task is
counting, but was substantially disrupted by nonste- operation span (Turner and Engle, 1989), in which
reotyped concurrent activities such as maintaining a participants attempt to recall digits whose presentation
digit load or generating exemplars of semantic cate- is interpolated with a sequence of simple additions
gories. Applying the logic of dual-task methodology, that must be completed.
it appears that both tasks tap a common limited- Despite the large degree of variation in both the
capacity mechanism, the central executive. processing and storage demands of the different
Working Memory 43

complex memory span tasks, a highly consistent pattern shown in Figure 4. It can be seen that the complex
of findings has emerged. Performance on such tasks is span tasks load both on the domain-general factor and
strongly related to higher-level cognitive activities such the respective domain-specific storage system. These
as reasoning and reading comprehension (e.g., Kyllonen data provide an impressive degree of support for the
and Christal, 1990; Engle et al., 1992), and also to key basic structure of the working memory model.
areas of academic achievement during childhood such So why is it the case that slow rates of academic
as reading and mathematics (e.g., Swanson et al., 1996; learning therefore characterize children who perform
Hitch et al., 2001; Jarvis and Gathercole, 2003; poorly on complex memory measures of working mem-
Gathercole et al., 2004b, 2006a; Geary et al., 2004; ory (e.g., Pickering and Gathercole, 2004; Gathercole
Swanson and Beebe-Frankenberger, 2004). In the et al., 2006a)? We have suggested that the reason is
majority of these studies, associations with learning that working memory acts as a bottleneck for learn-
were much higher for complex memory span measures ing (Gathercole, 2004; Gathercole et al., 2006b). The
than measures such as digit span of verbal short-term acquisition of knowledge and skill in complex
memory. Corresponding closer links with measures of domains such as reading and mathematics requires
intellectual functioning in adulthood such as reading the gradual accumulation of knowledge over multi-
comprehension, scholastic aptitude, and fluid intelli- ple learning episodes, many of which will take place
gence have also been consistently found in adult in the structured learning environment of the class-
populations (for reviews, see Daneman and Merikle, room. Learning is thus an incremental process that
1996; Engle et al., 1999b). builds upon the knowledge structures and under-
In order to understand why complex span mea- standing that have already been acquired: any factor
sures of working memory performance are so that disturbs this acquisition process will have dele-
strongly associated with learning abilities and other terious consequences for the rate of learning, as the
measures of high-level cognition, it is necessary first necessary foundations for progress will not be in
to consider what cognitive processes these measures place. It is proposed that working memory capacity
tap. It has been suggested that the processing por- is one of the factors that constrains learning success in
tions of these tasks are supported by the domain- potential learning episodes. Many classroom activ-
general resources of the central executive, whereas ities require the child to keep information in mind
the storage requirements are met by the respective while engaging in another cognitive activity that
domain-specific slave system (Baddeley and Logie, might be very demanding for that individual.
1999). By this view, both the central executive and Mental arithmetic is an example of such a demanding
the phonological loop contribute to performance on working memory activity for adults. In children,
verbal complex span tasks such as reading span, whose working memory capacity is considerably
listening span, and counting span, whereas perfor- smaller and who do not have the same bedrock of
mance on visuospatial complex span tasks is stored knowledge and expertise to support cognitive
mediated by the central executive and the visuospa- processing, working memory challenges of a com-
tial sketchpad. parable magnitude are present in much simpler
There is now substantial evidence to support this activities, such as writing sentences, adding up
proposal. A common processing efficiency factor has totals of objects displayed on cards, or detecting
been found to underlie both verbal and visuospatial rhyming words in a poem read by the teacher.
complex memory tasks (Bayliss et al., 2003). Two Children with poor working memory capacities will
recent studies have investigated the latent factor struc- face severe difficulties in meeting the demands of
ture underlying individuals performance on both these situations and, as a result of their working
simple (storage-only) and complex span measures in memory overload, will fail in part or all of the
both the verbal and visuospatial domains, in children learning activity. Such situations represent missed
(Alloway et al., 2006) and in adults (Kane et al., 2004). learning opportunities and if they occur frequently,
In both cases, the best-fitting model is a structure will result in a slow rate of learning.
consisting of distinct verbal and visuospatial short-
term storage components (corresponding to the pho- The Episodic Buffer
nological loop and visuospatial sketchpad,
respectively), plus a domain-general factor correspond- The episodic buffer is the most recent addition to the
ing to the central executive. A summary of the factor working memory model, and was first outlined in a
structure of the model from Alloway et al. (2006) is seminal paper by Baddeley in 2000 (Baddeley, 2000).
44 Working Memory

In this article, Baddeley argued the need for a sepa- a series of experiments, recognition memory for
rate buffer capable of representing and integrating visually presented objects was tested by presenting
inputs from all subcomponents of working memory an array of objects followed by a probe; the partici-
and from long-term memory systems in a multi- pants task was to judge whether the probe was
dimensional code. present in the original display or not. Across condi-
One justification for the episodic buffer is that it tions, recognition memory was tested either for shape
solves the binding problem, which refers to the fact by presenting a display of different unfilled shapes,
that although the separate elements of multimodal for color with a display of squares of different colors,
experiences such as seeing an object moving and or for both color and shape by presenting objects
hearing a sound are experienced via separate chan- composed of unique shape/color combinations. In
nels leading to representations in modality-specific line with previous findings from this paradigm
codes, our perception is of the event as a coherent (Wheeler and Treisman, 2002), recognition perfor-
unitary whole. At some point, the representations mance was found to be as accurate in the feature
must therefore converge and be chunked together combination as the single feature conditions. Thus,
and experienced consciously as a single object or feature binding appears to be a relatively efficient
event; Baddeleys suggestion was that the episodic process.
buffer may fulfill this function. Allen et al. (2006) investigated whether this
Other evidence also points to a close interface binding process depends on central executive
between the subcomponents of working memory resources, as might be predicted from the working
and other parts of the cognitive system. It has long memory model shown in Figure 1, in which infor-
been known that meaningful sentences are much mation is fed into the episodic buffer from the central
better remembered than jumbled sequences of executive. To test this possibility, participants
words, with memory spans as high as 16 words com- also performed demanding concurrent tasks that
pared with the six or seven limit for unrelated words would be expected to require executive resources
(Baddeley et al., 1987). This indicates that represen- counting backwards and retaining a near-span digit
tations in the phonological loop are integrated at load while viewing the object arrays. The results
some point with conceptual representations arising were clear: although recognition memory was gen-
from the language processing system. Importantly, erally less accurate under dual task conditions,
patients with acquired impairments of verbal short- memory for bound features was not selectively
term memory show reduced memory span for sen- disrupted. The only condition that did lead to a
tences as well as for word lists, but still show the greater impairment of recognition for feature combi-
relative advantage of meaningful over the meaning- nations than single features was one that involved
less material. Patient PV, for example, had a sentence sequential rather than simultaneous presentation of
span of five and a word span of one (Vallar and objects.
Baddeley, 1984). As PVs long-term memory was On the basis of these findings, Allen et al. con-
entirely normal, the reduction in her sentence span cluded that binding the features of simple visual
must arise from the point of interaction between features takes place in the visuospatial sketchpad
verbal short-term memory (or the phonological loop). and does not require executive support. However, it
Baddeley (2000) proposed that the episodic buffer may was suggested that storage of such automatically
provide the appropriate medium for linking the pho- bound information is fragile and may fall apart
nological loop representations with those from long- when further feature combinations need to be
term memory, and that the central executive may encoded and stored in visuospatial memory.
control the allocation of information from different The possible role of the attentional resources of
sources into the buffer. the central executive in integrating linguistic infor-
The characteristics of the episodic buffer have mation with representations in the phonological loop
been explored in a subsequent experimental pro- in the episodic buffer was investigated by Jefferies
gramme by Baddeley and collaborators. One line of et al. (2004). The main focus of this study was the
investigation has looked into whether the episodic substantial advantage found in the immediate recall
buffer plays a role in the binding of different visual of prose compared with unrelated words, which
features of objects into chunks by comparing memory Baddeley (2000) had suggested may be mediated
for arrays of colors or shapes with memory for bound by the integration of linguistic and phonological
combinations of these features (Allen et al., 2006). In information in the episodic buffer. Jefferies et al.
Working Memory 45

conducted a series of experiments in which the rela- Although the study of the episodic buffer is still in
tive difficulty of different kinds of lists was equated its infancy, the concept is being refined in light of
for individual participants. Thus, an example of an new evidence and is proving useful in guiding
unrelated word list that corresponds to 50% above research on memory for relatively complex forms of
span for an average participant with a word span of material. The simple idea that the central executive
six was the nine items essay, marmalade, is, lots, is required to feed information through to the epi-
clowns, wine, spaces, often, a. In the sentence condi- sodic buffer for the purposes of feature binding has
tion of a corresponding level of difficulty, an average not received strong support from the research com-
participant with a sentence span of 13 would receive pleted so far: there is little evidence for central
the following sequence of unrelated sentences for executive involvement in either the binding of sim-
immediate recall: Railway stations are noisy places. ple visual features (Allen et al., 2006) or in the recall
Guns can cause serious injuries. Water is boiled in of coherent prose, although attentional support does
kettles. Pink roses are pretty flowers. In a further appear to be crucial for the temporary retention of
story condition, the sentences were thematically chunks of unrelated linguistic information ( Jefferies
related, as in the following example: A teenage girl et al., 2004). Ongoing and future research designed to
loved buying clothes. She went shopping with her delineate the precise conditions under which the
mom. They traveled into town by bus. central executive and episodic buffer interact seems
The possible engagement of attentional processes certain to provide further fruitful insights into the
associated with the central executive was investi- role played by working memory in the storage and
gated by comparing the impact of a continuous manipulation of complex and structured information.
reaction time (CRT) task completed during the pre-
sentation of the memory sequence on performance in Other Models of Working Memory
the different conditions. Following Craik et al.
The multicomponent model of working memory ini-
(1996), the CRT task involved pressing one of four
tially advanced by Baddeley and Hitch (1974) is the
keys corresponding to the spatial location of a visual
most enduring and influential theoretical framework
target that appeared on a computer screen; as soon as
in the field. Its success rests with the breadth of scope
the key was pressed, the next stimulus was presented.
of the model incorporating verbal and visuospatial
This task is known to place significant demands on
short-term memory, as well as attentional processes
controlled attentional processing. If the central
and also with the capacity of the model to evolve in
executive does play a crucial role in loading phono-
light of incoming evidence. Although the original tri-
logical and linguistic information into the episodic
partite structure of the 1974 model has been largely
buffer where it can be integrated into a multidimen- preserved, each component has been elaborated and
sional code underpinning sentence span, a selective differentiated over the intervening years, largely but
decrement in the recall of sentences relative to unre- not exclusively by using the dual task methodology to
lated words would be expected in the concurrent identify distinct subcomponents of the system. The
CRT conditions. model has also proved successful in accommodating
Jefferies et al. (2004) found that recall of unrelated evidence from a wide range of empirical traditions
words was more or less unaffected by the concurrent including cognitive development, neuropsychology,
task, as was the recall of thematically organized mate- and neuroscience in addition to experimental psychol-
rial in the story condition. These findings indicate ogy. It is, however, by no means the only model of
that the use of the phonological loop places few working memory, and there are currently several
demands on attentional resources, and also that the other conceptualizations that are proving to be highly
activation of preexisting representations relating to effective in guiding research and thinking in the
the semantic and syntactic content of the stories area. Some of the significant alternative theoretical
occurs relatively automatically. In contrast, CRT accounts of working are outlined in the following.
did markedly impair performance in the condition
involving the recall of unrelated sentences. It there- Attentional based models
fore appears that substantial attentional support from One influential theoretical account of working mem-
the central executive is required for the retention of ory of this type is Cowans (1995, 2001) embedded
unrelated chunks of linguistic information, possibly process model, summarized in Figure 5. According
within the episodic buffer. to this model, long-term memory can be partitioned
46 Working Memory

material with controlled attention. The detailed

functioning of the components is, however, quite
different. Short-term memory consists of traces that
have exceeded an activation threshold and represent
Focus of
pointers to specific regions of long-term memory.
They therefore do not represent temporary repre-
sentations in a specialized temporary store, as in the
phonological loop. Controlled attention is a domain-
Short-term store general resource that can achieve activation through
(activated memory) controlled retrieval, maintain activation, and block
interference through the inhibition of distractors.
Long-term store
Unsworth and Engle (2006) have recently put
Figure 5 Cowans (1995) embedded process model of forward a new explanation of why complex memory
working memory. span tasks correlate more highly with measures of
higher-order cognitive function than simple memory
span, based upon the distinction between primary
and secondary memory. According to this account,
in three ways: the larger portion that has relatively
memory items that have been recently encountered
low activation at any particular point in time, a subset
are held in primary memory, and may also be trans-
that is currently activated as a consequence of
ferred into the more durable secondary memory
ongoing cognitive activities and perceptual experi-
system (Waugh and Norman, 1965). The processing
ence, and a smaller subset of the activated portion
activity in complex span tasks displaces items from
that is the focus of attention and conscious awareness.
primary memory, so that recall performance is sup-
The focus of attention is controlled primarily by the
ported principally by residual activation in secondary
voluntary processes of the executive system that are
memory. Unsworth and Engle suggest that it is the
limited in capacity in chunks. Recent work indicates ability to retrieve items from secondary memory that
that typically between three and five chunks of infor- is crucial to more cognitive activities such as reason-
mation can be maintained in the focus of attention ing. Note that this interpretation is somewhat similar
(Cowan, 2001; see also Chen and Cowan, 2005; to that advanced by Cowan et al. (2005); in both cases,
Cowan et al., 2005). In contrast, long-term memory the claim is that learning is served most directly by
activation is time-limited and decays rapidly without the quality of activation of long-term memory, and
further stimulation. not by the capacity of the controlled attention pro-
Cowan et al. (2005) have put forward an interpre- cess that generates conscious experience.
tation of complex memory span performance and its
links with scholastic aptitude measures that is mark- The resource-sharing model
edly divergent from the explanation based on the A contrasting theoretical perspective on working
working memory model considered in the section memory was provided by Daneman and Carpenter
titled The central executive. By this account, the (1980, 1983; Just and Carpenter, 1992). These
crucial feature of complex span tasks is that the researchers conceived working memory as an undiffer-
processing activity prevents the usual deployment entiated resource that could be flexibly deployed
of control strategies such as rehearsal and grouping, either to support temporary storage or processing ac-
and thus exposes more directly the scope of the focus tivity. By this account, individuals with relatively low
of attention, as indexed by the number of chunks that span scores on complex memory span tasks were rela-
can be maintained simultaneously. Learning ability tively unskilled at the processing element of the
will be constrained by having a relatively poor scope activity (reading, in the case of reading span), thereby
of attention, laid bare by complex memory span tasks. reducing the amount of resource available for storage
An attentional-based account of working memory of the memory items. This idea that working memory
function has been also advanced by Engle and associ- is a single flexible system fueled by a limited capacity
ates (e.g., Engle et al., 1999b). In some respects, resource that can be flexibly allocated to support
Engles model shares a similar architecture with the processing and storage was applied by Case et al.
Baddeley and Hitch (1974) framework, combining (1982) to explain developmental increases in working
domain-specific storage of verbal and visuospatial memory performance across the childhood years.
Working Memory 47

They proposed that the total working memory item storage to processing in this way, memory
resource remains constant as the child matures, but representations cannot be refreshed and therefore
that the efficiency of processing increases, releasing decay with time. The heaviest cognitive costs and
additional resource to support temporary storage. therefore the lowest levels of complex span perfor-
Consistent with this view, Case et al. found in a mance are therefore expected under conditions in
study of 6- to 12-year-old children that counting which there is the greatest ratio of number of retrie-
spans were highly predictable from individual counting vals to time. Experimental findings reported by
speeds. Furthermore, counting spans were reduced Barrouillet et al. (2004) are entirely consistent with
to the level typical of 6-year-old children when this prediction. Using a complex memory span para-
adults counting efficiency was reduced by requiring digm in which they separately manipulated the rate
the use of nonsense words rather than digits to count of presentation of the memory items and the number
sequences. It was concluded that the decreased of intervening items to be processed, complex mem-
memory spans resulted from the greater processing ory span was found to be a direct linear function of
demands imposed by the unfamiliar counting task, the cognitive cost of the processing activity, com-
leading to a processing/storage trade-off that dimini- puted as a ratio of the number of processing items
shed storage capacity. divided the period over which they were presented.
Thus, processing intervals that had relatively high Time-based theories loads (in other words, a relatively large number of
The resource-sharing model of working memory has items per unit time) were associated with lower span
been challenged substantially in recent years. Towse scores than processing intervals with low cognitive
and Hitch (1995) proposed that participants do not loads (low numbers of items per unit time).
process and store material at the same time in com-
plex span tasks as assumed by the resource-sharing Summary
approach, but instead strategically switch between In this section, a number of alternative theoretical
the processing and storage elements of the task. accounts of working memory have been considered.
Evidence consistent with this task-switching model It can be argued that some of these conceptualiza-
has been provided in a series of studies that have tions provide valuable specifications of the nature of
either varied counting complexity while holding central executive processes and are not necessarily
retention interval constant (Towse and Hitch, 1995) incompatible with the Baddeley and Hitch (1974;
or manipulated retention requirements in counting, Baddeley, 2000) model. Certainly, the emphasis on
operation, and reading span tasks, while holding time-based loss of information by Towse and Hitch
constant the overall processing difficulty (Towse and the ideas of Barrouillet and colleagues concern-
et al., 1998). In each case, the period over which ing cognitive load could readily be accommodated in
information was stored was a better predictor of an elaborated model of the central executive and its
complex memory span than the difficulty of the interface with the phonological loop. The majority of
processing activity. This has led to the claim that these alternative approaches also emphasize the role
complex memory span is constrained by a time- of attention in working memory, a concept given
based loss of activation of memory items (Hitch prominence also by Baddeley (1986). However,
et al., 2001). other claims that working memory is an activated
The consensus view at present is that no single subset of long-term memory and does not exist as a
factor constrains complex memory span (Miyake and temporary storage medium distinct from preexisting
Shah, 1999; Bayliss et al., 2003; Ransdell and Hecht, knowledge are less easy to reconcile.
2003). A more complex model recently advanced by
Barrouillet and colleagues (Barrouillet and Camos,
2001; Barrouillet et al., 2004) combines concepts of 2.04.3 Overview
both temporal decay and processing demands in a
single metric of cognitive cost that is strongly related The ability to hold information in mind for brief
to performance on complex span tasks. In this model, periods of time, termed working memory by cogni-
the cognitive cost of a processing task is measured as tive psychologists, is an essential feature of our
the proportion of time that it requires limited-capac- everyday mental life. The purpose of this chapter is
ity attentional resources, for example, to support to provide a contemporary overview of current
memory retrievals. When attention is diverted from theoretical understanding of the cognitive processes
48 Working Memory

of working memory. According to the influential that see working memory as a property of preexisting
model advanced originally by Baddeley and Hitch knowledge representations is a fundamental one, yet to
(1974) and revised and elaborated over the sub- be resolved by empirical evidence. A further common
sequent years (Baddeley, 1986, 2000; Burgess and feature of many theories is that time-based forgetting is
Hitch, 1992, 1999), working memory consists of an a crucial feature of working memory.
attentional controller, the central executive, supple- Research in the field of working memory con-
mented by slave systems specialized in the storage of tinues, stimulated by the availability of detailed
verbal and nonverbal information (the phonological theoretical accounts that guide empirical investiga-
loop and visuospatial sketchpad, respectively). An tions of both typical and atypical working memory
additional component is the episodic buffer, capable functioning. There is also increasing recognition that
of integrating information from different parts of our current understanding of working memory can
working memory and other parts of the cognitive be put to more practical use, particularly in the fields
system. Each component of the model is limited in of education and remediation (e.g., Gathercole and
capacity. Alloway, in press). In this respect, working memory
This relatively simple model of working memory represents a strong example of how laboratory inves-
has proved capable of accommodating a wide range tigations of basic cognitive processes have the
of empirical findings. Its fractionated structure has potential to enhance less esoteric elements of our
been informed by findings from experimental studies everyday cognitive experience.
using dual task methods, by developmental dissocia-
tions in studies of children, and by evidence of
distinct underlying brain from the fields of neuro-
psychology and neuroimaging. In the area of the
phonological loop in particular, understanding of
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the underlying cognitive processes is sufficiently visual features in working memory resource-demanding?
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2.05 Serial Learning
A. F. Healy and W. J. Bonk, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA
2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

2.05.1 Concepts 53
2.05.2 Tasks 53
2.05.3 Results 54
2.05.4 Theories 57 Classic Theories 57 Associative chaining 57 Positional coding 59 Positional distinctiveness 59 Contemporary Theories 59 Perturbation model 59 Start-end model 60 Primacy model 60 OSCAR 61 TODAM 62
2.05.5 Theoretical Issues and Conclusions 62
References 63

In many activities in everyday life, we are letters must appear in a fixed order for a given word
required to learn the serial order of a set of elements. to be identified. The words tap and pat have the
For example, whenever we acquire a new word, we same items, but their different orders create different
must learn a novel order of sounds. As Lashley (1951) meanings. We can describe the order of the items
pointed out in his classic paper, the problem of learn- either in terms of their ordinal positions without
ing serial order is that elementary movements occur reference to their relational sequence (in tap, t is
in many different orders in different actions. How, first, a is second, and p is third) or in terms of their
then, can an individual who knows the elementary relational sequence without reference to their ordinal
movements in an action learn to produce them in the positions (in tap, t precedes a and p follows a).
correct sequence? For example, how can a pianist In cognitive psychology, learning typically refers to
who knows the notes occurring in a given song the process of acquiring information over time, whereas
learn to produce the notes in the correct order? memory usually refers to the retention (or forgetting)
That is the central problem involved in serial of information. Thus, in the study of serial learning, we
learning. are most concerned with the acquisition of order infor-
mation, but we also need to understand the underlying
memory processes that provide the foundation for such
2.05.1 Concepts learning over time. In practice, assessments of learning
typically involve multiple study and test episodes, but
To address this problem, we need to define several assessments of memory usually involve a single study
important concepts and make some crucial distinc- episode followed by a single test. Thus, memory
tions: Performing a serial task requires subjects to research can be viewed as providing a snapshot of the
display knowledge of both the elements in the task first stage of the learning process.
and their arrangement. The task elements are items,
and their arrangement is their order. In discussing
serial learning, order is usually based on the temporal 2.05.2 Tasks
sequence in which the items occur, but in some cases
order is based instead on the spatial locations of the The original procedure used to investigate serial
items. Thus, letters are the items in words, and the learning was established by Ebbinghaus (1885/1913).

54 Serial Learning

In this repeated studytest procedure, a list of items is reconstruction of order, whereas if no constraints on
studied and then tested by requiring recall of the items response order are specified, the task is free recon-
in the order in which they were shown. This proce- struction of order, using the same distinction
dure is repeated until the subject reaches a criterion of described earlier for serial and free recall.
recalling the list without error. Later researchers A new repeated studytest procedure has been
replaced this procedure with the method of anticipa- developed to investigate both memory for and learn-
tion, in which subjects are shown one item for a fixed ing of serial lists, with successive snapshots of the
amount of time and are then required to anticipate the learning process taken until a criterion is reached
next item in the sequence. Subsequently, the next item (Bonk, 2006). This procedure can be viewed as a
is shown, which provides feedback to subjects as to the combination of three common tasks already described:
correctness of their last response. This procedure con- serial learning, serial recall, and serial reconstruction
tinues throughout the presentation of a list, and list of order. Under this procedure, subjects view a display
presentation is repeated until the subject reaches a showing a set of items including both targets and
criterion, perhaps one time through the list without distractors. The targets are then highlighted one at a
error. The investigator tabulates how many presenta- time to indicate the required sequence. Subjects
tions of the list are required to reach the criterion. observe this presentation and then reconstruct the
In recent investigations, the focus has shifted from sequence by choosing one item at a time. The items
the learning of order information to immediate mem- can vary in type, but in the initial study were clip art
ory for order information. Consequently, the most pictures. The sequences can vary in length, and in the
popular procedure is that of serial recall. In this case, initial study they were from 6 to 15 items long. To
subjects are given a series of items to study and are then respond correctly, subjects must remember both the
required to recall the entire list in sequential order. identity of the target items and the order in which they
Serial recall can be contrasted with free recall, in which occurred. A given sequence of target items is shown
subjects are free to report the items in any order they and recalled multiple times until the subject reaches
want and do not need to indicate the sequence infor- the criterion of two perfectly recalled sequences
mation in any way. In serial recall tasks, subjects learn in a row.
multiple different lists rather than the same list repeat-
edly. Often the investigator includes a delay between
the presentations of successive items (interitem inter- 2.05.3 Results
val) or between the presentation of the last item on the
list and the recall test (retention interval). Sometimes The most widely cited experimental result in the
extraneous distracting items are interpolated during study of serial order is the serial position function,
either the interitem interval or the retention interval first described by Nipher (1878; see also Stigler,
to prevent subjects from rehearsing (practicing) the 1978) for serial recall. To obtain this function, every
items during those intervals. position in the list is scored separately, and the total
In the recall procedures, to respond correctly, number of correct responses at a given position is
subjects must remember the items. Another method computed either across repetitions of the list (in a
was developed to isolate memory for order even learning paradigm such as the method of anticipa-
further by eliminating the need for the subjects to tion) or across different lists (in a memory paradigm
remember the items. Specifically, the items are given such as serial recall). The function typically takes on
to the subjects either in advance or during the trial, a bow shape (like a bow in archery), wherein items at
and the subjects simply have to reconstruct the order the start and end of the list are remembered better
in which the items occurred. For example, for the list than intermediate items. The advantage for the initial
ABCDEF the subjects might be told that the items items is the primacy effect, and the advantage for the
were BFACED, and they would have to rearrange final items is the recency effect. In serial learning, the
the items into the correct sequence by placing A into primacy advantage is typically much larger and
the first slot, B into the second slot, and so on. In includes more items than the recency advantage,
reconstructing the order, the subjects thus place each which sometimes includes only a single item.
item into its appropriate position, perhaps in a hor- Asymmetrical bow-shaped functions for the initial
izontal array of slots, but the slots do not necessarily test of a given list in the new repeated studytest
have to be filled in order from left to right. If a left-to- procedure developed by Bonk (2006) are shown in
right response is required, the task is serial Figure 1 for each of 10 list lengths. Asymmetrical
Serial Learning 55

1.0 List length

0.9 6
0.8 7

Proportion correct
0.7 8
0.6 9
0.5 10
0.4 11
0.3 12
0.2 13
0.1 14
0.0 15
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Serial position
Figure 1 Mean proportion of correct responses as a function of list length and serial position for initial tests in serial
learning experiment by Bonk (2006).

0.9 List length
0.8 6
Proportion correct

0.6 9
0.5 10
0.4 11
0.2 14
0.1 15
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Serial position
Figure 2 Mean proportion of correct responses as a function of list length and serial position for all attempts through
the first perfect recall of a given list by a given subject in serial learning experiment by Bonk (2006).

bow-shaped functions are shown in Figure 2 for all with 3 of them on the first serial position, the normal-
tests of a given list through the first perfect recall, ized proportion correct for that position would be 3/
again for the same 10 list lengths. Figure 1, thus, 15 0.20. The fact that the shape of the normalized
shows curves reflecting serial recall, whereas serial position function is constant across serial learn-
Figure 2 shows curves reflecting serial learning. ing conditions was first demonstrated by McCrary
The curves are different, but both show an asymme- and Hunter (1953). The normalized functions for the
trical bow shape. Although the level of performance serial learning results of Bonk (2006) are shown in
in serial recall or serial learning may depend on many Figure 3, again for all 10 list lengths.
factors, such as the rate at which the items are pre- Other widely studied results involve the errors
sented or the familiarity of the items, the serial made by subjects in tasks requiring serial order. A
position curve typically takes on the same shape frequent type of error is one in which the correct
when it is normalized. Normalization requires com- item is given but is not placed into its correct position.
puting the proportion of all correct responses that In a serial recall task, this is a transposition error.
occur at each serial position of a given list by a given Typically, transposition errors occur in pairs because
subject. For example, if a subject on a six-item list the positions of two adjacent items are confused. For
took three attempts to reach the criterion and during example, if subjects are given the list ABCDEF and
those attempts made a total of 15 correct responses, they recall ACBDEF, they have transposed a pair of
56 Serial Learning

0.2 List length


Proportion correct
0.1 10
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Serial position
Figure 3 Mean normalized proportion of correct responses as a function of list length and serial position for all attempts
through the first perfect recall of a given list by a given subject in serial learning experiment by Bonk (2006).

letters, B and C. Such a paired transposition would of the correct item and the item that substitutes for it
result in errors at two of the six list positions, positions in the subjects recall response. When the distance is
2 and 3. A nontransposition error is any other type of short, the probability of an error is typically larger
error in this task, such as when an item that did not than when the distance is long. Such error gradients
occur in the list is substituted for a correct letter. For are shown in Figure 5 for two different conditions in
example, if subjects respond with YBCDEZ to the which order information was isolated by telling the
sample list, they have made nontransposition errors subjects in advance which items would occur and
at two of the six list positions, positions 1 and 6. using the same set of items on every trial of the
Even with shorter lists, a bow-shaped serial posi- experiment (Healy, 1975). The list items occurred
tion function is found for serial recall. In a procedure one at a time in different spatial locations arranged in
known as the distractor paradigm, items are briefly a row, with the spatial and temporal positions inde-
presented, followed by a retention interval filled with pendently manipulated. In the temporal condition,
an interpolated task, often consisting of items of a the items occurred in fixed spatial locations, so only
different type, all of which must be read aloud by the the temporal sequence of the items needed to be
subjects. For example, a list of four letters might be learned and remembered. In the spatial condition,
presented followed by a variable number of digits, the items occurred in a fixed temporal sequence, so
with subjects reading aloud both the letters and digits only the spatial locations of the items needed to be
before they recall the letters in the order shown. This learned and remembered. The items in this experi-
procedure allows the investigators to examine the ment were four consonant letters in each condition.
amount of information remaining in memory after As in the experiment by Bjork and Healy (1974),
various delays when rehearsal of the information is there were three different retention intervals, with
prevented. Using this procedure and differentiating 3, 8, or 18 interpolated digits. These functions show
between transposition and nontransposition errors, three striking differences in the retention of temporal
Bjork and Healy (1974) found that symmetrical and spatial order information. First, the decline in
bow-shaped serial position functions were found for accuracy across retention intervals is sharp in the
total errors at each of three different retention inter- temporal condition but modest in the spatial condi-
vals (3, 8, or 18 interpolated digits). These functions, tion. Second, the serial position function (evident by
when decomposed into transposition and nontran- examining correct responses) is bow-shaped in the
sposition errors, showed a bow shape only for the temporal condition but not in the spatial condition.
transposition errors; the functions for nontransposi- Third, the error gradients are steeper in the temporal
tion errors were much flatter, as shown in Figure 4. condition than in the spatial condition.
Transposition errors can be further described in One specific type of nontransposition error that
terms of a positional uncertainty gradient, which is a often occurs is a confusion error, in which a given
function of the distance between the input positions item is replaced with another item that is confusable
Serial Learning 57

(a) could be classified as a phonological confusion error.

0.7 Other types of confusion errors are also possible. For
3 digits
example, if the items were words, the confusions
could be based on similarity of meaning rather than
0.5 Error type sound, in which case they would be semantic confu-
Proportion of errors

sion errors (e.g., replacing cot with bed).
0.4 Non-transposition
Often a nontransposition error is not based on
0.3 item similarity but, rather, on positional similarity.
Specifically, subjects show a tendency to replace an
item in a given list with an item from the same
0.1 position in an earlier list (e.g., Conrad, 1960; Estes,
1991). For example, if subjects see the list ABCDEF
0.0 followed by the list GHIJKL and they recall the
1 2 3 4
(b) second list as GHIJEL, they have replaced the item
0.7 in the fifth position of the second list with the item in
8 digits
0.6 the same position of the previous list. This type of
error is a serial order intrusion.
0.5 Both the serial position functions and the different
Proportion of errors

types of errors give us clues that help us understand
the cognitive processes underlying memory for and
0.3 learning of serial order information.

0.1 2.05.4 Theories

0.0 Classic Theories
1 2 3 4
(c) The classic theories are largely theories of serial
18 digits learning because the most popular experimental
0.6 paradigm used at the time they were developed was
the method of anticipation, and this paradigm pro-
Proportion of errors

0.5 vided the data that were to be explained by the

0.4 models.

0.3 Associative chaining

0.2 An early description of serial learning was based on an
associative chaining model wherein one item in a
0.1 sequence was linked to (associated with) the next
item in a chain (see, e.g., Crowder, 1968). This
1 2 3 4 model was a natural outgrowth of the serial learning
Serial position task involving the method of anticipation in which
Figure 4 Mean proportion of errors as a function of each item in the list is explicitly given as a cue for the
retention interval (i.e., for 3, 8, and 18 interpolated digits), next item. In our example of the list ABCDEF, the
and serial position for all errors (total) and separately for letter A would be linked to the letter B, B to C, and so
transposition and nontransposition errors in serial recall
on. However, even for that task, the simple associative
experiment by Bjork and Healy (1974).
chaining model may not be appropriate, as is evident
intuitively from the observation that missing one item
with it. In our example, a confusion error would occur in a serial list does not lead to failure to report all
in the second position if subjects respond with subsequent list items. For example, a chaining model
AGCDEF. The confusion error is presumably a result may predict that, in memorizing a complete poem, if
of similarity between the original item and the one any word is forgotten then it would be impossible to
replacing it, such as the similarity in sound between recall subsequent words in the poem. This particular
the letters B and G in the example. Such an error problem is overcome if there are associative links of
58 Serial Learning

(a) Temporal condition


Proportion of responses 0.8

Retention interval
0.6 (in digits)
0.5 8



11 12 13 14 21 22 23 24 31 32 33 34 41 42 43 44

(b) Spatial condition



Proportion of responses

Retention interval
0.6 (in digits)
0.5 8



11 12 13 14 21 22 23 24 31 32 33 34 41 42 43 44
Figure 5 Mean positional uncertainty gradients for temporal and spatial conditions of experiment by Healy (1975). The point
plotted for position ij represents the proportion of instances in which the response occurring at position i was the item
appearing in input position j of the trial. The label C indicates correct responses.

varying strength among all items in the list, not just serial list of adjectives to a criterion of one perfect
neighboring items, with the associations for adjacent trial. Then they were given a task to learn a set of
items stronger than the more remote associations paired associates, with experimental pairs formed
linking items that are not adjacent in the list. Thus, from adjacent adjectives in the previous list and con-
if a word in a poem is forgotten, subsequent words trol pairs formed from unrelated adjectives. Subjects
could still be recalled on the basis of remote associa- learned the experimental pairs no faster than they
tions from earlier words in the poem that could serve learned the control pairs in the paired associate task
as cues. However, even such compound chaining (Young, 1962), which seems inconsistent with the
could not overcome other types of evidence against assumption that in the serial learning task subjects
this class of models. For example, in one experiment formed strong associations between adjacent items
using the method of anticipation, subjects learned a
Serial Learning 59

(but see Crowder, 1968, for counterevidence support- |3  1|, |3  2|, |3  4|, and |3  5|, which is
ing the existence of such associations). 2 1 1 2 6. Thus, as is also clear intuitively,
the first position is more different from the other
positions than is the third position. The actual calcu- Positional coding
lation of distinctiveness is a bit more complex because
Another early description of serial learning is also
log values are used instead of the ordinal numbers
based on associations between stimuli and responses;
themselves. The use of log values allows the model to
it involves a simple positional coding model. In this
account for the finding that primacy effects are typi-
case, the associations are not from one item to the
cally stronger than recency effects. According to this
next but, rather, between a given item and its ordinal
model, the serial position function should be the same
position (see, e.g., Young et al., 1967). In our example,
shape for all lists of a given length, even if the lists
the letter A would be associated with ordinal position
vary in terms of their presentation time or the famil-
1, B would be associated with ordinal position 2, and
iarity of the items that comprise them. Indeed, as
so on. One version of this theory is a box model
mentioned earlier, normalized serial position func-
(Conrad, 1965), according to which each successive
tions have the same shape across all experimental
item in a list is entered into a box, with the boxes
conditions (McCrary and Hunter, 1953).
preordered in memory. Item information in the
boxes gets degraded with the passage of time, and at
recall subjects output items for each box in turn using Contemporary Theories
whatever information is still available. Transposition
Unlike the classic theories, contemporary theories
errors occur in this model not because of a reordering
are largely theories of immediate serial memory
of the boxes but, rather, because information about an
because the most popular experimental methodology
item in a given box is degraded so that the remaining
partial information may be consistent with another became the immediate serial recall paradigm, and
list item, leading to report of that other item rather this paradigm provided much of the data that were
than the correct one for that position. This simple to be explained by the theories. Thus, the emphasis has
model was also refuted by experiments testing it. For shifted from the learning of serial order information to
example, in a study like the earlier one testing the immediate memory for serial order information. The
new data by Bonk (2006), which examine serial recall
chaining model, subjects learned, using the method of
on successive learning trials, provides an empirical
anticipation, an ordered list of adjectives to a criter-
integration of serial memory and serial learning
ion of one perfect trial. Then they were given a task
to learn a set of paired associates, in this case with the results, but little theoretical integration has yet been
ordinal position numbers as stimuli and the serial list proposed.
adjectives as responses. Subjects did not perform as Perturbation model
well on the paired associate task, at least on the
intermediate items, as they should have if they had An elegant model was proposed by Estes (1972) to
account for serial recall performance in the distractor
in effect learned those associations previously during
paradigm. Like the classic models, the perturbation
the serial learning task (Young et al., 1967).
model is based on simple associations. However, the
associations in this case are between an individual list Positional distinctiveness item and a control element, which represents the
A simple but powerful model was proposed by given context or environment in which the list was
Murdock (1960) to account for the serial position learned. At the core of the model is the concept of a
function in serial learning solely in terms of the dis- reverberating loop that links the control element to a
tinctiveness of the positions. By this model, a given given list item, with a recurrent reactivation of the
positions distinctiveness is determined merely by list item each time the control element is accessed.
comparing its ordinal position value to the values of Because all the items in a list are associated to the
all of the other list positions. For example, in a five- same control element, the difference in reactivation
item list, the difference between the ordinal position times reflects their input order. The timing of the
value for the first position and the value for the other reactivations, thus, provides the basis for knowledge
positions is the sum of |1  2|, |1  3|, |1  4|, and of the order of the items in a list. This knowledge is
|1  5|, which is 1 2 3 4 10. In contrast, a assumed to be perfectly stored in memory immedi-
similar calculation for the third position yields ately after the list is presented. Loss of such
60 Serial Learning

information, resulting in failure to recall the items in as anchors, or markers, to code for each items posi-
the correct order, may then occur for one of two tion in the list (see Feigenbaum and Simon, 1962, for
reasons. First, the subject may lose access to the an earlier use of the notion of list end items serving as
control element, perhaps because the experimental anchors). Each item gets a two-value code based on
context has shifted as a function of time or because of the strength of both the start and end markers at that
some interpolated, interfering activity. Second, there point in the list. The start marker is assumed to be
may be perturbations, or disturbances, in the timing strongest at the beginning of the list and to get
of the recurrent reactivations, presumably resulting progressively weaker for subsequent list items. In
from random neural activity. If the timing perturba- contrast, the end marker is assumed to be weakest
tions are large enough, two adjacent list items may be at the beginning of the list and to get progressively
interchanged so that the later item is reactivated stronger for subsequent list items. Although the end is
before the earlier item, thus leading to transposition not evident at the start of the list, subjects anticipate
errors in recall. The perturbation process can account the end (at least when they know the list length), and
for the symmetrical bow-shaped serial position func- that expectation allows for the use of the end marker.
tions found in immediate serial recall of short lists The model reproduces the general finding that pri-
because the likelihood of interchanges resulting from macy effects are larger than recency effects by giving
timing perturbations is greater for intermediate list greater strength to the start marker than to the end
items (which have neighboring items on both sides) marker.
than for end items (which have a neighboring item on This model makes use of a distinction between
only one side). This same mechanism easily accounts types and tokens as a way of representing items. A
for the positional uncertainty gradients observed for given item, such as a word, may occur in multiple
temporal (but not spatial) order recall, wherein the lists or on multiple occasions in a given list. Each
likelihood of a transposition error decreases as the time the word occurs, the item is the same type, but
distance in time increases between the input posi- the different instances of the word constitute differ-
tions of the correct item and the one replacing it. ent tokens. In the start-end model it is assumed that
After its original formulation, the perturbation each item token codes both identity and positional
model was refined to account for the fact that order information. The identity information specifies the
information can be viewed as hierarchical (Lee and content of that item (e.g., which word has occurred).
Estes, 1981). If lists are divided into subsets, perhaps The positional information is derived from the
by adding pauses between groups of items, then sub- strength of the start and end markers for that item
jects need to know on which list a given item token. According to the model, the item tokens are
occurred and in which subset of the list it occurred, unordered in memory; instead, they are ordered at
as well as its relative position in the subset. According the time of recall. Specifically, at recall the position
to the refined version of the perturbation model, each of a given item is cued by its start and end marker
item is coded for its placement in this three-tier strength values; the identity of the item that matches
hierarchy. The hierarchy of codes is repeatedly the cued strength values most closely is recovered
reactivated, and the perturbation process applies and then recalled at that position. Another assump-
independently at each level, so at each reactivation tion made by the model is that once an item is
there is a probability that the relative position of recalled, its type is suppressed so that subjects will
adjacent lists, subsets, or items will be disturbed. be less likely to recall a given item type more than
This hierarchical perturbation process produces once in a trial. This aspect of the model allows it
serial order intrusion errors, when an item in a to account for the Ranschburg effect (e.g., Jahnke,
given list or list subset is replaced by an item from 1969), whereby subjects are likely to fail to recall
the same position in an earlier list or list subset. second occurrences of a given item. Start-end model Primacy model

The start-end model (Henson, 1998) was proposed to The primacy model (Page and Norris, 1998) is
account for the serial position functions, the posi- related to both the perturbation and start-end models
tional uncertainty gradients, and the distributions of but was formulated to account for a different set of
different types of errors in the serial recall task. At the results. The results in this case are those that formed
heart of this model is the observation that the start the basis of Baddeley and Hitchs (1974) model of
and end of a list are most salient and therefore serve the phonological loop, which is a qualitative
Serial Learning 61

description of working memory that describes Healy (1974) that transposition errors show a bowed
rehearsal processes but does not provide any specific serial position function but nontransposition errors
mechanisms for serial recall. Thus, the primacy do not. Nontransposition errors typically increase as
model can be viewed as a computational version of a function of serial position. To account for this
the phonological loop model (see also Burgess and finding, the primacy model assumes that once the
Hitch, 1999, for an alternative quantitative version of item with the strongest perceived activation is
this model). The primacy model does not specifically selected, the activation is compared to a threshold
code position information, but such information is value. If the activation is above threshold, the item
derived at the time of recall from the relative activa- will be recalled, whereas if it is below threshold, it
tion strengths of list items. These activation strengths will be omitted and the subject will resort instead to
vary as a function of the time when the list items guessing an item, with this threshold comparison
occurred, forming a primacy gradient, with the subject to noise. Thus, the primacy model can
strength greatest for the first item and declining for account for nontransposition errors as well as trans-
successive items in the list. These activation strengths position errors.
can be thought of as reflecting the degree to which
the context defining the start of the list is associated OSCAR
with each successive list item. By this view, the start- A novel approach to explaining serial recall was
of-the-list context resembles both the control ele- taken by Brown et al. (2000) in their oscillator-
ment of the perturbation model and the start based computational model OSCAR. Oscillators are
marker of the start-end model. However, unlike the timing mechanisms that generate continuously
start-end model, there is no corresponding end mar- changing rhythmic output. Oscillators occur at dif-
ker in the primacy model. ferent frequencies, with high-frequency oscillators
To model the recall process, the primacy model repeating more often than low-frequency oscillators.
implements the assumption that in a repeating cycle, An analogy can be made to the hands in a clock face.
the item with the greatest activation is selected for The second hand completes its cycle more rapidly
recall, and after it is recalled, it is suppressed. than the minute hand, which in turn completes its
Subsequently, the item with the next highest activa- cycle more rapidly than the hour hand. OSCAR
tion is recalled and then suppressed, and so on. accounts for the learning of order by making use of
During the recall process, the activations for all list oscillator timing mechanisms presumed to occur
items decay exponentially with time. Errors result naturally in the mind. In OSCAR, during list pre-
from the fact that there is noise in the process of sentation, associations are formed between a vector
selecting the item with the strongest activation (an ordered series of numbers) representing a list
(which can be viewed as noise in the perception item and a vector representing successive states of
of the activation strengths), even though there is no the learning context. The learning context is the
noise in the activation strengths themselves. Primacy current state of the dynamically changing internal
effects fall out of the model naturally because of the set of timing oscillators. Thus, OSCAR, like other
primacy gradient, but recency effects occur because models, makes use of associations between items and
end items can only participate in a paired transposi- a representation of the learning context. However, in
tion error in one direction (i.e., with one neighbor), OSCAR, unlike other models, the learning context
whereas intermediate items can participate in paired changes continuously during list presentation. Just as
transposition errors in both directions (i.e., with Lee and Estes (1981) postulated a hierarchy of codes
neighbors on both sides). Paired transposition errors in the perturbation model, the oscillators in OSCAR
occur in this model whenever the perceived activa- vibrate at different rates, reflecting different levels of
tion strength of a given list item is either less than the a three-tier hierarchy, including item position within
perceived activation strength of a subsequent list a subset, subset position within a list, and list position
item or greater than the perceived activation strength within a session. Unlike the perturbation model,
of a preceding list item. Such paired transposition however, order errors arise in OSCAR solely during
errors also rely on a property of the model called the retrieval stage. Specifically, at the time of retriev-
fill in, which is the assumption that when an item is al, a sequence is recalled by reinstating the states of
missed in recall because of a transposition it is likely the set of oscillators that comprise the learning con-
to be recalled in the next position. This model is, text. Each successive learning context vector is used
thus, consistent with the observation from Bjork and as a probe recovering the list item vector that is
62 Serial Learning

associated with it. Retrieval errors occur based on the the new vector resulting from that response can then
quality of the learning context vector and the extent be used as a stimulus probe to recover the next item
to which that vector is specific to a particular item. in the list. The deblurring process might not result in
Items occurring close together in time have similar an actual overt response. Nevertheless, the recall
learning context vector values; thus, noise in the process can move forward to the next item in the
retrieval process leads to positional uncertainty gra- list because the vector approximation can be used as a
dients like those found for the temporal condition in stimulus for a subsequent response. This implemen-
the study by Healy (1975). This model, unlike some tation allows TODAM to overcome one of the key
of the others, can thereby explain observed differ- problems mentioned earlier plaguing the classic
ences between recall of temporal and recall of spatial chaining model, namely, that missing one item in a
order information. serial list does not lead to failure to report all sub-
sequent items. A subsequent version of TODAM TODAM (Murdock, 1995) also uses associations between
Unlike the other contemporary theories reviewed higher-order chunks of items to avoid problems
here, which are restricted to memory for serial with simple associative chaining models.
order, a model by Lewandowsky and Murdock To model serial learning occurring across
(1989) is designed to account for serial learning as repeated presentations of the same list, in a closed-
well as serial recall. This theory of distributed asso- loop variant of TODAM, the new information added
ciative memory (TODAM) also differs from the to the memory vector for an item is reduced by the
other contemporary models in being based on asso- amount of information already present in the vector.
ciative chaining. Although, as mentioned earlier, This aspect of the model captures the idea that grad-
problems had been found for the classic associative ually less is learned about each item during
chaining model, these were largely overcome in successive repetitions of a list.
TODAM. A third difference between TODAM and
the other models reviewed here is that TODAM
provides a more general account of memory, not 2.05.5 Theoretical Issues and
being restricted to serial order (see Anderson et al., Conclusions
1998, for another general model incorporating serial
recall). A fourth difference is that the memory repre- A variety of theoretical mechanisms have been pro-
sentations in TODAM are not localized but are, posed to account for serial memory and learning, but
rather, distributed. there is little consensus as to which is the best. The
Specifically, in TODAM the representations of all various models differ along numerous important
list items are stored together in a common memory dimensions, such as the relation between item and
vector. The numbers making up the memory vector order information and whether or not position or
in TODAM represent values of individual features. sequence information is explicitly coded. Some mod-
Successive items are associated using a mathematical els do not discriminate between temporal and spatial
operation convolution that blends the constituent order, whereas others apply only to temporal order.
item vectors. The resulting convolution is also Crucially, most models do not attempt to provide a
added to the common memory vector. If all informa- theoretical integration of serial memory and serial
tion is contained in a single memory vector, how can learning results. Thus, despite the theoretical insights
the model recover the individual list items when and innovations in the five decades since Lashley
needed? The retrieval mechanism used for this (1951) first discussed the importance of this problem,
purpose is correlation, which is the inverse of con- we have not yet achieved a full and widely accepted
volution (i.e., it essentially undoes that operation). understanding of the processes underlying serial
Thus, a memory probe representing a particular order behavior, which provides the foundation for
stimulus item can be correlated with the common many activities in everyday life.
memory vector to yield another vector that approx-
imates the response item with which it had been
associated. Once the approximation to the response Acknowledgments
item is generated via the correlation process, it must
be deblurred (interpreted) before it can be recalled. If Preparation of this chapter was supported in part by
the deblurring process yields an overt recall response, Army Research Institute Contract DASW01-03-K-
Serial Learning 63

0002 and Army Research Office Grant W9112NF- Estes WK (1991) On types of item coding and sources of recall
in short-term memory. In: Hockley WE and Lewandowsky S
05-1-0153 to the University of Colorado. (eds.) Relating Theory and Data: Essays on Human Memory
in Honor of Bennet B. Murdock, pp. 155173. Hillsdale, NJ:
Feigenbaum EA and Simon HA (1962) A theory of the serial
References position effect. Brit. J. Psychol. 53: 307320.
Healy AF (1975) Coding of temporal-spatial patterns in short-
Anderson JR, Bothell D, Lebiere C, and Matessa M (1998) An term memory. J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Be. 14: 481495.
integrated theory of list memory. J. Mem. Lang. 38: 341380. Henson RNA (1998) Short-term memory for serial order: The
Baddeley AD and Hitch GJ (1974) Working memory. In: Bower start-end model. Cognitive Psychol. 36: 73137.
GH (ed.) The Psychology of Learning and Motivation: Jahnke JC (1969) The Ranschburg effect. Psychol. Rev. 76:
Advances in Research and Theory, vol. 8, pp. 4789. San 592605.
Diego, CA: Academic Press. Lashley KS (1951) The problem of serial order in behavior.
Bjork EL and Healy AF (1974) Short-term order and item In: Jeffress LA (ed.) Cerebral Mechanisms in Behavior,
retention. J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Be. 13: 8097. pp. 112146. New York: Wiley.
Bonk WJ (2006) Sequence memory with visual item, spatial, and Lee CL and Estes WK (1981) Item and order information in
order information. Paper presented at the 76th annual short-term memory: Evidence for multilevel perturbation
convention of the Rocky Mountain Psychological processes. J. Exp. Psychol-Hum. L. 7: 149169.
Association, Park City, UT. Lewandowsky S and Murdock BB, Jr. (1989) Memory for serial
Brown GDA, Preece T, and Hulme C (2000) Oscillator-based order. Psychol. Rev. 96: 2557.
memory for serial order. Psychol. Rev. 107: 127181. McCrary J and Hunter WS (1953) Serial position curves in verbal
Burgess N and Hitch GJ (1999) Memory for serial order: A learning. Science 117: 131134.
network model of the phonological loop and its timing. Murdock BB Jr. (1960) The distinctiveness of stimuli. Psychol.
Psychol. Rev. 106: 551581. Rev. 67: 1631.
Conrad R (1960) Serial order intrusions in immediate memory. Murdock BB (1995) Developing TODAM: Three models for
Brit. J. Psychol. 51: 4548. serial-order information. Mem. Cognition 23: 631645.
Conrad R (1965) Order error in immediate recall of sequences. Nipher FE (1878) On the distribution of errors in numbers written
J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Be. 4: 161169. from memory. Transactions of the Academy of Science of St.
Crowder RG (1968) Evidence for the chaining hypothesis of Louis 3: ccxccxi.
serial verbal learning. J. Exp. Psychol. 76: 497500. Page MPA and Norris D (1998) The primacy model: A new
Ebbinghaus H (1913) Memory: A Contribution to Experimental model of immediate serial recall. Psychol. Rev. 105:
Psychology (trans. Ruger HE and Bussenius CE). New York: 761781.
Teachers College. (Translated from the 1885 German Stigler SM (1978) Some forgotten work on memory. J. Exp.
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Estes WK (1972) An associative basis for coding and Young RK (1962) Tests of three hypotheses about the effective
organization in memory. In: Melton AW and Martin E (eds.) stimulus in serial learning. J. Exp. Psychol. 63: 307313.
Coding Processes in Human Memory, pp. 161190. Young RK, Hakes DT, and Hicks RY (1967) Ordinal position
Washington, DC: V. H. Winston. number as a cue in serial learning. J. Exp. Psychol. 73:
2.06 Repetition and Spacing Effects
R. L. Greene, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, USA
2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

2.06.1 Continuity, Discontinuity, and Repetition 66

2.06.2 Basis of Repetition Effects 67 Theoretical Approaches 67 Judgments of Recency 67 Judgments of Frequency 68 Limitations on Multiple-Trace Accounts 69 Effects of repetition on nonrepeated items 69 Superadditive effects of repetition on memory 70
2.06.3 Spacing Effects in Memory 71 Deficient-Processing Accounts 72 Encoding-Variability Accounts 73 Multiprocess Accounts 74
2.06.4 When Repetition Does Not Improve Learning 75
2.06.5 Conclusion 75
References 76

Coyne (2006) dedicated himself to becoming as conditions where repetition has no effect are partic-
good a golfer as he could possibly be. He spent a year ularly interesting in determining why repetition
in this quest, hitting more than 100 000 golf balls and affects retention. A related topic of interest in the
playing 5418 holes. He found that practice at this skill literature deals with the temporal distribution of
indeed led to improvement but was frustrated to find repetitions. Generally, repetitions are more effective
out that not all practice was equally effective. The if they are spaced apart than if they are massed
beginning of his regimen led to the fastest improve- together (the spacing effect).
ment, an observation that led Coyne to compare Anderson and Schooler (1991) have noted that
his situation to that of a dieter finding that the first both repetition and spacing effects are rational; that
few pounds lost were the easiest. Coynes observa- is, if one were designing an ideal memory system, one
tions are typical, as the importance, as well as the might construct it so that it would exhibit both of
limitations, of repetition in the mastery of informa- these phenomena. They pointed out that human
tion or skill can be documented in countless domains memory evolved to manage a huge body of informa-
(Ericsson, 2005). tion containing millions of facts and experiences.
That repetition is key to learning but that not all Expecting perfect retrieval of all these facts is un-
repetitions are equally effective are central observa- likely in the face of our limited physical abilities; it
tions underlying all serious thought on the topic. The may also be unwelcome because we may quickly find
central importance of repetition was recognized by ourselves overwhelmed by the massive amount of
many ancient and medieval thinkers. Hermann information we have stored. A rational memory sys-
Ebbinghaus (1885/1964), who initiated the modern tem would be one where the retrievability of a
era of memory research, carried out a series of memory is strongly related to the probability of that
experiments that showed that retention improved as particular memory being needed. Repetition would
a function of the number of times that information surely be one clue indicating that a particular fact
had been studied. Ebbinghauss theoretical approach was important. If we had encountered or used a fact
assumed the centrality of repetition in the acquisition numerous times in the past, it would be more likely
and strengthening of learning. that we will need it again in the future than if we had
The fact that learning and memory are sensitive to only used that fact once. Similarly, when a particular
repetition is not in question. However, the basis of fact or experience had been encountered or used at
repetition effects is still far from clear. Boundary widely spaced intervals, it is probably more likely to

66 Repetition and Spacing Effects

be used again in the future than a fact used equally Authors such as Guthrie (1935) and Estes (1955)
often but only in a massed cluster. Anderson and have long noted that this seemingly continuous im-
Schooler based their reasoning on theories of in- provement in performance does not necessarily mean
formation retrieval, which underlie many of the that the learning process itself must be gradual or
computerized search systems found in libraries or continuous. Many learning situations can be broken
on the Internet. Still, acknowledging that repetition down into smaller components, and one cannot rule
effects and spacing effects are good phenomena for out the possibility that these components may be
well-designed memory systems to show does not learned suddenly, possibly as a result of insight. If
address the issue of the mechanisms that lead to these components are learned at different times, the
these effects in human memory. seemingly gradual nature of learning may instead
reflect the accumulation of mastered components,
each of which had been learned in a sudden all-or-
none fashion. Distinguishing between a truly gradual
2.06.1 Continuity, Discontinuity, learning process and the accumulation of numerous
and Repetition small insights is difficult, and it became common to
assume that learning may be either gradual or sud-
Coyne (2006) found that his golf practice (when not den, depending on the situation and the nature of the
interrupted) led to a steady, albeit sometimes agoniz- participant. Harlow (1949) argued that learning to
ingly slow, improvement in his performance. The novel situations may be slow and continuous, but
seemingly continuous, but always slowing, effect of that sudden flashes of insight may occur when learn-
repeated practice is a ubiquitous finding in the field ing takes place in a familiar situation.
of learning and memory. The total amount learned Rock (1957) was the first to move beyond the
increases as a function of repetition, but the rate of general concern that learning curves obscure sudden
learning seems to change systematically across trials. transitions in performance to an empirical methodol-
The traditional learning curve depicted as a function ogy. He developed what became known as the
of practice demonstrates negative acceleration, with drop-out procedure. He used a paired-associate meth-
the greatest learning occurring on the first trial. The odology, in which participants had to learn a list of
amount learned on each subsequent trial seems to letternumber pairs. Study trials alternated with test
decline continuously. Eventually, the change in per- trials, on which letters were presented and participants
formance as a function of further practice is too small had to recall the corresponding numbers. After each
to be measurable. The phenomenon of registration test, Rock removed pairs that had not been answered
without learning (Hintzman et al., 1992; Hintzman correctly on that trial and replaced them with new
and Curran, 1995) is a demonstration of this, with pairs. Performance in this condition was compared to
participants showing no evidence of learning more learning in a control condition, where participants
information about the details of a stimulus, even were given the same unchanging list on multiple trials.
while continuing to register its repeated presenta- The major finding was that there was no difference
tions. Cleary et al. (2001) showed a similar pattern between the drop-out condition and the control con-
in learning about associations: When presented with dition; both groups mastered the list at the same rate.
word pairs that are repeated many times, participants The fact that replacing old (but not yet mastered) pairs
may note the occurrence of individual items without with new pairs did not impair performance led Rock
showing improved associative memory. Because to conclude that pairs were either completely learned
people seem to pay much less attention to later or completely unlearned. Rock reasoned that if parti-
occurrences of repeated stimuli, first impressions cipants had been acquiring partial information about
become particularly important. Participants may not unrecalled pairs, performance should be impaired if
demonstrate evidence of having noticed small such pairs were replaced by new ones. Because no
changes that are made to a stimulus after its first impairment was found, he concluded that participants
presentation (DiGirolamo and Hintzman, 1997). had not learned anything about a pair until the trial on
Miller et al. (2004) provided additional evidence which it could be recalled. That is, he argued for all-
regarding which features of a stimulus are most likely or-none learning: Rock believed that the fact that
to be overlooked; specifically, accidental properties performance on a paired-associate list gradually
that are not inherent aspects of a stimulus are com- improves across repeated studytest cycles obscures
monly ignored in later repetitions. the fact that each pair is either entirely learned or
Repetition and Spacing Effects 67

unlearned, with the number of pairs moving from the Ebbinghaus (1885/1964) seems to have implicitly
unlearned to the learned state increasing across trials. adopted such a strength position, though his focus
Rock (1957) acknowledged the fact that there was was on the strength of associations. Underwood
a potential flaw in his procedure. Some pairs are (1969a) developed a somewhat more complex theory
harder than other pairs. Presumably, the pairs that in which repetition-based strength was just one attri-
are not remembered on a particular trial would tend bute that could vary among memory traces. On the
to be the most difficult pairs for that participant. In other hand, atomistic theories maintain that two
the drop-out condition, these particularly difficult occurrences of an item lead to independent and dis-
pairs are being replaced on each trial by new pairs. tinct memory traces. Each of these traces would
Because the new pairs are randomly chosen to be contain information about when it had been formed.
added to the list, taken together they would be aver- Atomistic theories are more likely to be referred to
age in difficulty. Therefore, the drop-out group will now as multiple-trace theories. The German scientist
end up with an easier list than the control group, Richard Semon, whose life and work in the early
which is stuck with the list that had been presented twentieth century has been described by Schacter
on the first trial. If this methodological flaw is serious, (1982), was the first prominent multiple-trace theor-
Rock would be mistaken in concluding that this ist, although the model of memory proposed by the
methodology supports an all-or-none interpretation scientist Robert Hooke in 1682 can be interpreted in
of learning. In later research, Steinfeld and Rock multiple-trace terms (Hintzman, 2003).
(1968) went to great lengths to argue that this artifact A fundamental difference between functional
did not invalidate the drop-out procedure, but it (strength) and atomistic (multiple-trace) accounts is
is impossible to determine exactly how serious the in whether information about individual encounters
problem is. Similar methodologies (e.g., that of Estes, with a repeated stimulus is maintained in memory.
1960) run into analogous difficulties. In a review of Functional accounts assume that repetition leads to
this literature that was written just as research on this the strengthening or alteration of a single location so
topic was winding down, Crowder (1976) noted this that details about particular occurrences are lost. On
line of experimentation proved to be inconclusive the other hand, atomistic approaches claim that every
but was valuable in shaking the almost axiomatic occurrence leads to the formation of a separate mem-
belief of Ebbinghaus that repetition strengthens a ory trace, thereby maintaining the specificity of
unitary memory trace (p. 273). individual encounters. One class of experimental
test of these approaches has focused on this funda-
mental difference by asking participants to make
judgments about details of individual presentations
2.06.2 Basis of Repetition Effects of repeated events (see Hintzman, 2000, for a review
of this approach). A pure strength theory would Theoretical Approaches
assume that participants would only be able to
The philosopher Ward (1893) anticipated many of make a judgment about a stimulus by drawing an
the later developments in theories of repetition inference based on its strength; for example, a stron-
effects. He distinguished between functional and ger stimulus can be assumed to have occurred more
atomistic accounts of repetition effects. Functional recently or more frequently. In contrast, multiple-
accounts would assume that repetition affects mem- trace accounts typically assume that each occurrence
ory by altering a single location or representation. of a stimulus leads to the formation of a trace that
Every stimulus or experience has a particular trace in records the context in which it was formed; therefore,
memory that is altered when it is encountered again. participants would have access to detailed informa-
These alterations have the effect of making informa- tion about individual presentations of a repeated
tion about that stimulus easier to locate. Perhaps the stimulus.
most straightforward way of devising a functional
account is to assume that memory traces differ Judgments of Recency
along a single dimension, such as trace strength, so
that this sort of approach is sometimes called strength To see how one might use memory judgments to
theory. This approach is based on the assumption discriminate between strength and multiple-trace
that repetition influences strength and that stronger approaches, a simplified account of a recency-
traces are easier to remember than weaker traces. judgment task (first developed for this purpose by
68 Repetition and Spacing Effects

Morton, 1968) may be helpful. A participant may be when not expecting a test (Greene, 1984), leading
given a list of digits and have to remember which of some investigators to conclude that this sort of
two test items had been presented later on the list. frequency information is encoded automatically
Imagine that a sequence like 7 5 2 9 1 6 5 8 4 3 is (Hasher and Zacks, 1979, 1984). Although this claim
presented, and a participant is asked whether 4 or 5 of automatic encoding of frequency information is
had been presented later on the list. Note that 4 is the unlikely in the face of evidence that strategic factors
correct answer, but that the alternative 5 had been may have a major impact on this task (Greene, 1984,
presented twice. According to strength theory, par- 1986), all theoretical accounts of repetition effects
ticipants may tend to make the wrong choice because must address why some information about frequency
they may mistakenly attribute the heightened of occurrence is seemingly stored without intention.
strength of the digit 5 to a recent presentation, as Strength and multiple-trace theories offer different
opposed to multiple presentations. In contrast, a mul- explanations for how participants are able to estimate
tiple-trace account would claim that participants situational frequency. A strength theory would
perform this task by retrieving occurrences of each assume that participants access the memory trace
digit and attempting to determine recency by exam- corresponding to a test item and then assess the
ining details of each trace. Flexser and Bower (1974) strength of that trace. The judgment of frequency is
carried out a systematic investigation of this task and then based on the strength of that trace. For example,
concluded that multiple-trace approaches offered a a very strong trace would be evidence that the cor-
better explanation of recency judgments. Hacker responding item had occurred frequently on the list.
(1980) reached a similar conclusion by measuring On the other hand, a multiple-trace theory would
response times in recency judgment. assume that participants try to retrieve as many
traces as possible of the test item. Those items that
had occurred in the context of the list would then be
counted, and a judgment of frequency would be Judgments of Frequency
based on that count (possibly after some adjustment
There are several different ways in which one could to fit the expected ranges).
test memory for frequency. One method would be a Results from the frequency-judgment literature
test of background frequency, which refers to the tend to favor multiple-trace approaches. Although
number of times that an event has occurred in ones strength theory would have no problem in account-
lifetime. For example, Attneave (1953) studied the ing for judgments of background frequency, it is
ability to make background-frequency judgments of not clear how this approach could explain peoples
letters of the English alphabet. These background- ability to offer situational-frequency estimates that
frequency judgments correlated .88 with the true are independent of an items overall background
frequency of occurrence in the English language, frequency. For example, strength theory would pre-
demonstrating that people are indeed sensitive to dict that background frequency should always
how often letters occur. Howes (1954) showed that contaminate situational frequency so that people
people are sensitive to the background frequency of should give higher situational judgments to items
occurrence of words. that occur more often in everyday life. In reality,
For the purpose of distinguishing between situational judgments are largely independent of
strength and multiple-trace accounts of repetition background frequency, and the slight effect obtained
effects, tests of situational-frequency judgment are goes in the wrong direction: When situational
more useful. The prototypical way of studying situa- frequency is held constant, participants give higher
tional-frequency memory is to present a list of words, situational-frequency estimates to words of low
which may be repeated varying numbers of times. At background frequency than to words of high back-
the time of test, list words are shown, and people have ground frequency (Rao, 1983). Accuracy of frequency
to indicate how often each was presented on the list. judgments is better for low-frequency words than
This sort of information is considered situational for high-frequency words (Greene and Thapar,
because participants do not have to remember how 1994).
often items occurred throughout their whole lives but Hintzman and Block (1971) carried out the clas-
rather how often they occurred in a particular situa- sic demonstration of participants ability to come up
tion (i.e., on the laboratory list). People under typical with specific situational frequencies. In this study,
testing circumstances are often very accurate, even people were shown two lists of words, separated by
Repetition and Spacing Effects 69

a 5-minute interval. Each word occurred zero, two, Limitations on Multiple-Trace
or five times on each of the lists. These list frequen- Accounts
cies were factorially crossed, so that the frequency
Data from frequency-memory experiments provide
of occurrence on one list would be completely
strong evidence against the notion that repetition
uninformative as to the frequency of occurrence
merely strengthens memories. It seems necessary to
on the other list. After seeing the lists, participants assume that repetition of stimuli leads to the storage
were asked to estimate situational frequency of of information that includes precise information
occurrence of each test word for each of the lists. about the time or context in which each presentation
The most important finding is that participants had occurred. However, this does not necessarily
were very accurate on this task, so that their esti- mean that repetition only leads to the formation of
mates of list frequency were chiefly determined by multiple traces. After all, it is possible that repetition
the true frequencies on the list being judged. has multiple effects. For example, it could lead both
Frequency of occurrence on the other list had to multiple traces and to a strengthening of some
only a small influence. The finding that people are representation in memory. There is some evidence
able to make separate situational-frequency esti- that multiple-trace theories are not adequate for a
mates for the same item in two lists is awkward complete account of the effects of repetition on
for strength theory to explain: If these estimates memory.
were based solely on a unidimensional construct
like strength, participants would not be able to
make up these separate and largely independent Effects of repetition on
nonrepeated items
estimates. On the other hand, multiple-trace theory
A simple and pure multiple-trace account would
would have no difficulty with this pattern, because
claim that repeated presentations of an item should
these estimates would be based on a count of indi-
have the same effect on memory as presenting multi-
vidual traces, each carrying information about the
ple once-presented items. For example, presenting 10
context in which it was created.
words three times each should lead to a functional list
Greene (1990a, Experiment 5) carried out an
length of 30 items.
even more extreme comparison of strength and
Let us consider a single once-presented item that
multiple-trace approaches. Participants were given
may be presented in one of three conditions. In one
a list of words without being told what sort of test to
condition, it is presented along with 10 once-pre-
expect. After the list had been presented, partici-
sented words. In a second condition, it is presented
pants were shown a word accompanied by two other
along with 10 words, each presented three times, so
words. Participants had to choose which of the two that there would be a total of 31 presentations on the
accompanying words had been presented more fre- list. In a third condition, the item is presented along
quently immediately before the single word. (For with 30 words presented once, so that there would
example, participants may have seen the word again be a total of 31 presentations. We then admin-
GOAT on the list three times. It may have occurred ister a recognition test. We are interested only in
immediately after the word DIME two times and recognition of the once-presented item. Recognition
immediately after WALL once. DIME and WALL will certainly be influenced by the length of the list,
occurred elsewhere on the list, so that their total but the critical issue would be if length should be
frequencies were equal. On the test, participants defined in terms of total presentations (so that the
could be presented with GOAT, accompanied second and third conditions are equivalent and
by DIME and WALL, and asked to pick the word should be more difficult than the first) or in terms
that had preceded GOAT more often on the list. of number of novel words presented (so that the first
To be correct, they would have to pick DIME.) two conditions are equivalent, with the third being
Participants had to answer this type of question for more difficult than the others). If one believes that
36 words. Although this was a difficult test, all repetitions act like presentations of new items by
participants were able to perform above chance. creating independent traces, then the second and
Clearly, repetitions do more than merely strengthen third conditions should be equivalent. In reality,
a trace. Rather, every time a stimulus is presented, it recognition is not influenced by total number of
leaves some sort of trace that records the context in presentations but by the number of novel presenta-
which it had occurred. tions so that the first and second conditions are both
70 Repetition and Spacing Effects

approximately equal and easier than the third of that item. For example, when a word is presented
(Ratcliff et al., 1990). The empirical picture is some- for a second time on a list, this repetition may remind
what less clear-cut in free recall, but even here the the participant of the earlier occurrence, leading to
effect of repeated presentations does not come close further rehearsal and increased retrievability of the
to matching the effect of added novel items (Tulving first presentation. (There is independent evidence
and Hastie, 1972; Ratcliff et al., 1990). Additional that repeated presentations may lead to such a
evidence that repetitions do not affect other items reminding process; see Hintzman and Block, 1973;
in the same way as a comparable number of distinct Tzeng and Cotton, 1980; Winograd and Soloway,
items was reported by Tussing and Greene (2001). 1985). Thus, one cannot reject the multiple-trace
This type of finding suggests that a simple applica- approach simply because recall of repeated words
tion of the multiple-trace approach to repetition may exceed the independence baseline. Rather, the
effects is inadequate. multiple-trace approach suggests that the probability
of recall should be predictable based on the prob- Superadditive effects of ability of retrieval of the separate occurrences. To
repetition on memory test the multiple-trace approach, some way must be
Waugh (1963) observed that one can use simple laws found to allow for the experimenter to determine
of probability to derive expectations for memory of whether the participant is able to recall the first,
repeated items based on performance on once-pre- second, or both occurrences of a repeated item.
sented items. Let us assume that two presentations of Watkins and Kerkar (1985) devised such a study.
a repeated item lead to two completely independent The general procedure in their experiments was to
memory traces. Recall or recognition of that item ask participants to learn a list of once- and twice-
would be successful if the participant was able to presented words. Every presentation was tagged by
retrieve one or both of these traces. If we define P an arbitrarily selected distinguishing attribute.
as the probability of remembering a once-presented Participants would be required to recall the words.
word, then the probability of remembering at least Then they would be asked to remember the attri-
one occurrence of a repeated word should be (2P P2) butes. The goal was to determine whether memory
if the occurrences act like purely independent traces. for the items could be predicted on the basis of
This value can be considered an independence memory for the detailed attributes associated with
baseline, an indication of how high memory for particular presentations. Their first experiment can
repeated items should be if retention of separate serve as an example of their approach. This experi-
occurrences was completely independent. Although ment required recall of lists, each of which was
not all studies find that recall of repeated stimuli composed of five words presented once and five
significantly surpasses the independence baseline words presented twice. The attribute manipulated
(e.g., Glanzer, 1969), there are numerous examples here was the color of the presentations, with 10
in the literature in which this has occurred (e.g., different colors being used in printing the words.
Johnston and Uhl, 1976; Goldman and Pellegrino, After the list was presented, participants were asked
1977; Overton and Adolphson, 1979). For reasons to recall the words. They recalled 0.18 of the
that are still unclear, the nature of the memory test once-presented words and 0.46 of the repeated
seems critical, with performance on repeated items words. (Note that recall of the repeated words
being more likely to exceed the independence base- greatly exceeded the independence baseline.) Then,
line on recall tests than on recognition tests (Begg Watkins and Kerkar attempted to determine whether
and Green, 1988). recall of repeated items could be attributed to retrie-
At first glance, any reports of memory for val of particular occurrences. To determine how well
repeated items exceeding the independence baseline particular occurrences could be retrieved, Watkins
might appear to be inconsistent with multiple-trace and Kerkar asked participants to remember the color
theories of repetition effects. After all, if multiple that each word had been presented in, including
presentations of an item lead to the creation of sepa- noting two colors for repeated words. Participants
rate traces, shouldnt retrieval of these traces operate were much less accurate in recalling the colors of
just like retrieval of once-presented items? However, repeated words than those of once-presented words.
this argument is too simplistic. It overlooks the pos- Thus, although people are able to recall repeated
sibility that the memorability of an item might be words better than would be expected based on recall
affected by the fact that there were other occurrences of once-presented words, they actually remember the
Repetition and Spacing Effects 71

details of each occurrence of repeated words less well 2.06.3 Spacing Effects in Memory
than they did for once-presented words. Watkins and
Kerkar argued that there is a collective recollection Ebbinghaus (1885/1964) noted that with any
of occurrences, which they called generic memory, considerable number of repetitions a suitable dis-
that can benefit memory for repeated items sepa- tribution of them over a space of time is decidedly
rately from retrieval of the particular instances. more advantageous than the massing of them at a
Watkins and LeCompte (1991) presented further single time (p. 89). This advantage of spaced prac-
evidence that memory for repeated information can tice over massed practice became one of the laws of
exceed recall of specific occurrences. memory formulated by Jost (1897). Spacing of repeti-
Hintzman (2004) had another demonstration that tions became a widely used manipulation in studies
multiple-trace accounts cannot offer a complete of learning and memory (Bruce and Bahrick, 1992).
account of repetition effects. He took what is com- Reviews of early research on this topic were carried
monly seen as the strongest evidence for these out by Ruch (1928) and McGeoch and Irion (1952).
accounts, namely, participants ability to estimate However, given the wide variety of procedures used,
the frequency of occurrence of repeated items. He many conflicting results were found, and researchers
showed that these judgments of frequency were, such as Underwood (1961) despaired of being able to
in fact, more strongly related to presentation fre- demonstrate consistent and unambiguous benefits of
quency than is performance on a recognition- repetition spacing. Melton (1967) rectified this by
memory test. Essentially, he dissociated memory for popularizing a straightforward way of demonstrating
items from memory for how often they occur, the beneficial effects of spacing. With this method, a
although multiple-trace accounts attribute both to a list of words is presented one at a time to participants.
common process (namely, the retrieval of separate Some of the words are presented two or more times,
occurrences). This finding is inconsistent with a pure and the number of intervening items between occur-
strength-theory of repetition effects as well, because rences of repeated items is carefully controlled. Some
such a theory would also attribute the effects of repeated words (massed words) are presented twice
repetition on recognition and frequency judgment in a row, whereas other repeated words (spaced
to a single process, namely, the strengthening of a words) have one or more intervening words between
single trace for each stimulus. Fisher and Nelson occurrences. When participants are given a test
(2006) carried out a conceptual replication of this on their memory for the words, a clear benefit for
finding by showing that the size of the repetition spaced repetitions over massed repetitions can be
effect is numerically greater on frequency judgments demonstrated. Recent reviews have established the
than on recognition memory. These results suggest advantage for spaced repetitions beyond serious
that any one-process account of repetition effects will question (Janiszewski et al., 2003; Cepeda et al.,
be insufficient. 2006). Although this conclusion had to be based on
Overall, the literature suggests that repetition controlled laboratory experimentation, people evi-
leads to the creation of separate memory traces, dently reach a similar conclusion based on their
each of which contains information about the context everyday experiences, as they may choose to devote
in which it occurred. However, findings such as those spaced rehearsals to challenging material (Benjamin
of Watkins and Kerkar (1985) and Hintzman (2004) and Bird, 2006).
indicate that repetition has additional effects on Several distinctions among commonly used terms
memory beyond the creation of traces. These addi- may be useful. The advantage in memory for
tional effects are at present still poorly understood. a repeated item over a once-presented item is a
It is possible that a combination of strength and repetition effect. The advantage in memory for
multiple-trace approaches will be necessary; formal spaced items (repeated items that had their occur-
models, such as that of Hintzman (1988), where rences separated by intervening stimuli) over massed
repetitions create multiple traces that may be com- items (repeated items presented consecutively) is
bined in various ways at the time of test, may a spacing effect (sometimes called a distributed-
eventually shed light on this. At present, however, practice effect). When one looks only at spaced
we know that simple approaches are inadequate items, any advantage in memory as the number of
without yet being able to offer a successful complex intervening stimuli is increased beyond one would be
explanation of repetition effects. called a lag effect. Whether increases in spacing
72 Repetition and Spacing Effects

beyond one or two intervening items hold much less attention to a stimulus that we had just encoun-
benefit in remembering is less clear, although evi- tered than one whose previous occurrences were
dence increasingly suggests that this is the case more distant in time. However, it may well be that
(Kahana and Howard, 2005; Cepeda et al., 2006). voluntary, strategic processes play a major role here.
Spacing effects have received a large amount of Zechmeister and Shaughnessy (1980) argued that,
attention from both theorists and experimenters. One as participants are encoding a list of items, they are
reason why they are seen as particularly important is constantly deciding how to distribute their rehearsals
their wide generality. They may be found in a large between the current stimulus and the previous ones.
number of subject populations, including nonhuman The amount of rehearsal that a participant devotes to
animals (e.g., Davis, 1970; Sunsay et al., 2004), human an item may be influenced by whether he or she feels
infants (Cornell, 1980), children (Toppino, 1991, that it is already well learned. There would be
1993), and the elderly (Balota et al., 1989; Benjamin no point in devoting further rehearsal to an item
and Craik, 2001). Also, spacing effects have been that has already been mastered. Zechmeister and
found in educational settings for typical course mate- Shaughnessy found that participants overestimate
rials, suggesting that the distribution of practice may the degree to which they will remember massed
be a useful way to improve retention without requir- stimuli. They argued that this can lead to participants
ing additional time (Dempster, 1988). Bahrick (2005) choosing to devote fewer rehearsals to such stimuli
has argued for the importance of viewing spacing than to spaced items. Bahrick and Hall (2005) pro-
effects from an educational perspective, and it is posed a variant of this approach specifically aimed at
certainly true that spacing can influence long-term retention over very long intervals.
retention of material typically learned in school (e.g., There are many sources of evidence that converge
Reder and Anderson, 1982; Rea and Modigliani, on the claim that participants do not adequately
1985; Bahrick and Phelps, 1987; Dempster, 1987; encode the second presentation of massed items.
Rawson and Kintsch, 2005; Balch, 2006; Kerfoot When participants are asked to rehearse words
et al., 2007). aloud, they give fewer overt rehearsals to the second
A wide variety of theoretical explanations have presentations of massed items than to the second pre-
been offered for spacing effects over the years. sentations of spaced items (Rundus, 1971; Ciccone
Although spacing effects may be found in many and Brelsford, 1974). When participants are allowed
domains and using many tests, theorists have focused to pace themselves through a list presented on slides,
on the literature on human memory for word lists. At they devote less exposure time to massed items
least with respect to this memory literature, two than to spaced items (Shaughnessy et al., 1972;
classes of explanation have been particularly influen- Zimmerman, 1975). Dilation of the pupil in the eye
tial, one emphasizing the importance of encoding and (a measure that is related to cognitive effort) is
the other emphasizing the importance of retrieval. greater when participants are seeing spaced repeti-
tions than when they are seeing massed repetitions
(Magliero, 1983). Deficient-Processing Accounts
One straightforward test of this voluntary encod-
Some theorists (e.g., Hintzman, 1976; Zechmeister ing account is to see whether spacing effects are
and Shaughnessy, 1980; Cuddy and Jacoby, 1982) eliminated when participants are not expecting a
have claimed that repetition spacing influences the test on their memory for the material. That is, if
processing of the second occurrence of repeated participants are not deliberately rehearsing any
items. Typically, the claim is that massing repetitions items for a later test, then they would have no reason
leads to deficient processing of the second occur- to treat spaced and massed items differently. The
rence, relative to spaced repetitions. Hintzman et al. evidence here is strikingly mixed. Spacing effects
(1973) showed that repetition spacing seemed to are sometimes eliminated when lists are learned inci-
influence memory for the details of the second occur- dentally, but the details of the study and testing
rence, but not of the first occurrence, for repeated procedure are critical (e.g., Jensen and Freund,
items. 1981; Greene, 1989, 1990b; Challis, 1993; Greene
This deficient processing of the second occur- and Stillwell, 1995; Russo et al., 1998).
rence of repeated items may in part be due to A second test for voluntary encoding-deficit
involuntary processes akin to habituation; that is, accounts would involve an examination of the impor-
we may not be able to keep ourselves from paying tance of experimental design. Repetition spacing
Repetition and Spacing Effects 73

could either be manipulated within lists (where par- to have multiple copies of it. However, it would make
ticipants are given a list containing both massed and no sense to place all of those copies in the same place.
spaced repetitions) or between lists (where partici- Rather, you should scatter the copies around at many
pants receive a pure list, consisting either only of different places. Although this would make it more
massed repetitions or spaced repetitions). The vast difficult to locate all of the copies, it is assumed that
majority of studies in this area has used the within- you only need to locate one copy. Similarly, if every
list design. The magnitude of spacing effects in this repetition of an item leads to a separate memory
design may be exaggerated because participants may trace and if one only needs to retrieve one of the
rehearse spaced items during the presentation of traces to remember the item, it would clearly be
massed items. If spacing effects result from an encod- better if the separate traces are somehow distributed
ing deficit for massed items, you may see a reduction throughout memory.
(and possibly a complete elimination) of spacing This notion that repetition spacing influences
effects on between-list designs. Unfortunately, the encoding variability, which facilitates the probability
literature on this point is very inconsistent, yielding of remembering at least one occurrence of an item,
all sorts of conflicting findings, and it is possible that has been expressed in several forms. Landauer (1975)
the details of the design, study instructions, and mem- adopted this concept literally. He proposed a model
ory test may be critical (Underwood, 1969b, 1970; in which memory traces are stored at random loca-
Waugh, 1970; Greene, 1990b; Hall, 1992; Toppino tions in a memory system. Traces for the occurrences
and Schneider, 1999; Delaney and Knowles, 2005; of spaced items would tend to be stored farther apart
Kahana and Howard, 2005). than traces for the locations of massed items. If one
Attempts to reduce spacing effects entirely to a assumes that only part of the memory space is
voluntary deficient-encoding process, while inspiring searched during retrieval, then there would be an
some supportive results, have failed to present a con- advantage for the spaced items.
sistent empirical picture. This has convinced some An alternative way of envisioning encoding
theorists that at least one other process is needed to variability is with respect to the information with
explain spacing effects completely (Greene, 1989, which items may become associated. For example,
1990b; Braun and Rubin, 1998; Russo et al., 1998). In Glenberg (1979) suggested that interitem associations
addition, it has been difficult to see how deficient- are critical on many memory tasks, particularly free
processing accounts developed to explain how parti- recall. When two occurrences of a repeated item are
cipants remember intentionally learned lists of words presented in massed fashion, the two traces tend to
can be easily expanded to cover the range of situa- become associated with the same items. In contrast,
tions, materials, and subjects that can demonstrate when the two occurrences are spaced apart, the resultant
advantages for spaced repetitions. traces are associated with different items. Glenberg
argued that the probability of retrieving at least one
occurrence of a repeated item increases with the num-
ber of different associations that had been formed. Encoding-Variability Accounts
Raaijmakers (2003) showed how this approach can be
Encoding-variability accounts of spacing effects incorporated into a broader mathematical model of
make the assumption that the distribution of repeti- memory.
tions affects the likelihood that at least one of the Gartman and Johnson (1972) pointed out that
occurrences will be successfully retrieved. Typically, words can be interpreted in slightly different ways.
it would be assumed that greater spacings would This is clearest in the case of homographs like IRON
increase the probability that each presentation of a or TOAST, where the same pronunciation and spel-
repeated stimulus would be encoded in a very differ- ling pattern would be associated with seemingly
ent way, thereby making it more likely that a unrelated meanings. Even when a word is perceived
participant would be able to retrieve at least one of as having only one meaning, there may be slightly
the occurrences. different connotations that could come to mind;
One analogy that I have found useful in explaining depending on the context, the word PIANO could
this approach would be to liken this to the probability be encoded primarily as a musical instrument or as a
of being able to find a particularly important piece of heavy object. Gartman and Johnson suggested that
paper. If you want to be sure that you will always be repetition spacing influences the probability that
able to find the paper when you need it, you may try each occurrence of a repeated word would receive a
74 Repetition and Spacing Effects

somewhat different interpretation and that this varia- indirect support for encoding-variability approaches,
bility in meaning would increase the probability that it has been difficult to develop alternative explana-
at least one occurrence could be retrieved. Indeed, tions for this finding.
Gartman and Johnson reported that recall of homo-
graphic words does not show a spacing effect,
presumably because different meanings may be
invoked even at short spacings. Multiprocess Accounts
The notion that some variant of encoding varia- Theorists have increasingly abandoned the attempt
bility underlies the spacing effect has been popular to reduce spacing effects to a single factor and
among theorists even in the absence of direct evi- have instead turned to multiprocess explanations,
dence that encoding variability benefits memory at where spacing influences several aspects of memory
all. Some interpretations of this approach would (e.g., Glenberg, 1979; Greene, 1989, 1990b; Braun
claim that encoding variability should influence and Rubin, 1998; Russo et al., 1998). For example,
memory for once-presented items; that is, the prob- Greene (1989, 1990b) has argued that deficient
ability of retrieving at least one of two unrelated, processing of the second occurrence of massed
once-presented words should increase as a function items largely explains spacing effects on tests where
of the spacing between them. However, this predic- cues are provided to participants; such cued-memory
tion has been falsified, as spacing seems to have no tests would include recognition or frequency judg-
effect on recall of once-presented words (Ross and
ment. On the other hand, free recall is an uncued
Landauer, 1978). Also, direct attempts at controlling
test because no retrieval cues are explicitly given
the presentation context of repeated items have
to participants; some variants of the encoding-
found that encoding variability typically leads to a
variability approach offer a better explanation of
decrease in memory performance (Bellezza and
spacing effects on this test. This sort of explanation
Young, 1989; Greene and Stillwell, 1995; Verkoeijen
reflects the fact that one can find manipulations
et al., 2004).
that have different effects on the spacing effect
Even in the absence of direct empirical support,
found in free recall or cued tests (e.g., Glenberg and
the concept of encoding variability as at least one
Smith, 1981; Greene, 1989; Kahana and Greene,
component in a theory of spacing effects continues to
be popular. One reason is that some variants of this 1993). Still, the details of multiprocess approaches
approach can offer a straightforward explanation for have yet to be worked out satisfactorily, as none has
an otherwise puzzling finding, namely, the fact that been able to offer a comprehensive account of the
memory for massed items may be superior to mem- literature.
ory for spaced items if the test is administered very The popularity of multiprocess accounts largely
briefly after presentation. Glenberg and Lehman reflects the fact that single-process explanations
(1980) presented a particularly compelling empirical to date have necessarily left large portions of the
picture and proposed a proportionality rule that literature unexplained. One limitation even for mul-
states that when the retention interval is short rela- tiprocess accounts is that they have largely been
tive to the spacing of the repetitions, performance is applied only to results from memory experiments
negatively correlated with repetition spacing; when using adult human participants. In principle a factor
the retention interval is long relative to the spacing like encoding variability can be applied to nonhuman
intervals, performance is positively correlated with animals (and indeed the concept owes much to the
spacings of the repetitions (p. 528). Glenberg and stimulus-sampling theory developed by Estes, 1955,
Lehman demonstrated this proportionality rule in to explain findings in the animal-learning literature).
free recall, with similar findings being obtained in However, there has been little effort paid to seeing
other memory tasks (Peterson et al., 1963; Glenberg, whether one can take theories of the spacing effect
1976; see Cepeda et al., 2006, for a quantitative developed in the field of human memory and apply
review of this pattern). This advantage for massed them in a fruitful way to other domains, such as
items after short retention intervals suggests that it is animal conditioning or human skill acquisition.
better to have two occurrences presented in contexts Until theorists in this area feel compelled to account
very similar to the testing context rather than to have for a wider range of empirical data, it will be impos-
only one. Although this finding of a massed-item sible to claim that we have an adequate explanation
advantage after brief retention intervals is only of spacing effects.
Repetition and Spacing Effects 75

2.06.4 When Repetition Does Not should have an advantage over the control group.
Improve Learning However, Tulving found an effect in the opposite
direction, with the control group outperforming the
Because repetition so clearly is an important factor in experimental group. A critical issue here is that there
learning, it is understandable that we have focused on is increased opportunity for confusion between the
cases where there is a positive relationship. However, lists when they overlap. Because participants in the
sometimes repetition is ineffective in promoting experimental group do not necessarily realize that
learning. The classic demonstration of this is the the 18-word list is entirely contained in the 36-word
poor memory Americans have for the characteristics list, they may have difficulty when they try to restrict
of the penny. Although Americans have seen this coin their recall to the second list (Sternberg and Bower,
countless numbers of times, Nickerson and Adams 1974). In a similar vein, preexposing some items on a
(1979) showed that they can have quite poor recol- list may impair recognition memory for them, at least
lection for its details. They may not be able to recall in part because participants have difficulty knowing
what words are on the penny or where the date is whether the familiarity of the items is due to the
located. After all, people presumably use the color preexposure or to presentation on the list (Greene,
(brown) of the penny to distinguish it from other 1999). Repetition may impair memory when the crit-
coins, so they do not need to attend to its other ical task requires participants to disregard some
features. If people are given 15 s to study an unfamil- occurrences of a repeated stimulus.
iar coin (the mercury dime, which was in use from A striking case where repetition may lessen mem-
1916 to 1945), they remember its details better than ory is in serial (ordered) recall of short lists. When
they remember those of the penny (Marmie and participants have to recall short lists of digits or let-
ters, memory is impaired if one item is repeated on
Healy, 2004). This illustrates the point that repetition
the list. This phenomenon, known as the Ranschburg
in the absence of attention is strikingly ineffective in
effect, was introduced into the modern psychological
promoting learning.
literature by Crowder and Melton (1965). Crowder
The ineffectiveness of repetition in the absence of
(1968) carried out a systematic manipulation of all
attention is also illustrated by the fate of items mem-
possible locations of repeated items. He found that,
orized through maintenance, or rote, rehearsal (e.g.,
when the two occurrences of a repeated item occupy
Glenberg et al., 1977; Rundus, 1977). In these experi-
immediately adjacent serial positions, recall of the
ments, participants have to repeat items aloud over
series is enhanced. However, when the two occur-
and over. When they are given an unexpected mem-
rences are spaced apart, recall is impaired, with the
ory test on the rehearsed words, there is at best a very
greatest decrement occurring when there are two
weak relationship between the number of overt intervening items. The impairment is very localized,
rehearsals devoted to an item and later memory with only recall of the second occurrence being nega-
(Greene, 1987). Simply repeating an item over and tively affected. The Ranschburg effect is also rather
over has little benefit for memory in the absence of delicate, leading Murdock (1974) to label it the
attention or more elaborative processing of the Ranschburg (non) Effect (p. 297). Later research
material. has shed light on the boundary conditions of this
Repetition may impair learning if memory is phenomenon, as changes in the nature of either the
tested for only one occurrence. If an item has been instructions given or the nature of the test can elim-
presented in several contexts, it may become difficult inate the effect (Greene, 1991). This effect seems to
to retrieve the occurrence that is being tested. occur because recall of the first occurrence of the
An early demonstration of this (although initially repeated item may inhibit output of the second occur-
interpreted in a somewhat different way) was the rence (Greene, 2001).
negative part-whole transfer effect reported by
Tulving (1966). In this procedure, a control group
and an experimental group first learn a list of 18 2.06.5 Conclusion
words and then learn a list of 36 words. In the control
group, the two lists are unrelated. In the experimental Much of the literature on repetition and spacing
group, the earlier list of 18 words was then included effects has been carried out in the empirically
in the list of 36 words. If repetition inevitably leads to minded spirit of functionalist psychology, so it is
improved memory, then the experimental group perhaps appropriate that strong conclusions can be
76 Repetition and Spacing Effects

drawn about empirical patterns but only tentative Behavior, pp. 89100. Washington, DC: American
Psychological Association.
ones about theoretical implications. First, it is clear Bahrick HP and Hall LK (2005) The importance of retrieval
that the development of learning as a function of failures to long-term retention: A metacognitive
repetition is established beyond question in the explanation of the spacing effect. J. Mem. Lang. 52:
research literature. Second, performance improves Bahrick HP and Phelps E (1987) Retention of Spanish
as a smooth, negatively accelerated function of fre- vocabulary over 8 years. J. Exp. Psychol. Learn. Mem. Cogn.
quency of study, though this does not necessarily 13: 344349.
Balch WR (2006) Encouraging distributed study: A classroom
imply that all aspects of learning take place gradually experiment on the spacing effect. Teach. Psychol. 33:
and continuously. Third, as a result of repeated prac- 249252.
tice, we form memories that contain the details of Balota DA, Duchek JM, and Paullin R (1989) Age-related
changes in the impact of spacing, lag, and retention interval.
each occurrence and that we can access individually. Psychol. Aging 4: 39.
Fourth, the effects of repetition cannot be reduced Begg I and Green C (1988) Repetition and trace interaction:
merely to retention of these separate episodes, as we Superadditivity. Mem. Cognit. 16: 232242.
Bellezza FS and Young DR (1989) Chunking of repeated
seem to form generic memories that capture what events in memory. J. Exp. Psychol. Learn. Mem. Cogn. 15:
these individual presentations have in common. 990997.
Benjamin AS and Bird RD (2006) Metacognitive control of the
Fifth, the effects of repeated study are enhanced if spacing of study repetitions. J. Mem. Lang. 55: 126137.
the study episodes are spaced apart in time. Sixth, Benjamin AS and Craik FIM (2001) Parallel effects of aging and
these spacing effects are most likely due to a combi- time pressure on memory for source: Evidence from the
spacing effect. Mem. Cognit. 29: 691697.
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Crowder RG (1976) Principles of Learning and Memory.
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2.07 Coding Processes
R. R. Hunt, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX, USA
2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

2.07.1 The Coding Process 80 Coding from the Computer Model 80 The Function of a Code in Psychological Theory 80
2.07.2 Breaking the Code 81 Transfer Paradigms 81 Retrieval Cuing 82 Materials Effects 83 Decision Time 84 False Memories 85 Orienting Tasks 85 Neural Indices of the Code 86 Summary of Methods 88
2.07.3 Factors Affecting the Coding Process 88 Intent to Remember 88 Attention 89 Types of Processing 89 Levels of processing 90 Self-generation 90 Organizational processing 91 Distinctive processing 91 Prior Knowledge 92
2.07.4 Characterizations of the Code 93 The Structural Metaphor 93 Stage theory of information processing 94 Working memory 94 Memory systems 95 Summary of Structural Approaches 96 Process Metaphor 96 Data-driven and conceptually driven processing 97 Process dissociation theory 98 Summary of Process Metaphor 98
2.07.5 Summary of Coding Processes 99
References 100

The questions of what people know and how they With these premises, the importance of studying cod-
come to know it have been a topic of scholarly inquiry ing processes in memory is obvious. Answers to the
forever. At the level of individual knowledge, all that questions of what the nature of the code is and how the
any of us know is represented in memory, and memory code is formed are answers to the venerable questions
representations are just that, representations. What- concerning the nature of knowledge.
ever the event may have been, the processes of percep- Widespread interest in issues of coding only
tion and comprehension yielded a psychological appeared with the cognitive renaissance of the 1950s
experience, and it is that experience of the event that and 1960s. The concept of coding is rarely found in
becomes the memory. In this sense, the memory is a psychology texts prior to 1950, but by 1972, coding was
code that represents the original event, but that code is said to be truly central to modern theories of memory
all the knowledge we as individuals have of the event. (Bower, 1972). In this chapter, we examine the origins

80 Coding Processes

of the concept, which reveal the theoretical function could take any conceivable form and be transmitted
served by coding and the reason for its centrality in over any kind of channel. Some psychologists soon
modern theory. An overview of the methods used to realized that the idea could be applied to human infor-
study coding is provided, as well as some description of mation transmission (e.g., Miller, 1956).
factors known to affect the coding process. Finally, two Dovetailing with the abstract notion of information
broad metaphors used to describe the memory code transmission was the more concrete model of the com-
will be discussed, along with several specific ideas that puter as an information processor. By 1958, Newell
represent each of the metaphors. The reader is warned et al. advocated that the mind be described as an
of a major caveat about the discussion, namely, that the information processing system modeled on the work-
effects of variables associated with the memory test will ings of computing machinery. Early in the history of
not be described, nor will the theoretical coaction of computer science, the computer was conceptualized as
coding and retrieval be part of the discussion. One a general-purpose symbol manipulator, and the insight
must keep in mind that many of the effects described that the mind could be construed as a symbol-manip-
in this chapter are relative to the conditions of retrieval ulating system (e.g., Newell and Simon, 1972) provided
(See Chapter 2.16). the foundation for the use of a computer model in
theoretical psychology. With this foundation in place,
the analogy of specific computer functions such as
2.07.1 The Coding Process buffers, stores, and retrieval to human information pro-
cessing, especially memory, was recognized quickly.
The process of coding is an integral component of Among these specific functions was the process of
many natural and artificial phenomena. Generally, coding.
coding can be defined as the transformation of mes- For the computer, the fundamental process of cod-
sages, signals, or states from one representational form ing is the transformation of the external input into the
to another. With this definition, the presence of coding representation defined by the machine language. The
in activities from espionage to metabolism becomes analogy here to energy transformation in human sen-
fairly obvious. One might reasonably wonder, however, sation and perception is patent. For example, the
why phenomena require the apparently superfluous effective energy contacting the visual receptors is
process of changing forms of representation. That is, electromagnetic energy, but the human brain cannot
if the representations denote the same thing, why insert use this form of energy. The first coding in vision is
a process to change the form of the representation? the transformation from electromagnetic energy to
Leaving aside esoteric forms of coding for purposes of chemical energy at the level of the rods and cones. In
deception and secrecy, the principal need for coding turn, the chemical energy is transformed to electrical
processes seems to be that the end user cannot work energy for transmission through the optic nerve for
with the original form of the representation, and coding use in the cortex. Less concrete but equally compel-
is necessary to transform the original representation ling analogies were drawn to cognitive descriptions of
into a useable form. Relevant examples here range learning and memory. By the 1950s, verbal learning
from the various transformations of energy after it researchers knew that some nonsense syllables were
contacts sensory receptors and before it is used in more nonsensical than others. Syllables such as FDR,
the brain to the necessity of transforming a visual KLM, and CBS obviously were treated differently
experience to linguistic code to inform someone of than JQN, XFV, PGW. The assumption that the
the experience. nominal stimulus was the functional stimulus had
given way to the admission of a proximal stimulus.
With that concession, behavioral theory now needed a Coding from the Computer Model
psychological process of coding to account for the
The meteoric rise in the use of coding as a psycholog- transformation from nominal to proximal stimulus.
ical concept is largely because of the developments in
information science and computer technology between
1948 and 1960. Shannon (1948) published a mathema- The Function of a Code in
tical theory of an abstract communication system, an
Psychological Theory
important component of which was the bits of informa-
tion transmitted by the system. The theory was written Codes serve as representations for some other object
in a general mathematical form such that information or event. Codes carry information, perhaps not in the
Coding Processes 81

precise form specified by Shannons (1948) theory, assumptions. The following discussion is intended
but information in the sense of symbolically repre- to update an earlier review by Tulving and Bower
senting something else. For our purposes, codes are (1974).
the psychological manifestation of prior experience.
The experience can be in the immediate past, in
which case we call the code a perception. As the Transfer Paradigms
past grows more distant, we refer to the code as a
memory. All psychologists agree that behavior and The transfer paradigm is a venerable method for
thought are influenced by prior experience, and studying the effect of prior experience and inferring
because the code is the representation of that experi- the nature of the code for that experience. The use of
ence, understanding codes and the processes that transfer rests on the assumption that the effect of
produce them looms large for cognitive theorists. prior experience is proportional to the similarity of
Codes serve another function for psychological the prior experience and the current task. Perhaps
theory that is rarely discussed. That is, codes dispel the first use of the transfer paradigm to measure
the mystery of action at a distance. To say that encoding and storage was Ebbinghauss (1964) sav-
current thought and behavior are caused by prior ings method. The savings score is a ratio of the
experience begs the question of how something in number of trials required for original criterion learn-
the past can cause something to happen in the pres- ing to the number of trials to reach the criterion on a
ent. The stock answer to this question is that subsequent attempt. This ratio is assumed to index
experience changes the individual, but the custo- the stored memory from initial learning in that mem-
mized answer includes the form of this change. ory, for the original experience obviates the need for
Different theories propose different kinds of codes, new learning on the second experience. Thus, the
but in all cases, the stored code solves the problem goal of the savings method is to determine the
posed by causal action at a temporal distance. The amount of the original experience that is available
original event does not cause current thought and at a later time.
behavior but, rather, the coded version of that event, In contrast, contemporary use of the transfer para-
which is accessible at the time of the behavior or digm has focused on the qualitative characteristics of
thought. Not everyone agrees that this use of the encoding, as attested to by the wide acceptance of the
code to bridge the temporal gap is a good thing. principle of transfer-appropriate processing (Morris
Watkins (2002), for example, noted that memory et al., 1977). The reasoning is straightforward. If per-
has been reified by assuming that a residual of the formance on the criterion test varies as a function of
original experience is maintained over time and that the similarity between the test and the prior experi-
this characterization is unrealistic. Nonetheless, the ence, one infers that the code includes values from
search for the contents of the memory code has been that dimension of similarity. As an example, consider
quite active. an experiment by Jacoby (1983). Subjects studied
words for memory either by reading the words or by
generating the words from a fragment. Half of the
subjects were given a test of recognition memory,
2.07.2 Breaking the Code and half were given a test of perceptual identification.
Perceptual identification requires that words be read
On the assumption that the memory code is the under conditions of severe visual degradation. Prior
proximate cause of the pasts influence on current experience with the words facilitates perceptual iden-
thought and behavior, the question of what is tification accuracy, but as Jacoby (1983) showed, only
encoded from a given experience has become a pop- if that experience is reading. Generation of the study
ular research agenda in learning and memory. As words produced no positive transfer to perceptual
with many other concepts in science, the memory identification, although generation yielded much
code cannot be observed directly. Consequently, a higher recognition memory than reading. Jacobys
variety of methodologies have been developed to demonstration of differential transfer from reading
infer the nature of the representation of a particular and generating at study illustrates the use of transfer
experience. Each method comes with assumptions paradigm to infer the content of the code.
that allow the inference to follow, and thus it Negative transfer also can be used to infer the
is important to explicitly acknowledge these contents of the code. An early example is the release
82 Coding Processes

from proactive inhibition (PI) paradigm (Wickens prior to studying the list that the instances were
et al., 1963; Wickens, 1970). The basic paradigm all exemplars of a subcategory (e.g., water birds).
involved presentation of short lists of words for Memory improved with these instructions, as would
immediate recall. The lists were similar on some be expected if the dimension of encoding shifts from
dimension; for example, all words could be exemplars that of the first three trials. The critical condition is
of the same category. As can be seen in Figure 1, the third condition, in which the special instructions
performance declined quickly over the first two to concerning the material were given after study and
three study-test trials. The decline was identified as prior to recall. These subjects also evidenced release
PI, the cause of which is competition among the from PI, results consistent with an alternative view of
codes. The basis of the competition is assumed to the cause of PI buildup and release. That is, PI
be similarity of the codes. Thus, the presence of reflects the increasing ineffectiveness of a cue as
proactive interference provides a basis for inferring more items are subsumed by that cue, all in accord
that the code contains information corresponding to with the principle of cue overload (Watkins and
the dimension of similarity. The inference is vali- Watkins, 1975). Release from PI then is caused by
dated by eliminating the similarity on the final list the availability of an appropriate new cue. Note that
in the series and observing better performance than in this interpretation, negative transfer in the release
on the previous trial, the so-called release from PI, from PI paradigm is not informative about coding
which is depicted in Figure 1 in the shift condition. processes.
Straightforward inferences about the code from
the release from PI paradigm are complicated by
data reported by Gardiner et al. (1972). They pre- Retrieval Cuing
sented different instances from the same category
over three study-test trials and observed PI buildup The relative effectiveness of retrieval cues frequently
over the trials, as would be expected. On the fourth is used to make inferences about the nature of a code.
The reasoning is the same as that underlying the use
trial, subjects continued to see instances from the
of the transfer paradigm, except that here the appeal
same category but under different conditions. The
is to the principle of encoding specificity (Thomson
standard control condition received no special
and Tulving, 1970; Tulving and Thomson, 1973).
instructions and continued to show PI on the last
Encoding specificity states that as a necessary condi-
trial. In another condition, subjects were informed
tion for successful memory, the cue must have been
present at encoding. If a cue does lead to correct
memory, one can assume, based on encoding speci-
100 Nonshift ficity, that information shared by the cue and its
Shift target was encoded originally.
80 As an example, Nelson et al. (1974) used this logic
to investigate semantic and phonetic coding of words.
Percent recall

60 Word lists were studied for memory and then cued

for recall by either rhymes or synonyms of the stud-
40 ied words. Half of the subjects who received rhyme
cues had studied the words in the presence of the
rhymes, and half had studied the words alone.
Likewise, half of the subjects receiving synonym
cues had studied the words in the presence of the
1 2 3 4 synonyms, and half had studied the words alone. The
Trials results showed that recall to a rhyme cue was equally
Figure 1 Memory for material from the same category good for words studied in the presence of the rhyme
over the first three trials illustrates proactive interference. and for words studied alone. Recall in the presence of
The shift condition sees material from a different category the synonym cues was much better for the group that
on the fourth trial, resulting in release from proactive
had seen the synonym cues at study than for the
interference. Adapted from Wickens DD, Born DG, and
Allen CK (1963) Proactive inhibition and item similarity in group that studied the items alone. From these
short-term memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal results, Nelson et al. concluded that phonetic infor-
Behavior 2: 440445. mation about a word is encoded even when the word
Coding Processes 83

is not modified by a study context. Semantic infor- Materials Effects

mation corresponding to the synonym is not encoded
The existence of different kinds of codes also has
unless the study context biases that coding process.
been inferred from differential effects of material on
The results and interpretation make perfect sense, in
memory. Perhaps the seminal modern instance of
that words have few alternative sound patterns,
this approach involves comparing memory for a
whereas the number of nuanced meanings of a word
list of pictures versus memory for a list of words
can be large.
that are the names of the pictures. Other things
The cuing methodology has been used extensively
being equal, the pictures will be better remembered
to study the interface between comprehension and
than the words (e.g., Paivio, 1971). Paivio and others
memory. For example, Anderson et al. (1976) asked
have interpreted these data as consistent with the
people to study sentences that contained a general
idea that at least two classes of codes exist in mem-
noun (e.g., The woman was outstanding in the thea-
ory, verbal and imaginal (Paivio, 1995). Pictures can
tre). Later they were given a cued recall test and
be coded in both forms, whereas words are most
instructed to recall the last word of the studied sen-
likely to be coded in the verbal form, and the multi-
tences. The cue could be the general subject noun
ple forms of code for the pictures confer an
(e.g., woman) or a specific term that previous advantage in memory performance. Alternatively,
norming showed represented the comprehended Nelson et al. (1976) suggested that the picture
instantiation of the general noun (e.g., actress). superiority effect is not a result of qualitative differ-
Recall was better for the last word of the sentences ences in the code but, rather, to a quantitative
when the cue was the particular instantiation rather difference in the distinctiveness of the sensory
than the general term that had appeared in the sen- code for pictures. Nelson et al. (1977), however,
tence. Using the logic of encoding specificity, did argue for a difference in the necessity of seman-
Anderson et al. concluded that general terms are tic coding for words and pictures in that pictures
comprehended and encoded as particular instantia- require semantic coding prior to phonetic coding,
tions rather than as abstract core meaning. This whereas the semantic coding of words is not neces-
example nicely illustrates the relationship between sary for phonetic coding. Again, the nature of coding
questions about the memory code and the broad was inferred from the differences in performances
issue of the nature of knowledge. The conclusion for the classes of materials.
from the Anderson et al. study suggests that the mean- Variations in the memory code accompanying
ing of abstract nouns is represented by specific manipulations of materials have been used to explain
instances of those nouns rather than some abstract other memory effects, including differences in
meaning that goes beyond the instances. memory as a function of clinical diagnoses. For
Using retrieval cues to infer the coded experience example, clinically depressed patients tend to
is limited to the logic of encoding specificity, namely, remember negatively valenced words better than
the presence of a cue at encoding is a necessary positive words, whereas nondepressed people do
condition of cue effectiveness, not a sufficient condi- not show this effect (e.g., Bradley and Mathews,
tion. The implication of this limitation is that one 1983; McDowell, 1984). This effect is eliminated in
cannot infer the nature of coding from the absence of tests that do not request intentional memory (e.g.,
a particular cue effect. For example, the declining Denny and Hunt, 1992; Watkins et al., 1992).
performance over trials in a buildup of PI paradigm Because prior research has shown that meaningfully
cannot be used to infer a corresponding decline in the elaborated codes are better remembered than less
encoding of the dimension of similarity across the elaborated codes on intentional memory tests, these
trials, indeed, quite the opposite inference usually is data have led to the conclusion that the encoded
made. In short, memory performance is affected by representation of negative experiences is more
factors other than the presence of an appropriate cue. elaborate than the representation for positive experi-
What can be done with some confidence is to infer ences in depressed patients. The difference in
that particular information was encoded when cue memory for different types of materials as a function
information facilitates memory. Nairne (2002) offers of clinical diagnosis is explained by inferring quanti-
an interesting discussion of the limitations of cue tative differences in the codes. Depressed patients
effectiveness as a basis for inferences concerning the have more elaborate codes representing negative
encoded trace. events than do nondepressed people.
84 Coding Processes

A potential problem associated with inferring the Reaction time has been used extensively to infer
type of code from materials effects concerns the imaginal coding in decision-making tasks (e.g.,
decision axis for postulating a class of codes. One Brooks, 1967; Cooper and Shepard, 1973; Farah,
would not postulate a qualitatively different class of 1985). As an example, Cave and Kosslyn (1989)
codes for every dimension along which people can showed stimuli consisting of two superimposed rec-
discriminate; otherwise, the kinds of codes would tangles, one drawn in light lines and the other in dark
prove practically infinite. What was needed in 1974 lines. One of the rectangles was drawn vertically, and
(Tulving and Bower) is still not entirely obvious the other was superimposed diagonally over the first
today, and that is a clear set of rules specifying rectangle. The same two objects were used on each
when a differential effect of materials is evidence trial, although the relative length of the lines in the
for different kinds of code. Moreover, care must be objects differed from trial to trial. The task was to
exercised to avoid the assumption that labeling mate- decide whether the sides of the object drawn in light
rial effects as different memory codes has explained lines were equal to those of the object drawn in light
anything. Discussing this issue, Tulving and Bower lines on the previous trial. The principal manipula-
(1974) said, it is of interest to note that it has not yet tion was the subjects expectations of the size of the
been made clear by anyone how the task of explain- object to be judged and of which of the two rectangles
ing memory phenomena is materially aided by the would be drawn in light lines. The manipulation was
hypothesized existence of different memory stores performed by instructing the subjects that most of the
(p. 273). time the same rectangle would be judged on the next
trial and that the object would be of the same size as
on the preceding trial. These instructions conformed Decision Time
to 75% of the trials. Thus, on 25% of the trials, the
Another method used to infer the nature of encoded size, the object, or both were different from the pre-
material is the time taken to respond to queries about ceding trial. The time to correctly decide about the
the prior experience. The assumption underlying this targeted rectangle was affected by both expectations.
technique is that response time will be faster if the Responses to unexpected objects as well as to unex-
code contains the information requested by the pected sizes were slower. Considering just the
query. The more inferences from the code required expected object trials, response time increased line-
to answer the query, the longer the time will be. A arly with the unexpected change in object size. These
good example of this approach comes from Posners data indicate that the stimulus from the preceding
(1969) research. Subjects were shown two letters in trial affects performance on the current trial and that
succession, the first of which is the target letter, and this effect systematically varies with the relative size
the second is the probe. A decision is made as quickly of the stimuli. A reasonable interpretation is that the
as possible as to whether the probe matches the first encoded representation from the previous trial affects
target. Various matching rules can be used to instruct performance on the current trial and that representa-
the subjects. Suppose the rule is that the two letters tion contains specific size information. That is, the
have the same name, and the target letter is a capita- representation is a visual image.
lized A. The probe can either be a matching Although studies such as those of Posner and Cave
capitalized A or one of two nonmatching probes, a and Kosslyn illustrate that reasonable inferences can
lowercase a or a different letter. When A is fol- be drawn about the nature of the code from decision
lowed by A, the positive decision is made more latencies, one must be aware of the effect of speed
quickly than when A is followed by a. The differ- accuracy trade-offs when using latency data. Latencies
ence in decision latency decreases as the interval in most tasks will vary as a function of the emphasis on
between the two letters increases. Assuming that the speed or accuracy, and that trade-off can change the
target letter is held in memory until the match is results of an experiment dramatically. Such changes
completed, Posner and his colleagues interpreted this could result in different conclusions about the nature
pattern to indicate that the initial representation is of the code, when in fact the difference is essentially a
visual, thus producing faster matches for visually iden- strategy shift. Moreover, the use of decision latency
tical patterns. As the encoding process continues, the tends to be limited to material on which accuracy of
visual code is supplemented by a phonetic code, lead- performance will be near perfect. Thus, the method is
ing to faster responding to the A-a pair at longer not appropriate for new learning or large amounts of
interletter intervals. to-be-remembered material.
Coding Processes 85 False Memories representation of the prior experience includes the

information from the inference, which apparently is
Memory is not always veridical to the past. People do
indistinguishable from the presented material.
remember things that did not occur, or at least did
In a similar vein, Deese (1959) reported that peo-
not occur as they are remembered. This fact has long
ple will intrude associatively related words in recall
been known and has been used as a tool to infer the
after studying a list of words that are all associated
qualitative nature of the original code. The assump-
with unpresented words. For example, the study
tion underlying this inference is that healthy memory
words might include sharp, thread, sew, and
is not capricious; rather, errors of commission in
pin, but not the word needle. On later recall tests,
memory reflect the content of the coded representa-
the probability of recall for the nonpresented associ-
tion of the probed experience. For example, early
ate often is equivalent to the recall of study items.
studies of false responding in recognition memory Roediger and McDermott (1995) resuscitated this
showed that synonyms and antonyms of studied paradigm, and extensive research has been conducted
words were seductive lures (Anisfeld and Knapp, using the paradigm to study false memories (see
1968; Fillenbaum, 1969). The high false alarm rates Roediger and McDermott, 2000a,b, for a review). A
for these distracters were taken to indicate that the favored interpretation of the intrusions and false
coded representation of the study items was domi- alarms that occur in this paradigm is that the critical
nated by meaning. The same conclusion was drawn item comes to mind during study and thus is encoded
from studies that showed false recognition for sen- in the study episode. (See Chapter 2.14 for a thorough
tences that expressed the same idea as studied discussion of false memory.)
sentences but were otherwise syntactically different Past research has interpreted false memory to be
from the studied sentences (e.g., Bransford and the result of encoding either a general dimension or
Franks, 1971). The coded representation of sentential specific content such as an inference. This interpre-
content seemed to be the abstracted meaning of the tation seems reasonable and, additionally, renders
sentence. false memory less mysterious and capricious in that
An important line of research that uses false mem- false memory very often is the product of the normal
ory to infer the nature of the code was initiated by processes of comprehension of targeted material. One
studies of inferential processing in comprehension. issue concerning inferences from false memory is
The idea is that inferences are an integral aspect of whether the false memories result from encoding
normal comprehension and that the information processes or occur at retrieval. For example, false
implied in the inference would be part of the coded memory of inferences from the Deese/Roediger/
memory. For example, Johnson et al. (1973) reported McDermott paradigm may be the result of the criti-
a study in which subjects were asked to read several cal item coming to mind in the presence of targets in
short descriptive stories consisting of two or three recall or recognition. That is, the inference occurs
sentences. One story was: John was fixing the bird- during the test rather than at study. Although this
house. He was pounding the nail when his father possibility cannot be ruled out entirely, two findings
came out to watch him and help him do the work. mitigate against an exclusive retrieval interpretation.
The control condition saw the same story except One is that Roediger et al. (2001) report that false
pounding the nail was replaced with looking for recall is negatively related to correct recall. If the
the nail. In addition to the actual sentences presented false item were coming to mind as the result of
in the story, the recognition test included inference recalling its associates, one would expect a positive
sentences such as: John was using the hammer to fix relationship between these factors. The second find-
the birdhouse when his father came out to watch him ing is that warnings about false recall are more
and help him do the work. The test instructions effective if issued prior to study rather than following
were to recognize the sentences that were exactly study (McDermott and Roediger, 1998; Gallo et al.,
the same as those presented at study. The group 2001; Neuschatz et al., 2003; but see McCabe and
that received the study sentences that invited the Smith, 2002, for contrary data).
tested inferences recognized approximately the
same percentage of inference test items and studied Orienting Tasks
sentences. Subjects given the control study sentences
made few false alarms to the inference test items. Orienting tasks, usually judgments that the subject
These data are important indications that the coded makes concerning the to-be-remembered material,
86 Coding Processes

can have a powerful influence on recall and recogni- 1

tion (e.g., Hyde and Jenkins, 1969). With Craik and 0.9 Orienting task
Lockharts (1972) levels of processing came a wave of 0.8

Correct recognition
experiments manipulating orienting tasks, all of 0.7
which assumed that these tasks exert their effect at 0.6
least in part through specific encoding of a dimension
of the material. The logic here is straightforward. If
the memory trace is a by-product of perception and 0.2
comprehension, and the focus of perception and 0.1
comprehension can be controlled by the orienting 0
instructions, then the qualitative content of the Semantic Phonological
trace can be identified with the dimension specified List similarity

by the orienting task. For example, Jacoby and Figure 2 False recognition of critical words as a function
Goolkasian (1973) gave subjects lists of word pairs, of the type of list similarity and orienting task. Adapted from
Chan JC, McDermott KB, Watson JM, and Gallo DA. (2005)
each of which was related either categorically or The importance of material-processing interactions in
acoustically. The orienting task was to rate the inducing false memory. Mem. Cognit. 33: 389395.
degree of the relationship within the pairs. The sub-
jects rating categorical relations recalled more of the
items than the subjects who rated the acoustic rela- Despite enormous amounts of research using the
tionship. The difference in memory is attributed to technique, we know that orienting tasks alone are not
the nature of the trace (i.e., representations of cate- sufficient to identify the content of the code. Leaving
gorical meaning lead to better memory than sound aside the possibility that subjects may intentionally
focus on dimensions other than that associated with
the orienting task, incontrovertible evidence shows
Orienting tasks often are used in conjunction with
that orienting tasks do not control completely the
other methods to infer the nature of the code. For
dimension of encoding. For example, Nelson et al.
example, Chan et al. (2005) combined the use of
(1979) found that the meaning of a word was encoded
orienting tasks and the Deese false memory paradigm
in a context that emphasized phonetic features. Hunt
to examine the effect of associative versus phonolog-
et al. (1979) report that visual features of words are
ical encoding on false memory. Study lists were
encoded during semantic orienting tasks. The encod-
either semantically or phonologically related words,
ing of sensory attributes in the course of making a
and in both cases all the study words were related to a
semantic judgment is quite reasonable given that the
word that was not presented (e.g., bed, rest, awake,
semantic processing requires sensory input, but this
or sweep, steep, and sleet are all related to sleep, fact complicates the inference one can make about
which itself was not presented). The orienting the code following an orienting task.
instructions were to concentrate on the relationship
among the words meanings or among the sound
patterns of the words. These instructions were or-
thogonal to the type of relationship among the words Neural Indices of the Code
in the lists. The results, which are shown in Figure 2, A relatively new technique for identifying the code is
showed an impressive crossover interaction between the use of noninvasive, neural-dependent measures
type of list and orienting task on false memory for the that record brain activity during encoding. The
nonpresented items. Considerably more false mem- logic of identifying psychological functions from
ory occurred when the orienting task was congruent observations of neural dependent measures was
with the dimension of similarity in the study list. formulated in the early 1800s by pioneers such as
A reasonable interpretation of these data is that the Gall and Spurzheim, but the development of power-
orienting task controls the dimension of encoding ful imaging techniques has made the idea more
and that the critical associate will only come to appealing than ever. A succinct statement of the
mind if the study items are coded on a dimension neuroscientific approach to identifying the memory
shared by the critical item. That is, if I see sweep, steep, code begins with the assumption that experiencing an
and sleet, I will only think about sleep if I am attending event results in activation of neural pathways that are
to the sound of the words. dedicated to the processing of those types of events.
Coding Processes 87

This activation leaves a trace in the form of altered Tulving himself was the subject. The results of the
neural functioning such as increased connectivity. scan showed activity in different brain regions when
This neural trace will be a critical participant in remembering the Sunday picnic than when reflecting
later memory of the event when activation occurs on knowledge of the French elections, evidence
under appropriate conditions. Using this logic, the interpreted to be consistent with the notion that
trace is identified as the site of the brain activity. memory and knowledge are represented by different
To translate the neural code to a psychological kinds of codes.
code, one appeals to the assumed localization of the Another important line of research using neural
psychological functioning (e.g., visual/occipital, techniques was initiated by Wagner et al. (1998). The
auditory/temporal, verbal/temporal-frontal, spatial/ goal was to identify the locus of brain activity during
parietal, emotional/limbic). encoding that is associated with remembered items
An informative example of the logic underlying but not forgotten items. fMRI scans were performed
the neural identification codes is the study of imagery as the to-be-remembered words were presented,
and memory. A dispute erupted in the 1970s over the and then the scans were backsorted following a
nature of the code in memory for an imagined event. recognition memory test to determine what differen-
The dispute had two aspects. Is the code a modality- tiated recognized items from nonrecognized items.
specific representation or some more abstract, post- Comparing high-confidence hits to misses, greater
perceptual code (e.g., Shepard, 1978)? And is the activity was seen in multiple prefrontal regions and
mental image a spatial representation or a proposi- left parahippocampal and fusiform gyri for the hits.
tional representation (e.g., Kosslyn, 1980)? Although Effectively, the conclusion is that relatively high
these appear to be straightforward empirical issues, activation in these areas established the code for
they proved resistant to adjudication by standard successful memory. Paller and Wagner (2002, p. 93)
methods of experimental psychology (see, e.g., the have labeled this technique the subsequent memory
following sequence of papers, Kosslyn et al., 1978; paradigm, which yields the contrast between neural
Pylyshyn, 1981; Intons-Peterson, 1983). activity for successfully remembered and forgotten
In the face of this stalemate, some argued that items. Subsequent use of the paradigm has replicated
neural techniques are the panacea, neural measures the original Wagner et al. (1998) results and moved
have the potential to be more decisive on these issues on to issues such as the correlates of coding under-
because they provide more direct evidence on the lying the subjective experiences of remembering
internal processing stages intervening between the versus knowing (see Paller and Wagner, 2002; Kahn
stimulus and response in imagery experiments et al., 2004, for reviews).
(Farah, 1995, p. 964). In her reviews of research Research on coding processes that use neural-
using various techniques to monitor regional brain dependent measures is an exciting development
activity during mental imagery, Farah (1995, 2006) that has produced new information about the brain
showed that virtually every study implicates occipital correlates of learning and memory. However, as with
activity in mental imagery, demonstrating that imag- all the other techniques described here, certain cau-
ery and perception share cortical representations. tions are in order if ones goal is to specify as
Moreover, some of these shared cortical representa- precisely as possible the memory code. Especially
tions include spatially mapped areas of the occipital important is an issue raised by Henson (2005, 2006)
lobe. Thus, if one is willing to assume that the cortical and Poldrack (2006), which is analogous to deductive
representation is the psychological experience, the versus inductive inferences from behavioral data. In
neural techniques have resolved successfully what the case of behavioral studies of coding processes, a
appeared to be an intractable debate about the code deductive inference would be one in which memory
underlying mental imagery. is predicted from a theoretical view of the nature of
Another interesting example of the use of brain the code, whereas an inductive inference would be
measures to address a question of coding is described one in which the nature of the code is induced from
by Tulving (1989). The question was, Are there the behavior. The latter, of course, is the much
different kinds of codes for knowledge and memory? frowned upon post hoc explanation. In the case of the
Tulving reported PET scans of brain activity when neural measures, the deductive inference is one in
the subject was thinking of a recent Sunday afternoon which brain activity is predicted from some theoret-
picnic and when thinking of news accounts of French ical idea. Tulvings (1989) study described earlier is
elections. In the best of the Ebbinghaus tradition, an example of the deductive inference based on
88 Coding Processes

neural measures. The hypothesis was that two differ- predicts some outcome given some setting condition.
ent kinds of memory codes exist, and the study The problem arises when we realize that a theory
measured brain activity in the situations that postulating a particular code (e.g., a visual image) also
hypothetically activate one or the other of the assumes some set of processes. Any data explained
codes. Notice that the precise regions of brain activ- by this theory also may be explained by an alterna-
ity are not critical for the conclusion drawn from the tive theory that postulates an alternative form of
data. representation (e.g., a propositional code) combined
In contrast, the inductive inference, the postula- with alternative processes. Anderson concluded that
tion of a memory code from observation of brain for this reason, arguments about contents of the
activity, is based entirely on the region of the brain code cannot be adjudicated by behavioral research.
that is activated. Farahs (1995) conclusion that men- Andersons only suggested solution was the possibil-
tal imagery is modality specific is based on the ity that neural-dependent measures would become
assumption that visual perception is mediated by available, and as evidenced by Farahs opinion
the occipital cortex. Activation of that structure is quoted earlier, some scientists believe that the solu-
used to infer visual experience. Not only is the spe- tion has been achieved in the intervening years. That
cific brain region important when making these belief, however, rests on the assumption that the
inductive inferences from brain to psychological neural measure is a more direct observation of the
function but the mapping of structure to function code.
also must be one-to-one (Henson, 2005, 2006;
Poldrack, 2006). If any reason existed to assume that
the occipital cortex were involved in propositional 2.07.3 Factors Affecting the Coding
coding as well as visual perception, one could not Process
infer anything about a particular code from its acti-
vation. Thus, if the goal is to specify a particular Acquisition and retention of information are deter-
encoding operation from neural data, one must be mined in part by the circumstances surrounding the
able to specify not only what brain area is associated initial experience. It is these factors that are classified
with that operation but also that the brain area is only as the variables affecting encoding. Understanding
associated with that particular type of code. the effects of these variables is complicated by the
fact that criterion performance is affected not only by
the coding process but also by the circumstances Summary of Methods
surrounding the test. Among the major advances in
Memory scientists have been extraordinarily clever the study of learning and memory is the widespread
at developing techniques to study the nature of the appreciation for the relativity of the effect of both
representation in memory. The work is difficult study conditions and test conditions, each of which
because no direct observation of the memory code constrains the other. Thus, the effect of encoding
is possible, but rather, the code must be inferred from variables on later performance is relative to the na-
observations of behavior and/or brain activity. The ture of the test. Consequently, in contrast to earlier
use of indirect inferences to establish the nature of conceptualizations of learning and memory, we no
the representation is not at all unique to the question longer make absolute statements about the general
of coding, or even to psychology. It is the same effect of acquisition variables. Nonetheless, the study
hypotheticodeductive strategy that has led to the of factors constituting the encoding environment
postulation of planets and subatomic particles. In continues to be a focal area of memory research. In
contrast, the rules that govern an inference from this section, some of that research and its allied
observations to a specific hypothetical code must be phenomena are described.
made explicit in each case and examined for their
validity. Intent to Remember
The challenge confronting the attempt to pre-
cisely specify the code in any given circumstance Intuitively, intent to remember emerges as a domi-
was argued by Anderson (1978). Andersons point nant factor affecting later memory, but research on
was that inferences about the code are based on encoding processes has shown that intuition unequi-
data, which in turn were collected under the auspices vocally to be wrong (e.g., Postman, 1964; Hyde and
of theory-driven experiments. That is, a theory Jenkins, 1969; Craik and Lockhart, 1972; Challis
Coding Processes 89

et al., 1996). As we shall see, what does matter is the Attention
type of processing performed on the material, but
Coding processes to memory are influenced substan-
trying to remember does not ensure that optimal
tially by both quantitative and qualitative aspects of
processing will be engaged. Figure 3 depicts the
attention. Qualitative aspects of attentional proces-
results reported by Hyde and Jenkins (1969).
sing are inferred from the effects of selective
Subjects were asked to determine the words plea- attention on memory, and those effects are encom-
santness, check all of the es in the word, or count the passed by levels of processing. In addition to the
vowels in each word. For three groups of subjects, the effects of selective attention, evidence indicates
orienting tasks were given as incidental memory powerful effects of the amount of attention devoted
instructions, and for another three groups the orient- to encoding. Dividing attention between processing a
ing tasks were accompanied by instructions to try to to-be-remembered event and another activity at
remember the words. As can be seen in Figure 3, encoding comes at a cost to both.
adding intentional instructions improved perfor- Seminal projects by Baddelely et al. (1984) and
mance in the nonsemantic orienting groups but had Craik et al. (1996) both found that memory was
no effect on the performance following the pleasant- affected negatively by dividing attention at the time
ness rating task. It is not the intent to remember but, of study and also that performance on the secondary
rather, the nature of the processing that is important. task used to divide attention was negatively affected.
Indeed, an enduring contribution of levels of pro- This research clearly shows that coding processes
cessing (Craik and Lockhart, 1972) is the acceptance require attentional capacity. More recent reports (e.g.,
of memory as a by-product of the processes of Fernandes and Moscovitch, 2000; Naveh-Benjamin
perception and comprehension of the original et al., 2005) have substantiated the earlier conclusion,
experience rather than as the intentional object of rendering as apparent the fact that optimal memory for
processing. After all, how many times during the a prior experience requires allocation of conscious
course of the day does one try to remember, and processing to that experience. This conclusion only
yet healthy adults can remember most everything applies to memory tests in which the individual
that happened yesterday. Furthermore, only occa- intends to remember, an important example of the
sionally do we know what, if anything, about caution urged about conclusions concerning encoding
current experience will be required from memory, without consideration of the retrieval context.
rendering intent to remember any part of the experi-
ence a gamble against future demands. In light of
these considerations, the lack of direct effects of Types of Processing
intentional memory is understandable. Beginning with Hyde and Jenkins (1969), it became
increasingly apparent that memory could be influ-
enced powerfully by asking subjects to perform tasks
Orienting task that focused attention on various aspects or dimen-
Pleasantness E-check Count letters sions of the to-be-remembered material. Hyde and
100 Jenkins concluded that the effect of these tasks can
80 be attributed to the nature of the stored trace (1969,
Percent recalled

p. 480). As research intensified, the characteristic of the

60 trace that determined performance took center stage.
40 Hyde and Jenkins had contrasted tasks that required
subjects to rate the pleasantness of words, to count the
20 number of es in the words, or to estimate the number
0 of letters in the words. The pleasantness rating task
Incidental Incidental + invariably produced better recall, and in contrasting
the three tasks, Hyde and Jenkins speculated that the
difference lay in the fact that the pleasantness rating
Figure 3 Memory as a function of type of orienting task
task required the words to be treated as meaningful
and intention to remember at study. Adapted from Hyde TS
and Jenkins JJ (1969) Differential effects of incidental tasks units. This idea would be refined and elaborated by
on the organization of recall of a list of highly associated Craik and Lockhart (1972) in one of the most influen-
words. J. Exp. Psychol. 82: 472481. tial papers in the coding literature.
90 Coding Processes Levels of processing Bower and Karlins study, in which subjects studied
Beginning with Estess (1959) stimulus sampling the- faces by judging their honesty, likableness, or gender.
ory, the notion that objects and events can be Subsequent recognition memory for the faces was
conceptualized as multidimensional has been routinely much more accurate following judgments of honesty
adopted in memory research. Encoding processes func- and likableness. In the wake of the immense volume
tion to analyze experience along its various dimensions of literature provoked by levels of processing, one
and select values on those dimensions to represent an marvels that the basic effect of superior memory
experience in memory. The code can be described as following semantic processing remains unexplained
the set of these values or features, or alternatively, at a (Roediger and Gallo, 2002).
more macro level, the code can be identified with a
broad dimension (e.g., phonetic code). Research such as Self-generation
that of Hyde and Jenkins (1969) suggested that encod- Slamecka and Graf (1978) convincingly showed that
ing semantic features yielded better memory for the memory for self-generated material is better than
event than encoding orthographic features, and Craik memory for externally provided material. This gen-
and Lockhart (1972) systematized findings such as eration effect is operationally distinct from levels of
these with their idea of levels of processing. The idea processing in that the generation paradigm requires
itself will be discussed later, but the empirical work subjects to generate a word in the presence of highly
surrounding the idea uncovered a powerful factor constraining cues. For example, subjects may be told
affecting the coding process. to generate antonyms of cue words that also fit the
The idea of levels of processing was simple, and letter fragment (e.g., hotc_ _d). Other subjects
the experimental paradigm that it fostered was easily either hear or see lists of the same word pairs and
implemented and produced huge effects, factors are asked to remember the second member of each
responsible for dozens of published papers demon- pair. Other things being equal, the generated items
strating the basic effect in the wake of Craik and are much better remembered than the externally
Lockharts paper (Watkins, 2002). The effect origin- provided items.
Similar to levels of processing, generation effects
ally reported by Hyde and Jenkins is that semantic
have no consensually agreed upon explanation, and
encoding produces superior memory, but the
little empirical work currently is devoted to this
research expanded the characterization to a broad
problem. Nonetheless, generation is a powerful
dichotomy between semantic and nonsemantic
encoding factor. Just how powerful is nicely illustrat-
encoding. The superiority of semantic encoding was
ed in a study by Slamecka and Fevreiski (1983). They
demonstrated not only for memory for lists of words,
arranged a generation list that would yield tip-of-
but also for higher-order language constructions (e.g.,
the-tongue states. Subjects were asked to generate
Perfetti, 1979), and even faces (e.g., Bower and
words in response to dictionary definitions, and
Karlin, 1974). Figure 4 represents the results of sometimes subjects could not generate the word but
would report feeling that they knew that word. The
100 control condition read the definitions followed by the
word. Figure 5 depicts the remarkable outcome,
Percent recognized

which was that the words that were not generated

but were on the tip of the tongue were recalled better
that the same word when it had been read.
The generation effect is limited to meaningful
material; no generation advantage in memory occurs
20 with meaningless material (Graf, 1980; McElroy and
Slamecka, 1982), suggesting a possible connection
0 between the psychological processes mediating gen-
Honesty Likableness Gender
eration and levels of processing effects. The
Orienting judgment
generation effect also was eliminated in a study by
Figure 4 Recognition of faces as a function of judging
Donaldson and Bass (1980), in which the subjects in
honesty, likeableness, or gender when studying the faces.
Adapted from Bower GH and Karlin MB (1974) Depth of the nongenerate condition were required to judge the
processing of pictures, faces, and recognition memory. J. quality of the relationship between the cue word and
Exp. Psychol. 103: 121156. the target. The effect of this manipulation was to
Coding Processes 91

60 emphasized enhanced retrieval efficiency as the

functionally significant impact of organization.
The most straightforward evidence for the impor-
Percent recall

40 tance of organizational processing is found in studies

of memory for materials that contain known relation-
ships. For example, word lists consisting of exemplars
of known categories are better remembered than
random lists, and categorized lists are better remem-
0 bered when the category exemplars are presented
Gen success Gen failure Read contiguously than when they are presented in ran-
Studied item dom order (Bousfield, 1953; Mathews, 1954). That an
Figure 5 Correct recall as a function of successfully active coding process intervenes between list presen-
generating, trying but failing to generate, or reading the tation and recall can be inferred from the fact that
word at study. Adapted from Slamecka NJ and Fevreiski J recall of randomly presented categorized lists tends
(1983) The generation effect when generation fails. Journal
of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 22: 153163.
to come out organized by category. Further evidence
of active organization comes from Tulvings (1962)
demonstration of subjective organization. Here mul-
elevate performance in the nongenerate group to the
tiple study-test trials occur for an unrelated list of
level of the generate group, suggesting that the effect is
words, which is presented in a different order on each
a result of the attentional focus required by generation.
study trial. Over the trials, a stable output ordering
Begg and his colleagues have made a similar argu-
tends to develop an ordering that is different from
ment based on the premise that the generation effect
the various input orders and is usually idiosyncratic
was the result of impoverished processing of nongen-
across subjects. The importance of organizational
erated items. Begg et al. (1991) demonstrated that
coding to memory has been argued from the almost
generated and read items are equally well remem-
perfect correlations Tulving found between his mea-
bered if the quality of the processing of the items is
sure of organization and free recall.
equated. For example, if both the generation and read
The dependence of memory on organizational
condition are asked to construct images of the words,
processing also is evident from the phenomena of
no difference appears in memory as a function of
whole-to-part and part-to-whole negative transfer.
generation. If both conditions are asked to pronounce
Tulving (1966) demonstrated that when subjects
the words, the generation condition now shows an
learn an initial list to criterion and then are given a
advantage in memory. The interpretation of these
second list to learn, half of which comprises the first
data entails an important applied message about
list items, learning of the second list is impaired
memory coding; namely, generation requires discri-
relative to a condition that learns an unrelated first
minative encoding processes that transfer to later
list. Similar negative transfer was reported by
memory demands, whereas perceptual processing of
Tulving and Osler (1967) when the second list con-
incoming information may or may not attract bene-
sisted of half of the items from the first list. Tulving
ficial discriminative encoding.
(1968) suggested that these data indicate the impor-
tance of organizational encoding to learning, in that Organizational processing the organization of the first list items interferes with
Levels of processing and generation research largely learning (active organization) of the second list. This
have studied memory for unrelated words and have interpretation subsequently was supported by data
produced descriptions of item-specific coding pro- showing that positive transfer could be arranged
cesses. However, coding of relationships among items from list 1 to list 2 if list 1 organization is appropriate
has long been known to be important to memory (e.g., to list 2 learning (Bower and Lesgold, 1969; Ornstein,
Katona, 1940). The modern era of research on orga- 1970).
nizational coding was launched by Millers (1956)
proposal that discrete elements could be coded into Distinctive processing
higher-order chunks for storage in short-term mem- Laboratory studies promoting the importance of dis-
ory. The function of such coding was to increase tinctiveness to retention have been reported for over
storage capacity by increasing the amount of infor- 100 years (e.g., Calkins, 1894), research that parallels
mation in the stored unit. Tulving (1962) later the intuition about the memorability of distinctive
92 Coding Processes

events. Despite, or perhaps because of, the intuitive than either alone. Hunt and McDaniel (1993) sug-
appeal of distinctiveness as a factor at encoding, some gested that the combination of relational and item-
confusion surrounds the meaning of the concept of specific processing constitutes distinctive processing,
distinctiveness (Hunt, 2006). The most common using the argument that relational processing refers
usage has distinctiveness as a property of events, as to processing of dimensions common to all items of
in the polka-dot Volkswagen in the funeral proces- an event, and item-specific processing refers to pro-
sion. In this view, distinctiveness is a property of cessing of properties of individual items not shared
events, and as such, distinctiveness cannot be by other items in the event. The combination of
explained by appeal to distinctiveness for obvious relational and item-specific processing then precisely
reasons of circularity. Rather, the standard approach specifies a particular prior item, a description that
has been to appeal to processes at encoding that captures the important discriminative function of
entailed a subjective experience, usually of surprise distinctive processing. In this view, distinctive pro-
or salience (Green, 1956), which in turn garnered cessing at encoding is defined as the processing of
attention in the form of additional processing of the difference (item-specific properties) in the context of
distinctive event (Jenkins and Postman, 1948). In this similarity (relational information). Nairne (2006) also
view, distinctiveness has a quantitative effect on the has developed ideas about distinctiveness and mem-
encoding process. ory that treat distinctiveness as a psychological
Interestingly, the standard account of distinctive- phenomenon rather than as a property of events.
ness cannot explain the data from von Restorffs Nairnes approach defines distinctiveness as the
(1933) classic paper, which is peculiar because the extent to which a particular cue complex specifies a
standard account has been developed largely from particular event. As with the combination of item-
data on the isolation effect. The isolation effect refers specific and relational processing, Nairnes theory
to enhanced memory for a target item that differs attributes the benefit of distinctive processing to the
from the other items in the context, which themselves development of diagnostic information used in re-
are similar on some dimension. The isolation effect trieval, rather than to quantitative differences in
refers to superior memory for the isolated item com- coding processes as specified by the standard treat-
pared with memory for the same item, in the same ment of distinctiveness. (For a more extensive
serial position of a nonisolated control list. The items discussion of distinctiveness, See Chapter 2.09.)
of the control list can be either all similar on some
dimension or all different. The isolation list conforms Prior Knowledge
to intuitions about what constitutes a distinctive event
in that the target item violates the prevailing context. Experience within a domain enhances memory for
von Restorff was not the first person to use an isola- new events within the experienced domain. The
tion paradigm, but she was the first person to place the more you know about something, the more likely it
target item early in the list. Her reasoning was that at is that you will remember new information about
the early serial position, no context for the list has something (Kimball and Holyoak, 2000). Moreover,
been established, and the isolate will not be perceived this effect is presumed to be largely the result of
as salient. Nonetheless, the early isolate was better encoding processes. One line of research leading to
remembered than the corresponding control item. this conclusion is the study of experts memory.
von Restorffs data pose a problem for the standard Chase and Simon (1973) compared the memory of
interpretation of distinctiveness as extraordinary pro- master chess players with that of novices for various
cessing attracted by the salience of isolate. arrangements of pieces on a chessboard. In some
An alternative approach to distinctiveness began cases, the pieces occupied the positions of actual
as an effort to integrate levels of processing and games in play, and in other cases the pieces were
organization. Humphreys (1976) made the case that randomly arranged on the board. After briefly view-
optimal encoding of an experience would include ing the board, the subjects were asked to reproduce
both the relationship among the elements comprising what they had seen. The experts remembered more
the experience as well as information about the ele- than the novices when the boards were based on
ments themselves. Einstein and Hunt (1980) and actual games, but when the pieces were randomly
Hunt and Einstein (1981) were able to demonstrate presented, memory was no longer affected by differ-
that the combined effects of organizational encoding ences in prior knowledge. The superior memory of
and item-specific encoding led to better memory the experts was explained as the use of prior
Coding Processes 93

knowledge to organize the encoding of a new experi- statement in the form of conditionaction sequences.
ence. The experts advantage disappears outside the This characterization is descriptive of skilled perfor-
domain of expertise, such as with the random mance in the domain of problem solving in that
arrangement of chess pieces. The results described successful problem solving entails producing a par-
here for chess apply to other domains, such as bridge, ticular action in a particular circumstance. Proposals
music, medicine, and computer programming (see for particular codes also result from the processing
Ericsson and Lehman, 1996, for a review). requirements of a theory in which the code is
Without disputing the contribution of organiza- embedded. For example, Neissers (1967) pioneering
tional encoding, evidence has been offered to show theory of pattern recognition proposed that the first
that prior knowledge also increases the likelihood of step of the recognition process was the analysis of the
distinctive encoding. Van Overschelde et al. (2005) sensory pattern into units that are stored in long-term
asked people to remember a list of names of college memory. These units essentially serve as the data on
and professional football (American-style) teams. which processes operate, much as real numbers serve
The list consisted of 10 teams names. In one case, as the database for arithmetic operations. The units
nine of the teams were professional, and one was a used by Neisser were features a concept that con-
college team, whereas in the other case, all 10 teams tinues to have broad appeal.
were college teams. The lists thus comprised an iso- Among the myriad descriptions of the memory
lation paradigm. Typically, the isolated item is better code, one can detect two general issues that distin-
remembered than the corresponding item in the all- guish classes of codes. One of these issues is whether
similar list, an effect attributed to distinctive proces- the code should be characterized as structure or
sing of the target item in the isolation list. Van process. The structural metaphor perhaps is the
Overschelde et al. selected people for their experi- more common and more intuitive conceptualization.
ment who were either knowledgeable about football Here the memory code is a residual, often called the
or not. The result was that the experts recalled the trace, of the prior experience, which is stored in a
critical item better when it appeared in the isolation memory system. The alternative metaphor is that of
list than in the control list, but no isolation effect skill. Here the memory code is represented as a
occurred for the nonexperts. This result suggests mental process. The skill metaphor is very different
that experts encode not only the similarity among from the structural metaphor in that processes are not
items within their domain of expertise but also the stored; just as skills are nowhere when you are per-
differences among these items. That is, prior knowl- forming them, memory is nowhere when you are not
edge seems to influence not only organizational remembering. These different metaphors lead to
encoding but also distinctive processing. interesting differences in memory research, including
that on coding, and we examine briefly some of the
principle representatives of the two metaphors.
2.07.4 Characterizations of the Code The second general issue concerns the existence
of abstract codes; that is, codes for prior experience
A final science of memory will know the neural code that are not bound by a particular prior context. The
for prior experience and have a set of mapping rules existence of abstract codes has been championed by
to relate that code to the psychological states of philosophers as the product of rational thought since
memory. Until we reach that final stage, psycholog- at least the time of Plato, and no one seriously study-
ical concepts of memory codes will guide our ing cognitive processes questioned the reality of
thinking about phenomena of learning and memory. abstract codes until quite recently. To some extent,
The specific nature of stored information has been the positions on the abstraction issue are correlated
characterized in virtually countless ways (e.g., traces, with the first general issue, with the structural meta-
engrams, nodes, images, processes, features, vectors phor being more compatible with the notion of
of features, production rules, or logogens). A partic- abstract representations; however, the correlation is
ular characterization of codes often is driven by the not perfect.
phenomenon under study. For example, research into
the effects of learning and memory in problem sol- The Structural Metaphor
ving and skill learning often uses a production rule as
the code (e.g., Anderson, 1983). What is learned and Structural analysis of the mind evolved from two
stored in memory is characterized as an ifthen important but very different models. The first is
94 Coding Processes

exemplified by Titcheners (1898) admirably clear information to its corresponding phonetic form.
statement of structuralism, in which of the goal of Evidence for a phonetic code in short-term memory
psychology was modeled on morphology in biology. was derived from studies showing interference in
According to Titchener, the job of the experimental memory for short lists of words as a function of
psychologist was to perform vivisection of the mind phonetic similarity (e.g., Baddeley, 1966). The argu-
which shall yield structural results (p. 450). The ment that the code for short-term memory is the
parts of the mind would be revealed by this analysis sound pattern of the material fit neatly with the
in much the same way that parts of the body are importance assigned to rehearsal. That is, rehearsal
revealed by morphological analysis. It is precisely typically is assumed to be a verbal process, and verbal
this kind of thinking that leads to research attempting processes require speech codes.
to determine the constituents of the memory code The final stage of processing was the transfer of
that was described earlier. information from short-term to long-term memory.
The second model influencing modern structur- Rehearsal was assumed to be the important mecha-
alism is the computer. Application of the computer nism of transfer, by which the phonetic code was
model to human cognition allowed a distinction recoded into its corresponding semantic representa-
between structural components and control processes tion. Again, the evidence for a semantic code in long-
that modeled the distinction between programming term memory was derived from studies showing that
commands that are fixed and commands that are semantic similarity interfered with performance on
contingent on the content. Atkinson and Shiffrins tests of long-term memory (e.g., Baddeley, 1966).
(1968) theory proposed that certain psychological Thus, the stage theory assumed that information
processes are voluntary (control processes) and that processing is characterized in part by coding pro-
certain structural components of information proces- cesses that recoded the information from a previous
sing are fixed. The fixed components were memory stage to a form appropriate for storage in the higher
systems, which are defined in part by the kind of code stage. In the strongest statement of the theory, the
stored. Thus, coding processes are intimately bound form of the code was assumed to be a structural
to particular memory systems within a structural
component, which means that the code has to be in
analysis. Different structural analyses yield different
the specified form if the information is stored in the
kinds of codes, as we see in the following discussion.
particular system. That is, nothing but a phonetic
trace can be stored in short-term memory. Con- Stage theory of information
sequently, it is not surprising that research showing
that the code in short-term memory could be visual
Atkinson and Shiffrins theory exemplifies the stage
(e.g., Posner, 1969), or even semantic (e.g., Shulman,
analysis of the mind that characterized the halcyon
1974), raised concern about the stage model. One
days of information processing. Learning was a
reaction to the theoretically incongruent data was
matter of transporting information from sensory
reception to storage in long-term memory. The trip to revise the model of short-term memory in light
occurred in three stages. Each stage was a memory of the new evidence on the nature of the code.
storage system, and each system required a different
The first stage of processing was the sensory Working memory
memory store, which theoretically held codes in the The concept of working memory emerged as a
form of raw sensory information. Groundbreaking revised description of short-term memory (Baddeley
work by Sperling (1960) provided evidence for the and Hitch, 1974) in the wake of the stage models
existence of a very short-lived memory that con- failure. Working memory is different from the stage
tained no meaning, characteristics that fit perfectly model in several dimensions, the most important of
with a sensory code. Sperlings work on the visual which for us is the question of coding. Rather than
store was complemented by Darwin et al.s (1972) assume a single store containing a phonetic code,
report of data suggesting the existence of an auditory working memorys structure includes three separate
store that holds acoustic sensory codes. storage structures to accommodate three different
The second stage of processing culminated in codes. The structure of working memory includes a
storage in short-term memory. An important part of phonological loop that stores a phonetic code, a visuo-
the processing was the recoding of the sensory spatial sketchpad that stores a visual code, and an
Coding Processes 95

episodic buffer that stores semantic codes (Baddeley, the existence of multiple memory systems in both
2000). short- and long-term memory and sets a research
Evidence for the independence of the storage agenda of discovering the systems and delineating
systems and their structurally bound codes was subsystems. A variety of classification schemes have
inferred from studies of interference. For example, been proposed, and the one described here is that of
the existence of a phonetic code has been inferred Schacter and Tulving (1994; Schacter et al., 2000).
from the interference produced by the phonetic Schacter and Tulving outlined a list of defining fea-
similarity effect (Baddeley, 1966), but this effect can tures for a system that includes the operating rules, the
be eliminated under certain circumstances. If the neuroanatomical location of the system, and the type of
word lists are presented visually and the subject is information stored in the system. The later character-
required to repeat the word the as rapidly as possi- istic is the one of interest to us.
ble during list presentation, phonetically similar lists In 1972, Tulving proposed a distinction between
are remembered just as well as control lists. If, how- what he called semantic memory and episodic mem-
ever, presentation of the lists is auditory, the phonetic ory. Semantic memory stores context-free information
similarity effect does occur; that is, the phonetically that corresponds to knowledge. For example, semantic
similar list is more poorly remembered than the memory contains information such as St. Louis is in
control list. These data and their interpretation are Missouri, tomatoes are fruit, Dick Cheney shoots at
drawn from Baddeley et al. (1984), who argued that birds. These representations are abstract in the sense
auditory input gains obligatory access to the phono- that the information coded in semantic memory is not
logical loop but that visual input requires recoding to constrained by time or space. In contrast, episodic
a phonetic form. This recoding is performed by the memory stores information bound by its spatial and/
articulatory control process, but that process also is or temporal context. For example, episodic memory
responsible for the production of speech. Thus, contains information such as I went to the pharmacy
rapidly repeating the word the during visual pre- yesterday, my wife and I saw Spamalot last Friday, I
sentation of the list prevents phonetic recoding and was told yesterday that John does not like tequila.
storage in the phonological loop. As a consequence, Note that the information in episodic memory has a
the visual presentation accompanied by interference personal as well as a temporal and/or spatial reference.
does not yield a phonetic similarity effect because the The information stored in episodic memory corre-
words are never coded phonetically. sponds to what we normally take to be memory
The existence of a visual-spatial code has been rather than knowledge.
adduced from analogous experiments that involve Since Tulvings original proposal, additional
visual presentation of material accompanied by memory systems with their associated codes have
visual secondary tasks (e.g., Baddeley et al., 1973). been discovered. One is the procedural system that
In addition, neuroimaging research has offered sup- contains representations of cognitive and motor
port for the independent existence of a short-term skills. These codes are similar to the codes in seman-
visuospatial system of the sort proposed by working tic memory in that they are abstract but differ from
memory (Smith and Jonides, 1999). The episodic semantic memory in the kind of content. The code
buffer has received little research attention, and at for the procedural memory literally is the represen-
this time no evidence is available concerning the tation of how to do something, like tie your shoes.
hypothesized code for that system. The procedural code is not readily recoded verbally
The theory of working memory continues to be (try describing how to tie a shoe without using your
developed and has provoked a good deal of research, hands), which is very different from the code in
much of it related to the nature of codes in short-term semantic memory. Another recently proposed system
memory. The theory has nothing to say about codes is the perceptual representation system. This system
stored in long-term memory, and for the structural contains codes representing the visual and the audi-
view of long-term memory, we turn to the memory tory form of words. For example, the visual form cat
systems approach. is stored in the perceptual representation system as
well as a separate code representing the sound of that Memory systems visual pattern. As with the semantic and procedural
The paragon of modern structuralism in cognitive codes, the codes in the perceptual representation
psychology is the idea generally known as the memory system do not contain contextually defining informa-
systems approach. Essentially the approach advocates tion. Unlike those two systems, the perceptual
96 Coding Processes

representation is just that, viz., the modality-specific was declared the most successful theory of learning
representation of a word or object. Finally, working and memory in the previous 25 years (Roediger,
memory also is included as one of the components of 1993). According to its authors, levels of processing
the system. suggested that the memory trace could be thought of
simply as the record of those analyses that had been
carried out primarily for the purposes of perception Summary of Structural and comprehension and that deeper, more semantic
Approaches analyses yielded records that were more durable
(Lockhart and Craik, 1990, p. 88). Thus, levels of
Memory codes are fundamental to the structural view
of the mind in that a defining feature of any theoret- processing assume that the coding process focuses
ical structure is the kind of code it contains. That is, on either the meaning of an event or on nonsemantic
the type code is one of the inherent characteristics of a properties, such as visual or phonetic features of the
system, just as skin is an inherent characteristic of event. Attention to semantic features is considered
mammals. The combination of system and character- deeper processing, and research has shown time and
istic code then is used as the principal explanation for again that all other things being equal, semantic pro-
performance. For example, consider the following cessing leads to better retention.
situation: Subjects are asked remember a small The gradual discovery of boundary conditions to
amount of material but are prevented from rehearsing semantic processing superiority has led to revisions
that material after its presentation and then tested to the original idea, wherein the central role of
within 30 s of the presentation. Memory for the mate- depth has been replaced by concepts such as elabo-
rial will be surprisingly poor (e.g., Peterson and rative processing (Craik and Tulving, 1975),
Peterson, 1959). One explanation is that the test distinctive processing (Jacoby and Craik, 1979),
drew on short-term memory, which contains a limited and sensory-semantic processing (Nelson, 1979),
duration trace, an aspect of the code contained in but the effect of Craik and Lockharts thinking is
short-term memory. As with all metaphors used in manifested in the assumptions these revisions all
science, the structural metaphor not only serves to share with the original view. Chief among these is
explain performance but also molds the form of that coding processes yield a memory trace consist-
research. Under the structural umbrella, a prominent ing of qualitative features representing the event.
and respectable research activity is that of identifying Certain types of traces are more beneficial for reten-
and classifying the nature of codes. Thus, much of tion than others; which type varies with the theorist,
the research provoked by any of the previously but in all cases memory is determined by the qual-
mentioned structural views will be devoted to a itative nature of the code. The qualitative nature of
description of the memory code. In this function, the trace is determined by the encoding processes,
the structural notion of a memory code has been not by where the trace is stored, as is assumed by
invaluable for cognitive neuroscience. As mentioned most structural theories.
previously, most of the cognitive neuroscience of In close temporal and spatial contiguity to Craik
memory is devoted to identifying brain sites asso- and Lockharts work, a more radical version of the
ciated with memory phenomena sites that then are process metaphor began its development with Kolers
taken to be the brain codes for the prior experience. (1973) work.
In accord with levels of processing, memory sys-
tems played no role in the explanation of perform- Process Metaphor ance, but in addition, memory traces of the sort used
A very different characterization of memory in gen- by structural theories and by levels of processing
eral and coding in particular arises if mental were shed. The important role of memory traces as
functioning is assumed to be analogous to a process conceptual bridges between the past and present was
or skill. The idea is that memory performance is assigned to the psychology processes brought to bear
determined by the mental processes operating at on the current event: The analytic operation of cod-
the time of an experience rather than by where the ing the experience becomes what is remembered.
memory trace is stored. Craik and Lockharts (1972) The implications of this shift for the concept of cod-
framework, levels of processing, was the seminal ing are far-reaching, as is evident in the following
impetus for the processing metaphor, and in 1993 it quotation from Kolers (1979):
Coding Processes 97

On the present view, every encounter with a stimu- for dissociations in performance on different types of
lus elicits a different analysis from every other. . . . In memory tests. Roediger et al. (1989) argued that these
other words, recognition is achieved by virtue of the dissociations reflect differences in the processing
correlation between the operations carried out on demands of differences between study/test condi-
the two encounters with the stimulus event. The tions. The basic assumption is that a particular type
more similar the operations, the readier the recogni- of prior processing may be more effective for one
tion. But as nothing ever repeats itself exactly, type of test than for another. An important example
recognition is based on the transfer of skills across for the development of the data-driven/conceptually
occasions and partial correlation. If the operations that driven distinction is the previously discussed
are activated are themselves the record of the stimulus, then research of Jacoby (1983). As a brief reminder,
as the operations change, the representation of the stimulus Jacoby asked people to study words under different
also changes; there is no permanent trace of an object, conditions. In one condition, the words were read
nor even a fixed trace, but skill-developed and occasion- without any context. In another condition, the
dependent representations. (p. 383, italics added) words were generated by the subjects in the context
of semantic clues. On a later recognition test, the
The position expressed here eventually would be
people who generated the items at study performed
known as proceduralism (Kolers and Roediger, 1984).
better than those who read them the standard
The basic tenet of coding in proceduralism is that the
generation effect. However, if the test was to identify
code is the set of psychological processes engaged for
visually degraded words, previous reading of the
perception and comprehension of an event. Levels of
word led to better identification than did previous
processing, in contrast, assumed that these processes
produced a trace or code, which was stored in memory.
Roediger et al. (1989) used Jacobys (1983) work as
Proceduralism adheres to a much stricter use of the
the basis for distinguishing the coding of meaning
skill metaphor, whereby there is no stored trace or
(conceptually driven processing) and the coding of
code. After all, where is your typing skill when you
perceptual features (data-driven processing). The
are not typing or your adding skills when you are not
dichotomy between semantic and sensory-based
adding? Rather than assuming a stored trace, the con-
codes is not new to our discussion, having been an
nection between the past and present in proceduralism
important component of the stage model, the mem-
is represented by the similarity of the psychological
ory systems, and levels of processing. What is
processes engaged by the present event to some opera-
different is that Roediger et al. couched the distinc-
tions engaged in the past. The more similarity between
tion in processing language. The code for meaning is
the two sets of processes, the greater will be the transfer.
the psychological processes engaged to analyze the
The metric of similarity includes the modality through
event, and the effect of this prior processing will be
which the events are experienced on the reasonable
revealed only in future circumstances demanding
premise that the psychological processes of vision and
similar analysis of the event. The code created by
audition, for example, are different. Thus, one can see
generating the word cat will not facilitate future
that the code for a given event is quite particular and
demands to read the word cat. In that sense, one
tightly bound by the processing context.
can appreciate Kolers previous quotation to the
As counterintuitive as the idea is for our intuitions
effect that as the operations change, the representa-
about memory, Kolers (e.g., 1974) offered program-
tion of the event changes.
matic evidence for the approach that was sufficiently
The distinction between data-driven and concep-
persuasive to produce important progeny in cogni-
tually driven coding has been a powerful stimulant
tive psychology. Most notable of these in memory are
for research and has served an impressive role in
Roedigers ideas about data-driven and conceptually
classification and organization of memory tests (e.g.,
driven processing and Jacobys process dissociation
Blaxton, 1989; Rajaram and Roediger, 1993).
theory, both of which take proceduralisms assump-
Situations have arisen, however, that resist clean
tions about coding as foundational.
dichotomizing into data-driven and conceptually
driven processing. A very simple example is the Data-driven and conceptually standard recognition memory test, in which one
driven processing must process the test item perceptually before a
The distinction between data-driven and concep- decision concerning its status can be reached. On
tually driven processing emerged as an explanation the face of it, this situation seems to require both
98 Coding Processes

data-driven and conceptually driven processing. The confronted. These processes vary not only with
authors of the idea recognized this implication early task demands but also with both external and
on: Tests may involve both types of processes. internal contexts, intent being an important compo-
Indeed, a more useful assumption is to describe two nent of the later. In this view, precisely the same
continua, one for each type of processing, to process (a.k.a., code) is unlikely to be repeated, a
acknowledge that these two modes of processing position identical to that expressed in the italicized
can be varied orthogonally (Srinivas and Roediger, portion of the quotation from Kolers listed earlier.
1990, p. 390). The interesting point for our discussion Consequently, every memory has a unique code in
of coding is the realization that characterizations of that no two situations engage identical psychological
the trace for an event as exclusively perceptual or processes.
conceptual, the very assumption that caused trouble
for the stage model, are too simplistic. Advocates of Summary of Process Metaphor
the data-driven/conceptually driven view avoid that
mistake by assuming that the code will include both One can conceptualize cognitive activities including
types of information in most all cases. learning and memory as analogous to motor skills.
Just as particular motor tasks require particular motor Process dissociation theory processes, so do particular cognitive tasks engage
Another descendant of Kolerian proceduralism is the particular processes. In both cases, performance on
process dissociation framework (Jacoby, 1991). Like a task is determined by prior processing as it is
the memory systems and data-driven/conceptually related to the task. That is, the effect of prior
driven ideas, Jacobys theory was motivated largely processing can be either positive or negative. For
by the challenge of understanding test dissociations. example, my racquetball game improves with rac-
Unlike the other approaches, process dissociation quetball practice, but my squash game deteriorates
explicitly disavows any effort to identify processes, as I practice racquetball. The same is true of cogni-
codes, or systems on the basis of the type of task. Both tive tasks. Although it may be that the structural
the memory systems and the data-driven/concep- metaphor can encompass all of the memory phenom-
tually driven schemes use the task confronting the ena marshaled by the process camp, the differences in
subject to identify the type of code that will be the metaphors are important influences on research.
required by that task. As research began to discover Three implications of the process metaphor are quite
violations of the prescribed system- or process-task different from anything derived from structural
relationship, both the systems and the data-driven/ thinking.
conceptually driven approaches moved to a middle Perhaps the least intuitive of these implications is
ground: the code for any given event is likely to be that the influence of the past is not carried by a
mixed. The same data suggested to Jacoby (1991) permanently existing code stored in the system. If
that these approaches cannot succeed in explaining learning and memory are thought of as processes,
memory phenomena. The reason is that the explana- then like typing, or for that matter digestion, memory
tory (predictive) power of either approach rests is nowhere when you are not remembering. Within
heavily on the ability to identify the theory-specified the process metaphor, the function of the memory
code representing an event. The primary means for code is assigned to transient psychological processes,
doing so is to assume a code-task purity (i.e., a par- and research focused on the overlap of processes
ticular kind of task will recruit a particular kind of from one task to another is essentially the process
code). At best, the inability to identify task-pure approach to studying the code. However, the vast
codes robs these approaches of some of their amount of research sponsored by the structural meta-
precision. phor aimed at describing memory systems would
Jacobys alternative is to specify the nature of the never occur under the auspices of a process
processes as a priori rather than identify the operative metaphor.
processes on the basis of task performance. The A second and only slightly less counterintuitive
details of the theory accomplishing this specification implication of proceduralism is that abstract codes
are beyond the purview of this chapter, but the of the kind traditionally associated with knowledge
assumption about the nature of the code is pure do not exist. Take, for example, the following infor-
Kolerian proceduralism. Psychological processes mation: George Washington was the first president
are brought to bear on tasks with which we are of the United States. An abstract code for this
Coding Processes 99

information would be stripped of any contextually Taking skill as a metaphor for all cognitive proces-
specific aspects of prior experience with the informa- sing, perceptual as well as conceptual, removes any
tion, such as when, where, or through what modality boundary between body functions and mental
the experience occurred. If, however, we adopt a functions.
proceduralists definition (i.e., the code representing
an experience is the set of operations that yielded
that experience), no representation would be free of 2.07.5 Summary of Coding
context-specific content. The operations producing Processes
the experience include those sensoryperceptual
processes associated with the modality of processing, An enormous amount of research has been directed
and in most cases, it is reasonable to assume that toward understanding coding processes and their
other aspects of the context would influence the resultant memory representations. The reason for
encoding operations. The implied lack of an abstract the effort is that the memory code is viewed as the
code poses a challenge for proceduralists accounts of concept that carries the effect of prior experience
learning and use of concepts, where a concept tradi- into the present. In that capacity, the memory code
tionally is assumed to be distilled from, but not will determine the similarity metric among prior
identical to, any particular prior experience. The events and between prior and current events. This
difference between the abstractionists and the pro- similarity will determine the types of events that will
ceduralists positions is the venerable difference interfere with each other as well as the effectiveness
between rational and empirical knowledge, and it is of certain kinds of cues in the retrieval of particular
exciting to see empirical work emerging on this im- memories.
All the methods that have been used to infer the
portant epistemological issue (e.g., Whittlesea et al.,
memory code are of necessity indirect, based on
1994; Heit and Barsalou, 1996; Hannah and Brooks,
observations of behavior or brain activity, but the
descriptions of the codes inferred from these methods
A third implication of the process metaphor
point to three main ways in which the coding process
extends beyond the issue of coding and is of general
operates. Codes can be a select portion of a complex
importance to conceptualization of cognition. In
event, in which case the representation is the portion
two different senses, proceduralism is integrative,
of the event selected for attention. Codes can be a
whereas structuralism leads to modularity. The first
transformation in the form of the input such as the
sense of integration is that proceduralism need
verbal coding of a picture or the organization of
not distinguish various cognitive processes (e.g.,
discrete units into a whole. Elaboration is a third
perception, memory, reasoning) except on opera- form of coding, which yields a representation that
tional grounds for clarity of communication. The contains more than was in the literal physical energy
aforementioned principles of proceduralism apply of the original experience. The code resulting from
regardless of the operational classification of the elaborative processing reflects the influence of prior
process, rendering distinctions between such con- knowledge on perception and comprehension of an
cepts as memory and reasoning unnecessary. The event.
second dimension along which proceduralism is inte- Placed in proper context, research on memory
grative is mindbody dualism. Crowder made this coding is an indication of the value of psychology
important point by noting that many theories explic- in advancing our knowledge about fundamental
itly distinguish between perception and cognition, questions of mental functioning. This chapter began
which he suggests is dualism in a different guise with the assertion that the problem of knowledge,
because: what can people know and how do they come to
know it, is the impetus for coding research. The
perceptual skills are considered more legitimately research has yielded a range of descriptions of partic-
bodily processes than the mental cognitive func- ular types of codes that are the fodder for systematic
tions such as generation, reflection, and creativity. theoretical classification. With that theoretical classi-
For example, Tulving and Schacter relegate priming fication lays the promise of resolution to the
to the activity of the perceptual representation sys- perennial issues of the nature of knowledge, issues
tem, as distinct from the episodic memory system. such as that between abstract, universal knowledge
(Crowder, 1993, p. 143) versus particular, contextually bound knowledge.
100 Coding Processes

The resolution has not been achieved, but it is excit- Bradley B and Mathews A (1983) Negative self-schemata in
clinical depression. Br. J. Clin. Psychol. 22: 173181.
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ambitious aims. ideas. Cognit. Psychol. 2: 331350.
Brooks LR (1967) The suppression of visualization by reading.
Q. J. Exp. Psychol. 19: 289299.
Challis BH, Velichkovsky BM, and Craik FIM (1996) Levels-of-
processing effects on a variety of memory tasks: New
Acknowledgments findings and theoretical implications. Conscious. Cogn. 5:
Writing of this chapter was supported partially by Calkins MW (1894) Association. Psychol. Rev. 1: 476483.
Cave KR and Kosslyn SM (1989) Varieties of size specific visual
National Institute of Health Grant MH067582. selection. J. Exp. Psychol. Gen. 118: 148164.
Chan JC, McDermott KB, Watson JM, and Gallo DA (2005) The
importance of material-processing interactions in inducing
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2.08 Mental Imagery
C. Cornoldi, R. De Beni, and I. C. Mammarella, University of Padua, Padua, Italy
2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

2.08.1 Introduction to Imagery and Definitions of Mental Imagery 103 Debate on the Nature of Representations 104 Perceptual and Conceptual Representations: Visual Traces and Generated Images 105
2.08.2 Different Kinds of Mental Images 106 General, Specific, Contextual, and Episodic-Autobiographical Images 107
2.08.3 Models of Mental Imagery and Memory 108 Paivios Dual-Code Theory 108 Kosslyns Visual Buffer 109 The Visuospatial Working Memory Approach 110
2.08.4 Paradigms in the Study of Mental Imagery and Memory 112 Cognitive Paradigms of Mental Imagery Processes 113 Neural Implications 115 Imagery Value 116 Individual Differences in Imagery Abilities 117
2.08.5 Educational and Other Applied Implications 117
2.08.6 Concluding Comments 121
References 121

2.08.1 Introduction to Imagery and processing from sensation to imagination and mem-
Definitions of Mental Imagery ory. Similarly, the British empiricists, for example,
Berkeley, Hobbes, and Hume, considered mental
In our everyday life, during interactions with people images as traces of sensory information. As for more
and with the environment, a crucial role is fulfilled recent times, it is only from the 1970s that psychol-
by the ability to maintain and to recall images (i.e., ogy reconsidered imagery as a central topic of study
mental representations including perceptual infor- (i.e., ever since the advent of cognitive psychology).
mation). Most of the time, mental images are In fact, behaviorists had failed to consider imagery as
incidentally activated, such as, for example, when a serious topic for experimental investigation because
we think back to peoples faces or certain episodes it was not directly observable and thus could not be
of our life. Other times, images are easily retrieved to investigated with a completely objective methodolo-
answer particular questions; for example, people can gy. The cognitive sciences represented a new era
recall and visualize in their mind how many windows for research on imagery processes. Interest toward
there are in their house and the color of the curtains. mental events was once again a central topic in psy-
Mental images have always fascinated philoso- chology, and different experimental paradigms were
phers; in fact, Greek philosophers such as Plato and applied to the investigation of higher cognitive pro-
Aristotle discussed mental images, the latter consid- cesses, such as imagery. Individual reports and
ering imagery crucial in both cognition and thinking. subjective introspective experiences were considered
Aristotles theory could be considered the antecedent objects of interest for experimental psychology,
of the modern analogical imagery view, which main- and imagery was included as a legitimate topic of
tains a close relationship between perception and investigation.
imagery (e.g., Shepard and Metzler, 1971; Kosslyn, In the psychological literature, various definitions
1980, 1994). In fact, according to Aristotle, a mental and theories regarding mental images were put for-
image is an inner representation of real objects, like a ward, and most of them were influenced by the
copy of real-life scenes. Moreover, medieval thinkers interdisciplinary interests surrounding this process.
like Augustine and Aquinas gave a central position to According to Holt (1964), a mental image refers to
imagery in their interpretation of psychological all the subjective awareness experiences within a

104 Mental Imagery

sensory modality, which are not only perceptual. against imagery theories in psychology). To summar-
Intons-Peterson and McDaniel (1991) affirmed that ize, the propositionalists affirm that mental images
mental images might be produced by the interaction are epiphenomena, having a symbolic-like format,
between visual representation and a subjects knowl- with no sensorial properties and an explicit explana-
edge, suggesting that they are knowledge-based tion of the relations between elements (Pylyshyn,
products. Carroll (1993, p. 277) defined imagery as 1973, 1981). According to propositionalists, the
the ability in forming internal mental representations representations that underlie the experience of men-
of visual patterns and in using such representations in tal imagery are similar to those used in language. The
solving spatial problems and proposed a relationship second position, upheld by imagery theorists like
between spatial abilities, visual perception, and imag- Kosslyn (1980, 1994), holds that mental imagery
ery. Similarly, Richardson (1999) postulated that representations are able to depict, not describe,
mental images are complex mental products, inner objects; they are analogical representations of objects
representations where information on the actual per- in our mind and correspond to a quasi-perceptual
ceptual appearance of objects can be described and experience, with a specific modality format.
transformed. The initial debate focused on behavioral results
Mental imagery is a private and a subjective such as those obtained by Kosslyn et al. (1978). In
experience because we cannot observe whether the original study, participants were required to mem-
other people have a mental image nor directly know orize a map of an island, where a series of landmarks
its properties. This implies that its scientific investi- was drawn, then to imagine the map and to pay atten-
gation depends on verbal reports and on the tion to one place (e.g., the beach). When the
phenomenal experience of participants (Richardson, experimenter gave the name of a second place (e.g.,
1980). However, psychological investigation has tried the tower) participants had to imagine moving from
to operationalize or give construct validity to the one place to the other and to press a button as soon as
concept of mental image. For example, according to they had reached the second place in their mental
Paivio (1971), a mental image is defined on the basis image of the map. The results of the study revealed
of three kinds of operations, that is, (a) by variations in that the further away the second place was from the
stimulus properties (e.g., high vs. low imagery value), initial place (the beach), the longer it took for partic-
(b) by processing instructions (e.g., instructions to ipants to give the response. The conclusion of the
imagine vs. instruction to verbalize), and (c) by indi- authors was that mental images have spatial properties.
vidual differences in imagery ability. According to The critiques made by Pylyshyn (2002) were as
Kosslyn (1980, 1994), a mental image is not simply a follows: It is not clear whether the results revealed a
phenomenal experience, but a form of internal repre- property of the cognitive architecture or a property
sentation in which information about the visual of what people know or believe about imagery func-
appearance of a physical object can be manipulated: tioning. Pylyshyn (1981) repeated the experiment by
Visual mental images correspond to short-term mem- showing participants a map with lights going on and
ory displays, which are generated from more abstract off at the target locations; participants were required
representations in long-term memory (Kosslyn, 1980; to imagine when a light was on and to press a button
Denis and Kosslyn, 1999). However, the methodolog- when they could see it at a second place. Results did
ical difficulties in the study of imagery have affected not reveal correlations between the distance on
a recursive debate between imagery theorists (who the imagined map and reaction times. Similarly,
support an analogical or pictorial position) and pro- Cornoldi et al. (1996a) found that the distance effect
positionalists (who maintain the existence of an is in relationship to the theories people have about
amodal representation, e.g., Pylyshyn, 1973). imagery functioning. However, differently from
Pylyshyn (2002), they concluded that nave theories
do not simply affect responses but also affect imagery Debate on the Nature of
retrieval processes (for a complete debate on these
paradigms, see Denis and Kosslyn, 1999).
The contrast between empirical and rational theories The debate moved into a new phase when neuro-
on the acquisition and on the representation of imaging began to be used to study brain activation
knowledge is recurrent in the history of thinking during mental imagery (see for reviews, Cabeza
(e.g., Aristotle against Plato, British Empiricists and Nyberg, 2000; Kosslyn et al., 2001). During
against Descartes in philosophy and propositionalists mental imagery, some functional magnetic resonance
Mental Imagery 105

imaging (fMRI) studies showed an activation of topo- perceptual detail, but during the integration of infor-
graphically mapped brain areas depicting shapes (see mation in long-term memory, they lose part of their
Thompson and Kosslyn, 2000). Furthermore, if these sensorial properties (Cornoldi et al., 1998).
areas are damaged, visual imagery is impaired (Kosslyn
et al., 1999). A crucial result to reach the conclusion
that imagery involves quasi-perceptual experiences Perceptual and Conceptual
would be if the same visual areas were activated Representations: Visual Traces and
when an object is perceived and when it is imagined. Generated Images
Despite a great number of studies carried out to inves-
Cornoldi et al. (1998) proposed a distinction between
tigate the involvement of primary visual cortex in
a visual trace, sharing a large number of character-
imagery, the issue is still open, because results are
istics with perception, and a generated image, more
controversial. In a series of positron emission tomogra-
dependent on conceptual processes but still distin-
phy (PET) experiments, Kosslyn and colleagues found
guishable from an amodal representation. In fact, not
an increased blood flow in Brodmann Area 17 (primary
only the psychological literature but also subjective
visual cortex) during imagery activity (Kosslyn et al.,
experience supports a differentiation between a
1993, 1997); however, other studies with fMRI meth-
visual memory based on a recent perceptual experi-
ods suggest that primary visual cortex is not activated
ence and a generated mental image. In synthesis, a
during mental imagery (e.g., DEsposito, 1997; for a visual trace is directly received from perception
review, see Cabeza and Nyberg, 2000). while it happens. For example, when we perceive a
In a recent research, Kosslyn and coworkers shape, we try to maintain it in our mind. In contrast, a
(Slotnick et al., 2005) tried to disambiguate the generated image is derived from long-term memory
long-standing debate on the nature of mental imag- information as, for example, when we try to activate
ery representations and found evidence supporting an image of our previous car. If the first requires a
the depictive view of visual mental imagery. In fact, low degree of attentional control to be kept activated,
the authors contrasting imagery and attention reti- the latter requires a higher degree of control; more-
notopic maps showed that visual mental imagery can over, the analogy with perception would be almost
evoke topographically organized activity in striate complete for a visual trace and only partial for
and extra-striate cortex, in accordance with the strin- a generated image, and a visual trace would be
gent criterion required for supporting a depictive characterized by sensorial and phenomenic proper-
theory, as mentioned by Pylyshyn (2002). ties and a generated image by perceptualconceptual
Alongside the two opposite positions (proposition- properties. It must be noted that a visual trace is also
alists vs. imagery theorists), intermediate models have different from a perceptual experience and that, even
been proposed. For example, mental images have been after short time intervals, a visual experience can be
considered as being generated from long-term memory affected by long-term memory reconstructive
information, thus representing an intermediate format processes and thus approximate the features of a
between amodal abstract representations and percep- generated image. The well-known experience of the
tions. The information in long-term memory would be inability to remember well-known patterns (e.g., the
represented in a more abstract format, whereas con- shape and colors of a common banknote, see the
scious mental images would acquire a more sensorial example of a 20-euro piece in Figure 1) is common
format (Marschark and Cornoldi, 1990). In fact, it is to mental images but also concerns recent visual
possible that short-term visual memories maintain traces.

Figure 1 People are not able to accurately remember the visual appearance of objects, even if they are frequently exposed
to them.
106 Mental Imagery

conscious control phenomena with a quasi-perceptual

quality, content related to experience without spatial
location and with a potentially amodal format. It is
noteworthy that at a higher cognitive level, a distinction
can be made between mental images derived from
memory and images derived from the imagination.
The first refers to all images that we could evoke
from memory, such as the image of the Eiffel Tower
in Paris. Memory images could differ in vividness,
clarity, details, colors, or multisensorial properties.
Furthermore, they can be distinguished from fantasy
images, created by combining elements stored in mem-
Figure 2 The reversal of a mental image is particularly ory in new ways, as, for example, in the image of a flying
difficult but can be facilitated by the prevention of horse. In fact, the creation of integrated images obtained
verbalization. by combining together single images represents a typi-
cal mental imagery situation, derived from the classical
mnemonic tradition showing that interactive images
The distinction between a visual trace and a gener-
facilitate the retrieval of an element if the other
ated image can be also used to explain the phenomenon
element is available. Figure 3 presents an example of
of verbal overshadowing, or the difficulties people meet
in the reversal of mental images (Cornoldi et al., interactive image created with the support of fantasy. If
1996b). According to Brandimonte and colleagues the image of a rainbow and the image of a guitar must
(Brandimonte et al., 1992a; Brandimonte and Gerbino, be integrated in a single interactive image, one could,
1993), verbal recoding of visual stimuli occurs almost for example, imagine a natural-looking guitar and a
automatically when pictures are easily nameable; the rainbow illuminating it.
verbal recoding uses long-term memory knowledge The distinction between images from memory
and influences the image of an ambiguous visual stim- and those from the imagination is not rigid because
ulus, determining the verbal overshadowing effect. images from memory are not exact reproductions of
However, if verbalization is prevented, the visual the equivalent perceptual experiences, whereas fan-
trace still maintains its perceptual properties. If you tasy images are created on the basis of features
look at the picture presented in Figure 2 and then derived from visual experiences. A related distinction
close your eyes, you will explore the experience of a refers to common and bizarre images. The first type
well-established image that cannot be easily reverted. represents objects, as we know them in the real world;
If, for example, a person has in mind the image of a in contrast, the latter are impossible and strange
rabbit, that person will have difficulty visualizing a
duck, and vice versa.

2.08.2 Different Kinds of Mental


Given the fact that mental images are extensively

present in human life and respond to different func-
tions, it is not surprising that they appear heterogeneous
and may be differentiated. The literature on imagery
has proposed a series of taxonomies among different
kinds of imagery representations. Richardson (1969), for
example, proposed a classification of mental images
considering their different properties along the follow-
ing dimensions: conscious control, phenomenological Figure 3 People trying to include in a single interactive
quality, intentional content, spatial location, and image the images of a guitar and a rainbow could use
mode. For example, memory images were defined as fantasy to create an effective original representation.
Mental Imagery 107

representations of an object. Examples of bizarre general term evokes an abstract idea. From this posi-
images could be a dog smoking a cigar and a man tion two different interpretations developed: one
chewing a bone, whereas the corresponding more affirming that general images representing the essen-
common image would be a man smoking a cigar tial properties characterizing the general term (such
and a dog chewing a bone. This distinction has as a prototypical representation) can be generated,
memory implications and has been the basis of mne- and the other suggesting that general terms are either
monic art. Cornoldi et al. (1988) found that bizarre abstract or refer to an exemplar representation. The
representations improved memory recall if subjects distinction between general, specific, contextual, and
could evoke the kind of image they wanted. Further episodic-autobiographic mental images embraces the
studies (Einstein et al., 1989) reported that recall can first option. The distinction has received support in
be influenced by the distinctiveness of materials. recent years by cognitive (Cornoldi et al., 1989; De
They found that in a list of words where all the Beni and Pazzaglia, 1995; Helstrup et al., 1997)
stimuli were imagined in the bizarre modality, recall and neuro-anatomical data (Gardini et al., 2005).
was no better than when using common images. An example of a general image may consist of a
When the bizarre and common mental images were skeletal representation of the main features of a bird
generated alternatively in the same list of words, including both coordinate and categorical spatial
however, the bizarre images produced a better mem- information. A specific image of a bird should be a
ory performance, indicating that bizarreness per se particular exemplar of the category (e.g., a canary);
does not produce superiority in memory but needs moreover, a contextual image refers to an image in
to be accompanied by another factor, such as which the object or the exemplar is inserted within a
distinctiveness. context, for example, the canary in the cage. Finally,
Other classifications are more focused on the spa- episodic-autobiographical images correspond with
tial properties of layouts. For example, Kosslyn images of single life-episodes connected with an
(1987) distinguished between exact metric coordi- object and having a specific self-reference, for exam-
nates and memory for the relative relation between ple, my canary escaping from its cage during a
objects (i.e., coordinate vs. categorical representa- sunny day of May. Episodic-autobiographical images
tions; see also Lansdale, 1998). Studies regarding the involve the retrieval of available episodic traces
specialized involvement of different brain structures resulting from autobiographical events. The retrieval
show that the right hemisphere is important in pro- of autobiographical memories, even in the absence of
cessing metric spatial information, whereas the left specific instructions, seems strictly associated with
hemisphere participates in processing relative spatial the activation of mental images (Brewer, 1988).
relations (Kosslyn et al., 1989). Other classifications Cornoldi et al. (1989) investigated the relationship
of spatial images refer to the type of processing between the generation of different kinds of mental
(sequential vs. simultaneous), to the reference center images and memory recall performance. By compar-
(egocentric vs. allocentric), and to personal space ing memory performance for general, specific, and
(peripersonal vs. extrapersonal). autobiographical mental images, they found that the
recall of general and specific mental images did not
differ, but autobiographical mental images produced General, Specific, Contextual,
a better recall performance with respect to general
and Episodic-Autobiographical Images
and specific ones. De Beni and Pazzaglia (1995) dis-
Can mental images also represent general concepts? tinguished between self-referred mental images
The existence of general and prototypical images is within the personal autobiographical context, in
an ancient topic of debate. We know that the ability which an individual imagines himself or herself
to create a universal or prototypical representation together with the object without a precise episodic
from the analysis of particular cases is a fundamental reference, and episodic-autobiographical images,
process in knowledge and conceptual development, representing a specific episode of the subjects life
but we do not know whether this representation can in relation to the object. Episodic-autobiographical
assume an imaginal format. Radical empiricists mental images increased memory performance with
(Locke, Hume, Berkeley) denied the existence of respect to the contextual images but required longer
general images by arguing that mental images are generation times compared with other image cate-
always based on the representations of specific gories. This finding could be explained by the fact
objects that have been experienced, whereas a that the generation of this kind of image requires the
108 Mental Imagery

previous generation of a general image. It could also brain areas associated with the generation of global
be explained by the fact that the search of a particular images differently from the specific images, requiring
episode related to the object must take place, or it additional support from areas in charge of retrieving
might be a result of the richness of details of this kind visual details.
of image.
According to Cornoldi and coworkers (Cornoldi
et al., 1989; De Beni and Pazzaglia, 1995) (see
2.08.3 Models of Mental Imagery
Figure 4), the mental image generation would start
and Memory
with the retrieval of a global shape information of the
object (which can be used to generate a general Most of the authors studying imagery agree with the
image) and be subsequently enriched with details, idea that not only do the generation and the recall of
for example, those of a particular exemplar belonging mental images involve memory systems, but also
to the category of an object, or contextual information their maintenance and transformation require tem-
when an object is imagined in a particular context or porary systems or subsystems of memory devoted to
with reference to characteristics of a familiar type of the treatment of visual and spatial information.
an object, thus creating the conditions for generating, In the following paragraphs, we focus on three
respectively, a specific and a contextual image. In different approaches to the relationship between
contrast, the generation of episodic-autobiographical mental imagery and memory. We describe the mod-
mental images would undergo a different generation els of Paivio and Kosslyn, and we discuss the
process directly involving the retrieval of the image potential role played by the visuospatial working
from the episodic-autobiographical memory store. memory system in maintaining and elaborating visual
In an fMRI study, Gardini et al. (2005) provided and spatial representations.
anatomical support for the results repeatedly
observed in cognitive studies. The researchers, in
fact, investigated the neural correlates of general Paivios Dual-Code Theory
and specific mental images from concrete nouns. To explain the effectiveness of imageability in pre-
Results showed different brain activities for both dicting memory performance, Paivio (1971) proposed
types of images; in particular, general images acti- two different categories of processes that people can
vated right frontal areas to a greater extent than use when they encode information: images and verbal
specific images, whereas specific ones mainly acti- processes. He proposed studying mental images by
vated the left-superior frontal region and the right observing the influence of imagery on memory per-
thalamus, demonstrating that general images involve formance, starting with a series of studies on nouns

Mental image generation process

(Cornoldi et al., 1989; De Beni and Pazzaglia, 1995)

Retrieval from the Retrieval from the
semantic memory episodic-autobiographic
General Episodic-
image autobiographic
Further enrichment of the image

Adding of details Adding of the context Adding of self-referement

Specific Contextual Autobiographic
image image image
Figure 4 The generation process of mental images (Cornoldi et al., 1989; De Beni and Pazzaglia, 1995).
Mental Imagery 109

and paired-associates recall. Paivio et al. (1968) exam- information might be processed. The first is the repre-
ined the implications of different indexes of verbal sentational level, where the sensory trace activates the
stimuli such as meaningfulness (i.e., the number of appropriate symbolic representation in long-term
verbal associations that a word would elicit in a memory: The logogens are the basic units in long-
given period of time), concreteness, the extent to term memory for verbal stimuli, whereas the imagens
which words refer to a tangible object, imagery represent the basic units for imagery material. The
value (which refers to the ease or difficulty with second is the referential level, where symbolic repre-
which words prime a mental picture), and familiarity sentations in one system activate corresponding
for memory performance. Results obtained by Paivio representations in the other system. These intercon-
et al. (1968) demonstrated that imagery value and nections are assumed to be involved in naming objects
concreteness were strongly related to recall, and or in creating the image of an object. In particular,
meaningfulness and familiarity did not produce an referential connections between the two processes are
effect on recall when the imagery value was con- activated when one kind of information (verbal or
trolled for. A particular result, concerning paired- imagined) activates the other system. In this case
associate recall, was that concrete-abstract pairs there is double encoding. According to the theory,
were recalled better than abstract-concrete pairs. nouns with high imagery value are subjected to double
The result was interpreted on the basis of the assump- encoding. The increased availability of both codes
tion that a prior image can represent an appropriate increases the probability of item recall because the
imaginal tag for subsequent information. response can be retrieved from either code (Paivio,
Paivio (1971) proposed a dual-coding theory of 1971, p. 208). Finally, the associative level involves
mental processing (see a schematic representation of associative connections among both verbal representa-
the theory in Figure 5). The theory assumes that tions and images.
cognitive behavior is mediated by two independent
systems specialized for encoding, transforming, stor-
ing, and retrieving information. The verbal system is Kosslyns Visual Buffer
responsible for the encoding and processing of verbal
Kosslyn (1980, 1994) proposed a computational
material and the nonverbal for encoding nonverbal
model of image generation and provided a descrip-
input, such as images. The kind of encoding that a
tion of the functional structures supporting this
stimulus undergoes depends on three types of vari-
process. His model is valid for both imagery and
ables, that is, the nature of the material (high vs.
high-level visual perception, considered to share
low imagery value), the instructions given to the
structures, functions, and properties. Imagery is a
participants, and their imagery abilities. Paivios multicomponential process, involving a series of dif-
model (1971, 1978) identifies three levels at which ferent processes, like image generation, maintenance,
inspection, and transformation. Mental generation
involves the activation of an image using long-term
memory information, inspection of the different parts
Sensory systems of an image, and arrangement of the details of an
image (Kosslyn et al., 1992, 1995). Mental images do
Representational connections not correspond to simple visual memories but are the
result of a multicomponential process that assembles
Logogens Imagens
the different parts together and generates a new
Referential representation.
Kosslyns model (1980) was created based on an
analogy with computer graphics. Computer graphic
files store information in a compressed and nonpic-
torial form; when they are displayed, they are
translated into a mathematical map (bitmap), which
Verbal Non verbal
processes processes
specifies the color of each pixel (tiny dot) on the
screen. Kosslyn suggested the involvement of two
Figure 5 A graphic representation of Paivios (1971) kinds of deep representations: image files containing
Dual-Codes Theory. information regarding the perceptual characteristics
110 Mental Imagery

Information Attentional
Input Loading shunting shifting

Surface Spatial Visual

Visual buffer properties bufffer
representations Associative encoding
(image) memories
Generation properties
Inspection Transformation encoding

Deep representations
memory Figure 7 Processes interacting with the visual buffer
Literal Propositional (Kosslyn, 1994).

Figure 6 Schematic representation of the interaction The object properties encoding system, analyzing
the physical properties of an object;
between long-term memory and visual buffer (Kosslyn,
1980). The spatial properties encoding system, which
analyses the spatial location of an object;
of the skeletal image of objects, and propositional The associative memory, containing information
about the physical and conceptual properties of
files containing abstract descriptions of objects and
their parts expressed in a propositional format (see a the objects;
schematic representation of the model in Figure 6). The information shunting, which uses stored
information to collect further information about
Mental imagery activity can be distinguished in a
series of processes. For example, the PUT process an object with top-down processes; and
arranges parts into an image, the FIND guides the top- The attention shifting mechanism, which shifts
the focus of attention from a specific location to
down search in associative memory, and the PICTURE
a different one.
is responsible for the activation of stored visual repre-
sentations. However, a different set of processes is
hypothesized to be involved in the inspection and trans-
formation of images: REGENERATE refreshes and The Visuospatial Working Memory
sharpens the existing images, LOOK FOR searches for Approach
a named part within the existing images, SCAN reposi-
A partially different approach to imagery was adopted
tions the image by means of a linear transformation,
by other researchers, based on the idea that there is a
ZOOM increases the resolution of the image, and so
memory system involved during the generation,
on. A critical component of Kosslyns model is the
maintenance, and manipulation of visual information
Visual Buffer, which is considered to be a short-term
and mental images. The visuospatial working mem-
memory system with spatial properties (x, y, z coordi-
ory (VSWM) approach (Baddeley, 1986; Logie, 1995)
nates, adjacent cells, etc.) located in the occipital lobe. In
to imagery shares many characteristics with the visual
fact, the images are generated in the visual buffer either
buffer system postulated by Kosslyn (1994). However,
on the basis of information loaded by perception or on
experimental studies and research paradigms within
the basis of information stored in long-term visual mem-
this framework have followed different directions.
ory (see Figure 7). In 1994, Kosslyn revised the model in
The first studies with implications for the link
his book Image and Brain, addressing the importance of
between visual imagery and VSWM were carried
seven basic components:
out by Brooks in the late 1960s. In particular, in a
The visual buffer, which holds spatially organized
patterns of activation;
1968 study, participants were required to visualize a
block capital letter and, following its contour, to
The attention window, which focuses on the
information in the visual buffer selected for
answer yes if the corner they mentally followed
was on the bottom or the top of the figure and no if
further processing; it was inside the figure. Moreover, participants could
Mental Imagery 111

with the central executive component), articulatory

suppression (interfering with the phonological loop),
and spatial tapping (damaging VSWM) on the per-
formance of the Brooks matrix and a verbal task
(1968). Participants were asked, in one condition, to
imagine placing consecutive numbers in consecutive
squares of a visualized matrix; in the second condi-
tion, they had to retain a sequence of consecutive
words, for example, good, bad, slow, and so on,
placing them in a set of nonsense sentences that
were to be retained without the use of any form of
visual image. Results showed that articulatory sup-
pression damaged the second (verbal) condition,
that spatial tapping disrupted the first (spatial) con-
Figure 8 An example of a mental imagery scanning task dition, and that random generation interfered with
used by Brooks (1968): People are invited to mentally move both tasks in an important way. In 1995, Logie sug-
along the contour of a capital letter and decide about the gested a revised model of the VSWM involving a
properties of its corners.
passive visual store (i.e., the visual cache) and an
active rehearsal mechanism (i.e., the inner scribe).
The visual cache provides a temporary store for
respond either vocally or by pointing to the letters Y visual information (color and shape), whereas the
and N on a sheet (see an example in Figure 8). inner scribe handles information about movement
Starting from the bottom left-hand corner (indi- sequences and provides a mechanism by which visual
cated by the yellow asterisk) and going in the direction information can be rehearsed in working memory.
of the arrow, the correct responses would be: yes-yes- Within the classic multicomponent model of
yes-no-no- and so on. Brooks (1968) observed that working memory, there is a debate as to whether
participants performed worse when responding by mental imagery, having a specific visuospatial format,
pointing to the letters on a sheet than when giving a involves a working memory component, which main-
verbal response, whereas the opposite happened when tains the specific properties of the information
they had to scan a sentence rather than an image. (i.e., the visuospatial sketchpad) or whether it also
Brooks concluded that the visualization of a block requires central processes, such as those involved in
capital letter involves different cognitive resources the central executive system. In the modified view of
than those used to point to printed words on a sheet. VSWM (e.g., Logie, 1995), in fact, the generation of
These results were consistent with the view that there an image appears to be the prerogative of the central
is a specialized cognitive system able to process visual executive, whereas the retention of its visual and
inputs and to generate and retain images. spatial properties may be the responsibility of a tem-
The original working memory model proposed porary store, such as the VSWM system.
by Baddeley and Hitch (1974; Baddeley, 1986) is On this basis, we could also wonder whether there
a nonunitary system comprising three separate is a potential overlap between the concepts of
components. The central executive has attentional VSWM and Kosslyns visual buffer. From Logies
functions and coordinates the activities of the two point of view, if the central executive is responsible
slave systems, the phonological loop, which main- for imagery generation and manipulation, it would
tains and processes verbal information, and the also host the visual buffer controlling the operations
visuospatial sketchpad, in which visual and spatial involved in imagery maintenance. Kosslyns pro-
information are maintained and processed by two cesses acting on the contents of the visual buffer
different, but complementary, visual and spatial sub- such as GENERATE, ZOOM, SCAN, and so on,
components (Della Sala et al., 1999). Salway and could be seen as procedures activated from long-
Logie (1995) attempted to examine the role of work- term memory and also operated by the central execu-
ing memory and of VSWM, in particular in imagery tive. However, in this case, specific modal processes,
tasks, by using several kinds of interferences on a in Kosslyns model clearly attributed to a specialized
single main imagery task. Specifically, they analyzed system, would be included in the amodal activity
the effect of random generation (usually interfering of a Central System. Moreover, the visual buffer
112 Mental Imagery

would contain the visual properties of the image, the is converging evidence supporting the multicompo-
information about its location, and any semantic nential nature of VSWM, there is no agreement on
information associated with the image, but these the number and identity of its components. A great
operations would better match the operations of the number of neuroanatomical data, starting from the
visuospatial component of working memory. work of Ungerleider and Mishkin (1982), has sup-
Within this context, Bruyer and Scailquin (1998), ported the distinction between a spatial and a visual
using the dual-task paradigm, analyzed which working component, for example, by focusing on a where
memory component is involved in the generation, system or on a dorsal stream, processing spatial infor-
maintenance, and transformation of mental images, mation, and on a what system or on a ventral stream,
demonstrating that both spatial tapping and random processing the features of perceived objects. Another
generation interfere with the generation of mental fractionation in VSWM processing was suggested
images, but only spatial tapping damages the mainte- by Pickering et al. (2001), who distinguished between
nance of mental images, whereas random generation a static format of the generated representations
produces major interference on the transformation (e.g., a matrix in which locations are presented simul-
(i.e., rotation) of mental images. The difficulties in asso- taneously) and a dynamic format (e.g., a matrix
ciating mental imagery with a specific working memory in which locations are presented one at a time).
component could be overcome within a continuity A similar distinction was made also by Pazzaglia and
model, which assumes that control can be involved at Cornoldi (1999) between spatial-sequential and
different degrees. In this framework, the VSWM pro- spatial-simultaneous processes: A spatial-sequential
cesses may be distinguished according to the degree of task requires recalling spatial positions presented in a
controlled activity (see Figure 9); in particular, at a sequential format, whereas in a spatial-simultaneous
lower level, a simple recall of previously acquired infor- task, participants have to recall positions presented
mation is required, whereas at the higher level, an simultaneously. Pazzaglia and Cornoldi (1999) distin-
elaboration of information to produce an output differ- guished between these two spatial components and a
ent from the originally presented stimulus is involved visual one in which participants have to memorize
(Cornoldi and Vecchi, 2000, 2003). According to this objects with different shapes, colors, and textures.
view, a plausible specification of the imagery tasks along
the continuum could involve maintenance, inspection,
generation, selection, combination, and transformation, 2.08.4 Paradigms in the Study of
respectively ordered on the basis of the active control Mental Imagery and Memory
required (see Cornoldi and Vecchi, 2003).
Another crucial issue in VSWM concerns the Mental images are mental representations, which,
nature of the components and of the type of represen- just like thoughts, are not directly observable. As
tation maintained in memory. In fact, although there Richardson (1969) stated in the early days of the

Active processes
Higher levels of activity
Transformation of Images


Passive processes
Lower levels of activity
Spatial Maintenance of Images
Figure 9 The continuity model of working memory: Mental imagery involves different portions of working memory
differentiated according to the type of content and the degree of control (Cornoldi and Vecchi, 2003).
Mental Imagery 113

renaissance of research in this area, the problem external ratings (for a review, see Pearson et al.,
regarding mental image investigation is to find a 2001). For example, in the mental pathway task, peo-
valid method to measure imagery. In fact, from the ple are invited to imagine a matrix with a series of cells
early days of cognitive psychology, this problem has (e.g., a simple 5  5 board), imagine following a path-
been at the center of psychological questions con- way on the board in correspondence with the verbal
cerning imagery. In the present state of research, instructions given (go left, down, etc.), and point, on
different methodologies have been developed and request, to the position reached at the end of the
applied to the imagery domain, offering the possibil- instructions on a corresponding blank matrix. This
ity of further investigating this phenomenon. task has been particularly successful in studying the
strengths and deficits of mental imagery processing in
totally congenitally blind individuals (e.g., Cornoldi Cognitive Paradigms of Mental
et al., 1991).
Imagery Processes
The chronometric study of mental imagery
Within cognitive psychology, imagery has been has produced the main experimental paradigms in
investigated mainly in two different ways. The first the field. The most popular paradigm is surely
examines mental imagery as a dependent measurable represented by the so-called mental rotation tasks,
variable. It studies qualitative and subjective aspects derived from the traditional psychometric literature
of imagery and the extent to which mental images are on spatial abilities testing, requiring a decision of
similar to the physical objects that are being imag- whether two figures are differently oriented exam-
ined. The latter concerns the use of mental images as ples of a single figure, or if one of them is actually
independent variables (manipulated by researchers) different (typically its mirror image) from the other.
in which observable aspects are reflected in beha- In a series of very influential studies, Shepard and
viors, and especially in the performance obtained coauthors (e.g., Shepard and Metzler, 1971) recon-
by participants (Richardson, 1999). In this paragraph sidered the method and manipulated the angular
we focus on the direct study of imagery processes, variation between the two pictures (see examples in
whereas in subsequent paragraphs, we examine the Figure 10). They found that the time necessary for
implications of two main manipulations of variables giving a response was a function of the rotation angle,
related to imagery (i.e. materials and abilities). showing how the decision was not based on a con-
Studies directly focused on mental imagery repre- sideration of the properties of the object (feature x is
sentations and processes have used a large range of on the right of feature y, feature z is above feature y,
different paradigms. A few of them have been based etc.), which would not have been affected by the
on the examination of the subjective imagery experi- rotation angle but was based on a process of mentally
ence, as, for example, when people are invited to rate rotating one figure to see whether it perfectly
the vividness, or other properties, of their mental matched the other one.
images. For example Cornoldi et al. (1992) studied There are many other examples of chronometric
which characteristics influence a vividness judgment; studies of mental imagery. For example, in the
Baddeley and Andrade (2000) examined which ma- preceding paragraphs, we provided examples of
nipulation depresses mental imagery, inferred by image generation tasks, such as images generated
decreases in the experience of vividness. from a verbal label, and mental scanning tasks (e.g.,
A problem with the use of subjective experience scanning an island or a capital letter). In fact, in the
ratings is that they are affected by the criterion people popular taxonomy of mental imagery processes,
use to decide whether or not their image is of a high generation, scanning (and inspection), and transfor-
quality. Since Galtons (1883) first started using vivid- mation represent three classic cases. A fourth case is
ness ratings to find people with different imagery
abilities, the problem has been to decide to what
extent vividness ratings describe differences in repre-
sentations and to what extent they describe differences
in criteria. For this reason, the majority of studies
focusing on the properties of mental images have
also used more objective criteria, such as time, effects Figure 10 Examples of pictures used for a mental rotation
of the experimental manipulations, verbal descriptions task: People must decide as quickly as possible if the two
of the results of imagery processes, drawings, and figures are identical or mirror images.
114 Mental Imagery

imagery maintenance, which can be studied either left, then add a triangle below the rotated B, and
with the classic paradigms of visual memory or with finally report what the resulting pattern looks like
reference to subjective experience (people are (see Figure 12).
invited to press a button when they realize their A different and more recent example of an imag-
image is vanishing). ery transformation task was suggested by Vecchi and
In the field of imagery transformation, the quality Richardson (2000), who devised the jigsaw puzzle
of the image can be directly derived from the verbal test, considered by the authors as an active VSWM
response of the individual. For example, in a mental task, because participants must hold in mind the
subtraction task, people must generate an image from arrangement of the puzzle pieces and actively men-
the visual exposure of a drawing and then a subse- tally manipulate their combination. In fact, the task
quent image from the visual exposure of a part of it; requires that the puzzle be solved by moving the
their task is to subtract the second image from the pieces only mentally, without actually touching or
first and report the verbal label of the resulting image moving the pieces in question (see an example in
(see Figure 11). Brandimonte et al. (1992b) found Figure 13). Drawings represent common, inanimate
that the performance in this task is facilitated by the objects derived by Snodgrass and Vanderwart (1980),
block of verbalization. with a high value of familiarity and of image agree-
Other studies focused on different types of mental ment. Each puzzle is numbered, and participants give
synthesis, where participants are required not only to their responses by writing down the corresponding
maintain and combine different images but also to number of each piece on a response sheet.
produce a different image unrelated with the single The study of imagery processes can also be based
primitive images. This particular case, given the on a fractionation of complex processes into more
novelty and the potential originality of the final simple ones and on the individuation of measures
result, has also been considered an example of crea- tapping the most simple components, as illustrated
tive imagery. Finke and his colleagues (Finke et al., by a series of studies by Postma and coauthors. In an
1989) asked subjects to carry out a series of transfor- analysis of memory for locations, Postma and De
mations on imagined figures mediated by verbally
Haan (1996) separated the object location memory
presented instructions. The transformations were
into three processes: the first process requires encod-
designed so that the final pattern would resemble a
ing metric information and the coordinates of a
familiar object, as in the following example of the
particular object located in the environment; the
task: Imagine a B, now rotate the B 90 degrees to the
second process, called object-location binding,
requires linking the objects identity to its position;
and finally, the last process integrates the first two
mechanisms and combines metric information with
object identity and location (Kessels et al., 2002a,b).

Figure 11 Examples of stimuli used for mental

subtraction tasks: People, after exposure to the visual
stimuli, must imagine the subtraction of the second part
from the first and decide which is the resulting pattern (in
this case a fish, a papillon, and a cloud). Figure 12 Example of a creative synthesis task.
Mental Imagery 115

Figure 13 Example of an item derived from the jigsaw puzzle test (adapted from Vecchi and Richardson, 2000). Neural Implications with left temporo-occipital lesions were unable to

take advantage of imagery instructions in verbal
Neuropsychological paradigms have also been useful
learning tasks.
in the study of visuospatial imagery. They offer data
The study of severe neuropsychological patients
that have increased, in many respects, our knowledge
has been integrated with the study of groups of indi-
of mental imagery processes and representations. In
viduals hypothesized, for different reasons, to have
particular, the study of single cases has revealed
specific difficulties in visuospatial working memory
important dissociations and relationships. For exam-
or in mental imagery tasks (for a review, see Cornoldi
ple, Bisiach and Luzzatti (1978) reported evidence and Vecchi, 2003). Examples of these groups are blind
that a unilateral neglect disorder, which usually individuals (e.g., Cornoldi et al., 1991; Cornoldi and
causes patients to ignore the left half of the visual De Beni, 1988), children with nonverbal/visuospatial
field, can also result in deficits in mental imagery. learning disabilities (Cornoldi et al., 1999; Cornoldi
They offered the example of Milans famous Piazza and Guglielmo, 2001; Mammarella and Cornoldi,
del Duomo: A patient with an unilateral neglect in 2005), elderly people (Vecchi and Cornoldi, 1999;
front of the cathedral will typically ignore the left Richardson and Vecchi, 2002), and individuals with
part of the square, but in the case of Bisiach and specific genetic syndromes (Lanfranchi et al., 2004).
Luzzattis patient the same experience happened in With the development of more sophisticated
the area of a mental imagery representation. In fact, brain-mapping techniques, the study of imagery has
invited to imagine being in front of the cathedral, the taken further steps forward. In fact, from the pioneer-
patient was not able to describe its left part. This ing work of Roland and Friberg (1985), who studied
difficulty was not related to a preceding perceptual the variations of cerebral blood flow on the basis of
difficulty, nor to the particular characteristics of the the visualization of familiar routes, a great number of
square, because when invited to imagine the square imagery studies have been carried out with neuroim-
giving his back to the cathedral his imagery block aging techniques. Some of the questions research has
involved the other side of the square (i.e., the side tried to answer are: How do differences in brain
accurately described when facing the cathedral). activation inform us about the nature of different
Deficits can also be purely confined to visual kinds of imagery? What kinds of brain areas are
imagery (Beschin et al., 1997). Farah et al. (1988) activated during generation, maintenance, and trans-
reported the case of a patient who had perceptual formation of mental images? Does mental imagery
abilities and object recognition preserved. He was share common cortical structures with perception,
also able to copy drawings correctly and to draw memory, or motor control?
objects from memory, but he could not correctly Neuroimaging methods can be classified into two
answer sentences requiring imagery for verification, main groups: electromagnetic techniques, such as
for example, An elephant is larger than a mouse. MEG (magneto-encephalography) and ERPs (event-
Goldenberg (1989, 1992) demonstrated that patients related potentials), which have excellent temporal
116 Mental Imagery

resolution but poor spatial resolution, and techniques, scan without looking at the map). The results revealed
such as PET and fMRI, which have good spatial a common network of cerebral areas, in particular,
resolution and coarse temporal resolution. It is note- bilateral superior external occipital regions, reflecting
worthy that although neuroimaging techniques can the processes involved in the generation and mainte-
identify regions associated with a cognitive task, they nance of visual images, and the precuneus (left
cannot determine which of these regions are crucial internal parietal region), reflecting the scanning pro-
for performing the task. For this reason, neuroimaging cess. In this study, the parietal regions were involved
findings may be complemented with data provided by in an imagery process with a spatial component. This
experimental and neuropsychological methods. latter result is consistent with the already mentioned
A central issue in the field of imagery is whether hypothesis (Ungerleider and Mishkin, 1982) of a dis-
those visual areas involved when an object is perceived tinction between a dorsal stream (spatial system),
are also involved when an object is imagined. For running from the occipital to the parietal cortex,
example, Kosslyns theory (1994) predicts activation involved in the perception of spatial locations, and a
during mental imagery activity in early visual proces- ventral stream (visual system), running from occipital
sing regions (i.e., striate and extrastriate cortex). to the infero-temporal cortex, involved in the recogni-
A series of experiments by Kosslyn and colleagues tion of objects. The results obtained by Mellet and
(Kosslyn et al., 1993, 2001; Kosslyn and Thompson, colleagues (1995; see also Mellet et al., 1996) revealed
2003) provided support for similarities between visual that the spatial system is engaged in both mental
perception and visual imagery; other studies, however, scanning of visual images and mental scanning of
have suggested that primary visual cortex is not acti- mental images.
vated during visual imagery (Roland and Gulyas,
1994; DEsposito et al., 1997; see Cabeza and Nyberg, Imagery Value
2000 for a review). Roland and Friberg (1985) asked
subjects to visualize the successive view along a route In the study of the indexes of verbal materials best
in a familiar environment. The task induced blood predicting memory performance, imagery value has
flow increase in the superior prefrontal cortex and, in usually resulted as the best predictor (Paivio, 1971),
particular, in the superior occipital cortex, the postero- whereas the effects of item frequency/familiarity and
inferior temporal cortex, and the postero-superior associative value/meaningfulness resulted in weaker
parietal cortex. These associative regions are also results and were partly explained by imagery value.
activated during processing of visual information. This result was interpreted by Paivio (1971) as proof
However, the authors did not find an activation of of the dual-code theory; in fact, a high-imagery-value
the primary visual cortex. According to Kosslyn et al. item (e.g., the word train) evokes both a verbal and
(1995), the right hemisphere is responsible for gen- an imaginal encoding, and the double encoding
erating mental images from memory, whereas the left enhances enhance the probability to get back the
hemisphere is advantaged in the generation of visual item. On the contrary a low-imagery-value item
mental images (see also Trojano and Grossi, 1994). (e.g., the word range) only evokes a verbal encoding
Charlot and coauthors (1992) selected high- and and thus has a poorer trace and a reduced probability
low-imagery participants and involved them in a task to be recovered. Paivio (1971) also assumed that
requiring the conjugation of abstract verbs (verbal pictorial material has, by definition, a high imagery
task) and in a mental exploration of a memorized value and thus, if verbalizable, has the highest prob-
spatial configuration (imagery task). Their results ability of having a double encoding; in other words,
revealed different patterns of activation for high the picture superiority effect (better recall of the
(left-sensory motor cortex in the verbal task and left verbal label of a presented picture than of the corre-
temporo-occipital cortex in the imagery task) and low sponding presented word) should be caused by the
imagers, who showed less differentiated increase of same reasons that explain the superior recall of
their cerebral activity. In Mellet et al.s (1995) study, high-imagery words with respect to the recall of
participants were required to inspect and memorize a low-imagery words. However, this conclusion raises
map of an island with six landmarks. The cerebral a series of perplexities (for a review, see Cornoldi
blood flow was recorded as the participants performed and Paivio, 1982; Marschark and Cornoldi, 1990)
either perceptual (the subjects were shown the map because high-imagery verbal material differs from
and asked to scan from landmark to landmark) or low-imagery verbal material in many respects only
imaginal scanning of the map (performing a mental partly related to the use of mental imagery.
Mental Imagery 117

Different paradigms have been used to analyze obtained with neurological (e.g., Charlot et al., 1992)
the specific effects of mental imagery on the recall and cognitive procedures. An example of this relation-
of high-imagery-value materials. For example, in ship is represented by the ability of solving ambiguous
a dual-task paradigm, participants are presented figures (Cornoldi et al., 1996). For example, Mast and
with a main task, which in this case can involve Kosslyn (2002) found that the ability of rotating images
the retention of the high-imagery-value material. was highly associated with reports of image reversals
Simultaneously, they are also required to perform a subsequent to an 180-degree rotation of a figure,
secondary task, most of the time tapping one of the whereas other imagery ability measures were not.
working memory components. (Some studies that In the mental imagery field, the repertoire of
have employed the dual-task paradigm have been differential measures has been enriched by many
presented in the preceding paragraphs, e.g., Salway other measures, including subjective ones. Despite
and Logie, 1995; Bruyer and Scailquin, 1998). In a their methodological limitations, the self-report mea-
series of studies (e.g., Colpo et al., 1977), we simulta- sures have been largely used and have produced a
neously presented words, either with high or low series of different tools. For example, the VVIQ test
imagery value, and pictures, and we found that the (Marks, 1973) requires that a person imagines, with
memory for high-imagery-value words was selec- either open or closed eyes, a scenario (e.g., a sunset)
tively impaired, suggesting that high-imagery words and reports how vivid his/her image is. The imagery
and pictures relied on the same type of resources. ability is directly inferred by the sum of the values
A different paradigm concerns the manipulation of given to the different activated images. There have
instructions. In general, specific instructions encoura- been concerns regarding the value of this subjective
ging the use of mental imagery enhance memory with measure, voiced from different sides, but there is
respect to instructions encouraging the use of a non- evidence that in some cases it may be a useful method
imagery strategy (e.g., repetition); furthermore, this (for a review, see McKelvie, 1995). For example, a
effect seems to interact with the imagery value of the VVIQ score may be predictive of the performance in
material, although the latter effect is not always clear a task requiring the memorization of visual objects.
(for a review, see Richardson, 1999). However, there is evidence that in some cases other
types of subjective reports may have better predictive
power. In particular, Graham and Morris (2003) sug- Individual Differences in Imagery
gested that a lack of a relationship between subjective
measures and performance could be because they tap
The study of mental imagery has often used an indi- different components of mental imagery. To investi-
vidual differences approach, as already anticipated in gate this, the researchers administered two spatial
the section concerning neuropsychological evidence. tasks and two different self-report questionnaires to
Also, within normal populations (i.e., in the absence of a group of subjects. One self-report, the VVIQ,
severe deficits), imagery ability differences can be mainly involved subjective visual experiences
observed. Actually, some of the tasks used for measur- derived from long-term memory, whereas the other
ing spatial abilities require the maintenance and the included items of the same kind used in the spatial
manipulation of mental images, as in the case of tasks tasks. They found that only the latter items predicted
requiring mental rotation or the mental transformation spatial performance, whereas there was no relation-
of parts (mental folding, mental assembly, etc.). The ship between VVIQ and objective measures.
traditional preference for imagery transformation tasks
over other spatial tasks in the psychometric assessment
of spatial abilities seems to result from the fact that the
imagery transformation tasks involve a high degree of 2.08.5 Educational and Other Applied
control and are thus central and related to the central Implications
structures of intelligence; however, at the same time,
they maintain specific spatial features and are not only The role of mental imagery in human cognition, for
theoretically but also empirically distinguishable from example, in reasoning, comprehension, and creativ-
other high-control tasks tapping verbal functions ity, has been illustrated in several studies (Paivio,
(Cornoldi and Vecchi, 2003). 1971; Richardson, 1999). This evidence suggests
Individual differences found with the use of objec- that training to effectively use visualization processes
tive measures are related to independent measures could enhance cognitive performance in many areas.
118 Mental Imagery

A well-known example of how mental imagery can mnemonics, people form a series of interactive
be used in an educational context is represented by images by combining in pairs the sequence of items.
imagery mnemonics. This point was already empha- For example, given the sequence radio, cat, window,
sized by ancient Greeks and Romans, who stressed the salad, etc., one could form the interactive image of a
importance of using mnemonics to improve learning. radio turned on by a cat, then a subsequent image of a
However, in the history of culture and education, cat jumping onto the windowsill, a window placed
the attitude toward mnemonics alternated between above a bowl of salad, and so on.
moments of enthusiasm, resulting from the enhance- Another rule-based mnemonic that has received a
ment of memory, and criticisms, resulting from the lot of educational uses is represented by the keyword
artificial connection between memory content and technique, mainly used for the study of foreign lan-
memory cues. For example, Cicero and Giordano guages. The technique requires people to give a
Bruno were in favor of mnemonics, but Erasmus and concrete imaginable meaning to the foreign word by
Montaigne were not (Yates, 1966). Despite these associating it with a word in their own language with a
different views, there is general agreement that mne- similar sound. They then form an interactive image
monics enhance memory and that they rely largely on including the images of the new word and the word
the use of mental imagery (for a review, see Higbee, corresponding to the real meaning of the foreign
1988). One key principle of imagery mnemonics is the word. The example given in Figure 14 shows how a
creation of interactive images, which facilitates the person could remember the Russian word likor for
retrieval of an element when the element imagined battleship. His first task would be to find an imagin-
in interaction is available. able word similar in sound to the Russian word likor,
Mnemonics can be distinguished into two cate- for example, Lincoln or liquor. The second task
gories according to whether they rely on a specific would be to create an interactive image including,
rule or they require the prior creation of a cues file, for example, Lincoln and a battleship. As the two
and both categories of mnemonics very often rely on elements are very different in size, the person could
the use of mental imagery. Mnemonics based on a use a zooming process to give a name to the small
rule are of many different types. In the chaining individual represented on the deck of the battleship.

Figure 14 Example of the use of the key-word technique to learn a foreign word (likor for battleship).
Mental Imagery 119

Despite the fact that imagery mnemonics can be offers the possibility of storing huge amounts of
considered artificial and distinguished from mnemo- material. There are reports of experts who created
nics based on semantic associations, in many cases the files of thousand of cues, either organized around
two components can act together. The example given spatial layouts or (more often) organized sequentially
in Figure 15 represents this possible synergy. In fact, in correspondence with the number sequence. The
a child trying to memorize the patterns illustrated in most well known mnemonic based on a cues file is
the matrix could simply rely on the semantic associa- represented by the loci mnemonics, where people use
tions between items (e.g., a dish and a bowl can stay landmarks arranged along a well-known pathway as
together), or the more effective rule of categorical cues. The example given in Figure 16 is adapted
clustering (a hen, a duck, a chicken, and a rabbit are from the illustration given by Lindsay and Norman
all animals). However, the child could also take (1977) in their psychology handbook, where the
advantage of the memory of the visual form of the pathway was in fact the route followed by Donald
represented objects and the possibility of imagining Norman to reach the Department of Psychology of
them in interaction (a farm scenario with the animals, the University of California at San Diego, starting
a bowl above a dish, etc.). from his home. The first landmarks selected by
Mnemonics based on a cues file requires people Norman were in sequence: (a) his own home, (b)
to have already created a file containing a series the bay, (c) the train railway, and so on. Having to
of organized images that will be imagined in interac- memorize a sequence of words, Norman could
tion with the new to-be-remembered material. associate them with the sequence of landmarks (e.g.,
At retrieval, the well-known cues file will be used a radio left close to the gate of his home, a cat looking
for retrieving the new information memorized in at a boat in the bay, a broken window on a train). If
interaction. Expert memorizers have always given required to remember the sequence of words in per-
preference to this category of mnemonics because it fect order, people using the loci mnemonics have no

Figure 15 Example of memory material that can take advantage of both semantic and mental imagery strategies.
120 Mental Imagery

Figure 16 An example of figure employed for using the loci mnemonic. Adapted from Lindsay PH and Norman DA (1977)
Human information processing, 2nd edn. New York: Academic Press.
Mental Imagery 121

problems in retrieving their well-known route with Beschin N, Cocchini G, Della Sala S, and Logie RH (1997) What
the eyes perceive, the brain ignores: A case of pure unilateral
its landmarks and thus retrieve the elements imag- representational neglect. Cortex 33: 326.
ined in interaction with their landmarks. Bisiach E and Luzzatti C (1978) Unilateral neglect of
A critique advanced against the loci and other representational space. Cortex 14: 129133.
Brandimonte MA and Gerbino W (1993) Mental image reversal
imagery mnemonics is that they can be successfully and verbal recoding: When ducks become rabbits. Mem.
used for memorizing isolated arbitrary series of items Cognit. 21: 2333.
but do not offer an advantage in memorizing mean- Brandimonte MA, Hitch GJ, and Bishop DV (1992a) Influence of
short-term memory codes on visual image processing:
ingful texts. However, there is evidence that loci Evidence from image transformation tasks. J. Exp. Psychol.
mnemonics can also enhance memory for texts, Learn. Mem. Cogn. 18: 157165.
although its advantage is more evident when a text Brandimonte MA, Hitch GJ, and Bishop DV (1992b)
Manipulation of visual mental images in children and adults.
is orally presented than when it is written, because of J. Exp. Child Psychol. 53: 300312.
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2.08.6 Concluding Comments for mental images: Testing the multicomponent model of
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between prepositional and imagery theorists and the memory between high and low imagery value stimuli and
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Psychol. Hum. Exp. Psychol. 40: 7385.
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Cornoldi C, De Beni R, Cavedon A, Mazzoni G, Giusberti F, and
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2.09 Distinctiveness and Memory: A Theoretical and
Empirical Review
S. R. Schmidt, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN, USA
2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

2.09.1 Introduction 125

2.09.2 Organizing Principles 126
2.09.3 Theoretical Perspectives 127 Organizational Theories 127 Representational Theories 128 Affective Response Theories 129 Hybrid Theories 130
2.09.4 Empirical Phenomena 131 von Restorffs Original Work 131 The Isolation Effect 132 Bizarre Imagery and the Bizarreness Effect 132 The Humor Effect 132 The Serial Position Curve and Temporal Distinctiveness 133 Orthographic Distinctiveness 133 The Word Frequency Effect 133 The Word Length Effect 134 The Concreteness Effect 135 The Picture Superiority Effect 135 False Memory and the Distinctiveness Heuristic 136 Face Recognition 137 The Modality Effect 137 Emotional Words 138 Odor 139
2.09.5 Summary and Conclusions 139
References 141

2.09.1 Introduction by both distance and contrast. In this manner, con-

trast, or distinctiveness, is a fundamental concept in
My memories appear as a varied landscape, with any theoretical treatment of memory.
fields and trees and distant mountains. I can distin- Theory and research concerning distinctiveness
guish each blade of grass at my feet, I see the and memory have long and fascinating histories that
individual veins on the leaves on a nearby tree and have been recounted in detail elsewhere (see Wallace,
the brown corrugated grain of the trees bark. Farther 1965; Schmidt, 1991; Hunt, 1995). These histories
away, the blades of grass are lost in a field of green, unfailingly begin with Hedwig von Restorff, a post-
and the trees on the hillside are marbled clumps of doctoral assistant in Wolfgang Kohlerss laboratory.
color. However, I can clearly see a lone tree in the von Restorff was one of the first to argue that the
middle of a distant field. On the horizon I can see the Gestalt perceptual principles applied to memory
blue haze of the mountains, occasionally interrupted traces (Geissler, 2001). Principles of organization
with an outcrop of white rock. I know the mountains and the perception of figure and ground lend them-
must be covered with trees, but I cannot separate one selves nicely to the clarity of memory for that
from another. The clarity of my memories, like the metaphorical lone tree in the field. von Restorff
clarity of my perceptions, appears to be determined (1933) argued that the rules according to which the

126 Distinctiveness and Memory

reproducibility of items is a function of the structure distinctiveness is defined with regard to the previous
of the list are consistent with the laws governing history of the observer and to experiences stored in
whether individual parts in the field of vision remain long-term or Jamess secondary memory. Examples of
independent or integrated into a perceptible whole. secondary distinctiveness might include seeing a purple
(Von Restorff, 1933: p. 323) The perception of a single polka-dot tree or reading the sentence: The banker
figure in a whole (or tree in a forest) is impaired floated across the puddle on a newspaper.
because it becomes a part of the whole. The percep- This discussion of primary and secondary distinc-
tion of a tree in a field does not suffer from such tiveness naturally leads to a discussion of experi-
interference (Von Restorff, 1933: p. 327). Studies of mental design or, more specifically, list structure.
the von Restorff effect and distinctiveness effects in The study of primary distinctiveness requires a
general can be seen as attempts to understand the within-subjects or mixed-list design. That is, the
good memory for the metaphorical lone tree. participants must experience material that stands
In the following pages, I provide a summary of out within the experimental context. In contrast,
theoretical and empirical treatments of the concept of secondary distinctiveness can be studied in both
distinctiveness in memory research. I begin with a mixed-list and between-subjects design. For exam-
few of my own organizational principles, followed by ple, suppose one were interested in the effect of word
three theoretical perspectives on distinctiveness in frequency on memory. In a between-subjects design,
memory. Then I provide a rather long catalog of one group of participants could view a list of frequent
empirical phenomena that roughly fit under the dis- words, while a second group would view a list of
tinctiveness umbrella. I conclude with a cautionary infrequent (i.e., distinctive) words. In a within-
note concerning the usefulness of distinctiveness as a subjects design, participants would view a mixed list
theoretical construct. of frequent and infrequent words. Interestingly, the
word frequency effect in recall may only appear in
mixed-list designs (DeLosh and McDaniel, 1996).
2.09.2 Organizing Principles Researchers have also wrestled with the problem
of the locus of the effect of distinctiveness in memory
Imagine that I am looking at a giant oak tree at the research. von Restorff addressed this issue when she
height of fall colors. My visual field is completely stated, Either similar forces are at work in the trace
filled with the image of the tree, and every leaf on the field as are in perception, or [her emphasis] our
tree, save one, has turned bright red. The green leaf results are merely the direct results of Gestalt effects
stands out in this perceptual field. There is nothing in perception (von Restorff, 1933: p. 323). In modern
unusual about a green leaf; it gains its distinctive terms, we might ask whether the effects of distinc-
character by virtue of its context. In contrast, I do tiveness result from processing differences during
not recall ever seeing a purple polka-dot leaf on a encoding or differences in the stored representations
tree. Perhaps a purple polka-dot leaf on a tree would or arise during the retrieval stage. von Restorff
be distinctive in any context. Note that individual concluded that the effects operate on the memory
leaves on a tree full of purple polka-dot leaves would traces, combining representational and retrieval
not stand out from one another. However, the tree as views of distinctiveness. Other researchers have
a whole would stand out in a typically green forest. concluded that all three stages contribute to the
Thus, when one tries to define the distinctiveness of effects of distinctiveness (see Schmidt, 1991, and
an experience, one must consider the domain, or to Hunt, 1995).
push the metaphor, the field of view. McDaniel and Geraci (2006) argued that the
Toward this end, researchers often distinguish effects of primary distinctiveness typically occurred
between context-dependent, or primary, distinctiveness at the retrieval stage, whereas secondary distinctive-
and absolute or secondary distinctiveness (Schmidt, ness effects resulted from both encoding and retrieval
1991). Primary distinctiveness (from W. Jamess pri- processes. With manipulations of primary distinc-
mary memory) is defined relative to the immediate tiveness, memory for the nondistinctive surrounding
context or, for example, a list of words in a memory items on a list is not impaired, particularly on mea-
experiment. For example, a tall tree in the middle of a sures of recognition memory (Schmidt, 1985). This
field of grass stands out in its immediate context, and a suggests that the processing of the distinctive item
single word printed in red stands out in the context of does not distract from the processing of the common
a list of words all printed in black. Secondary items on the list. In addition, the position of the
Distinctiveness and Memory 127

distinctive item within the list does not seem to 2.09.3 Theoretical Perspectives
impact the effect of primary distinctiveness. That is,
the distinctive item is well recalled even when it is From the discussion in the preceding section, we can
the first item in the list (Hunt, 1995). In this list see that the domain, the type of experimental design,
position, the distinctiveness advantage must have and the locus of the effect are all central to studies
resulted from the item standing out in memory rather concerning the impact of distinctiveness on memory.
then during its initial presentation. In contrast, with In addition, researchers have offered numerous defi-
secondary distinctiveness (e.g., bizarre sentences), the nitions of distinctiveness (see Schmidt, 1991, and
presence of the distinctive items appears to impair Hunt, 2006, for reviews). These include the ideas
memory for the common items, and list position is an that distinctiveness is a property of an item, an item
important factor. For example, McDaniel and Geraci in context, a property of a memory trace, a property
(2006) found that bizarre and common sentences of a retrieval cue, a property of a cue in a context, a
were recalled equally well if the bizarre sentence type of processing, and the response of an individual
appeared in the first half of a list. The typical bizarre- to a stimulus. Definitions of distinctiveness are typi-
ness advantage was found when the bizarre sentences cally tied to theoretical perspectives, and numerous
appeared in the second half of the list. These results theories have been proposed. The theories can be
demonstrate the importance of encoding processes in grouped into three primary classes: organizational
supporting the effects of secondary distinctiveness. theories, representational theories, and those theories
Retrieval processes also play an important role. For focusing on the affective response of the perceiver.
example, the relatively good memory for bizarre Each of these perspectives is outlined below.
sentences is often found in free recall but not cued
recall (Einstein and McDaniel, 1987) or serial-order
recall (McDaniel et al., 2000). Organizational Theories
Despite McDaniel and Geraci hypothesis, few
Organizational theories can trace their roots to von
would argue that encoding and perceptual processes
Restorff, and thus to Gestalt approaches to psychol-
are not important in primary distinctiveness. After
ogy. Within this framework, a distinctive item is
all, the green leaf on a red tree will not stand out if
apart, or in a different category, than its physical or
one is colorblind. That is to say, the features that
temporal neighbors. Thus, in a list-learning task, the
support trace distinctiveness must be encoded. For
distinctive item changes the organizational structure
example, consider the experiment reported by Van
of the list. Bruce and Gains (1976) used this account
Overschelde et al. (2005). Research participants
to explain clustering of related isolated items in free
viewed names of American football teams (e.g., recall. These results could not easily be explained by
Texas Longhorns). In one condition, this list con- increased attention to or rehearsal of (Rundus, 1971)
tained only the names of college teams, and in a the distinctive items.
second condition, the list contained one college Reed Hunt and his associates have offered several
team isolated in a group of professional teams. Only elaborations on organizational approaches. These are
participants with a high knowledge of football, who variously referred to as the distinctiveness hypothesis
were thus able to discriminate between professional (Hunt and Mitchell, 1978; Hunt and Elliot, 1980;
and college teams, showed a memory advantage for Hunt and Einstein, 1981; Hunt and Mitchell, 1982),
the isolated name. Hunt and Lamb (2001) asked the organization and distinctiveness view (Hunt and
participants to name either a similarity or a differ- McDaniel, 1993), and most recently and generally, as
ence between adjacent words in a list. In the control distinctive processing (Hunt, 2006). A common
list, all the words belonged to the same conceptual theme running through this research is the focus
category (e.g., tools). In the isolation list, one word on individual item and relational processing in
was from a different conceptual category (e.g., vege- memory. For this reason, I refer to this approach as
tables) than the other words on the list. The typical the individual item/relational processing view.
isolation effect was found following the same judg- Individual item (distinctive) processing serves to
ments, but not following the difference judgments. distinguish each item form other items in a set.
Clearly, prior knowledge and encoding strategies Relational processing highlights features shared by
play an important role in producing the effects of items within a set, helping to delineate the search set.
primary distinctiveness. Depending on the nature of the set of items and the
128 Distinctiveness and Memory

retrieval context, each kind of processing can be distinctiveness of a set of items is then defined as the
beneficial to memory performance. Within this ratio of each items distinctiveness value to the sum of
framework, distinctiveness is the processing of the distinctiveness values of other items in the set.
difference in the context of similarity (Hunt, 2006: This model has been most successfully applied to the
p. 22). So, for example, in a group of relatively serial position curve (see Neath, 1993), where each
homogeneous items individual item (distinctive) pro- items temporal position was used to calculate item
cessing would serve to differentiate the items and distinctiveness.
greatly improve recall (see the discussion of the Eysenck (1979) also described a representational
Hunt and Lamb, 2001 study in section 2.09.2). view of distinctiveness, wherein distinctiveness was
However, in a list of unrelated items, relational defined in terms of sets of overlapping information.
(organizational) processing would benefit recall Within this framework, three sources of information
more than individual item processing. contributed to recognition memory: information
Organizational approaches have numerous from previous encodings, information from the
strengths. These include their application to both study-trial encoding, and information in the test
recognition and recall performance and their expla- trial encoding. [T]he most important factor in
nation for the effects of distinctive items on recognition memory is the extent to which the test-
organizational processes in free recall. In addition, trial encoding contains information that is unique to
the general framework is applicable to a wide range the study-trial encoding (Eysenck, 1979: p. 111).
of phenomena, including the isolation effect, the Recognition performance should then be a ratio of
bizarre imagery effect, the humor effect, the word this distinctive information to shared information.
frequency effect, and the concreteness effect. Each of Whereas the Eysenck (1979) and Neath (1993)
these effects, and their relation to distinctiveness, is treatments focused on recognition performance,
discussed in section 2.09.4. The drawback of this Nairne et al. (1997; see also Nairne, 2006) extended
approach is that it treats distinctiveness as an expla- the framework to recall. Nairne et al. combined
nation, or a theoretical construct, rather than as an uncertainty (perturbation) in serial position informa-
independent variable (Hunt, 2006). As such, Hunts tion with a metric of positional distinctiveness to
ideas can be used to explain why a distinctive item is predict primacy and recency as a function of presen-
well remembered in a given situation. However, the tation rate and retention interval. Nairne (2006)
approach does not specify a direct measure of the applied the framework to the isolation effect in
distinctiveness of an experience. That is to say, it free recall, providing what is perhaps the most com-
cannot predict what conditions will produce mne- prehensive coverage of distinctiveness within the
monic isolation. representational perspective. This model might be
seen as a more formal development of Eysencks
(1979) ideas. Nairne argued that recall is a function Representational Theories
of the extent to which a retrieval cue uniquely
According to a representational approach, the dis- matches a recall target. Such matches were deter-
tinctive item has a memory representation that mined by item similarity, which was defined in
shares few features with other items in memory. terms of shared semantic features. Item distinctive-
That is, distinctiveness is the converse of similarity ness was the ratio of the similarity of the cue to the
as defined by researchers such as Tversky (1977) and target item to the sum of the similarity of the cue to
Shepard (1987). Thus, unlike Hunts individual item/ other possible candidates for recall.
relational approach, this approach starts with a spe- Representational models are often presented in
cification of what makes an item distinctive, and the formal mathematical descriptions, providing some
focus is less on the processing or organization of an precision to their predictions, a true advantage over
experience and more on static/mathematical ratios. the verbal descriptions offered by the organizational
Representational approaches can be traced to approach. However, as noted above, most of the for-
Murdock (1960) and his conveyor belt model mal treatments have been applied to the serial
(Murdock, 1972, 1974). In Murdocks approach, position curve. Applications to other phenomena
each item is assigned a value along some dimension that fall under the distinctiveness rubric are rare.
(e.g., time or size). The distinctiveness of an item is Schmidt (1996) applied the Murdock (1960) and
then defined as a function of the sum of the difference Neath (1993) frameworks to the typicality effect in
between that item and other items on a list. Relative free recall and found that they made inaccurate
Distinctiveness and Memory 129

predictions. For example, Murdocks model incor- effects of secondary distinctiveness are confined to
rectly predicted that both very typical and atypical within-subjects designs (see Section 2.09.4).
items embedded in a list of moderately typical items
should be distinctive and thus well recalled or recog- Affective Response Theories
nized. In addition, these theories fail to take into
account recent developments concerning similarity One can imagine the landscape of everyday mem-
(e.g., Gati and Tversky, 1984; Murphy and Medin, ories painted in neutral affective tones. However,
1985; Medin et al., 1993). Items should not be thought some experiences would be painted in the vivid
of as containing a fixed set of features, with each colors of strong emotional responses. These emotion-
feature having a fixed contribution to item similarity. ally laden experiences should stand out in memory.
Rather, feature selection and feature weights are The distinctive item, within this framework, is one
determined by the context in which an item appears, that leads to a heightened physiological state of arou-
and by the processing strategies brought to the task sal or emotion. In Schmidts (1991) classification,
(see Hunt and McDaniel, 1993; Schmidt, 1996). experiences that stood out because of their emotional
Given the lack of a firm metric of similarity, it is content were classified as examples of emotional
difficult to construct a ratio of distinctive to shared distinctiveness. For example, Hirshman et al. (1989)
features. argued that the bizarreness effect resulted from the
The representational approaches seem to have surprise experienced by participants at finding a
particular difficulty dealing with secondary distinc- bizarre sentence in a mixed list of bizarre and com-
tiveness. For example, within Murdocks (1960) mon sentences. Conversely, some researchers have
theory, the distinctiveness of an item is calculated argued that the effects of emotion on memory should
relative to other items in a list, not relative to the be thought of as von Restorff effects (Loftus and
set of all items stored in memory. Yet, secondary Burns, 1982) or as attributable to distinctiveness
distinctiveness is defined in terms of this larger (McCloskey et al., 1988; Dewhurst and Perry, 2000).
set of information. How then, for example, could Numerous researchers have tied von Restorff, iso-
one calculate the relative distinctiveness of, say, lation, or distinctiveness effects to physiological
high- and low-frequency words? Within Eysencks correlates of increased attention, surprise, or emo-
framework, independent of experimental design, tion. Researchers within this tradition can probably
semantic processing leads to more distinctive mem- trace their ideas to the work of Sokolov (1963), James
ory traces than phonetic processing. As predicted, (1890), and ultimately Darwin (1872). The nervous
semantic processing leads to better memory than system ignores steady-state information and responds
phonetic processing in both within- (Craik and to change. From a Jamesian perspective, our percep-
Tulving, 1975) and between-subjects designs (see tions of these nervous system responses are the
Johnston and Jenkins, 1971). Similarly, Valentine emotions we feel. These responses can be seen in
(1991) described a representational theory in his indices of the orientation reflex (e.g., increased skin
explanation of a good memory for distinctive faces. conductance, Gati and Ben-Shakhar, 1990), in the
Within this view, faces are represented in multi- N400 and the P300 cortical responses (Fabiani
dimensional feature space. Typical faces fall in et al., 2000), and in the release of stress-related hor-
relatively crowded regions of this space containing mones (Gold, 1992). Exactly how these responses
many exemplars, whereas atypical faces fall in rela- translate into memory effects varies from theory to
tively empty regions. Item discrimination processes theory.
are thus relatively easy for atypical compared with James (1890) argued that an emotional experience
typical faces. As a result, the discrimination advan- may be accompanied by an extraordinary degree
tage enjoyed by atypical faces should be present of attention (James, 1872: p. 671). Similarly,
independent of experimental design. Thus, from a Easterbrook (1959) argued that arousal may lead to
representational view, one can define distinctive- a narrowing of attention. Bower (1992; see also
ness in relative terms, in which case the theory Rundus, 1971) argued that an emotional event
cannot be applied to secondary distinctiveness. Or, would disrupt rehearsal processes, leading to
one can define distinctiveness in absolute terms, decreased rehearsal of surrounding material and
in which case distinctiveness should aid memory increased rehearsal of the emotional item. Burke
independent of experimental design. Thus, repre- et al. (1992) suggested that an emotional experience
sentational views stumble over the fact that the would lead to a shift in the priority of information
130 Distinctiveness and Memory

processing. Thus, one explanation within affective across a continuum of emotional reactions, perhaps
theories of distinctiveness is that outstanding events differing only in magnitude with changes in emo-
(Ellis et al., 1971) receive extra attention and proces- tional intensity? Or are qualitatively different
sing, and that this extra processing may be at the memory processes invoked by each of the many
expense of other stimuli. emotions? Some researchers have attempted to sepa-
Gold (1987, 1992) focused on the neurobiological rate manipulations associated with distinctiveness
processes supporting memory. He argued that infor- into different groups. Michelon and Snyder (2006)
mation storage was influenced by neuroendocrine argued that the N400 cortical response was seen
responses that may promote memory coding. Speci- with manipulations of secondary distinctiveness,
fically, stress releases epinephrine, which in turn and the P300 associated with primary distinctiveness.
leads to increased levels of blood glucose in the However, only the P300 was consistently associated
brain. Serum glucose levels were thought to regulate with good memory performance. Schmidt (2006,
memory storage processes in an inverted-U-shaped 2007) has argued for a categorization of stimuli into
fashion. those that are distinctive and those that are signifi-
Brown and Kulik (1977) developed their flashbulb cant. Within this view, distinctiveness is the result of
memory hypothesis, borrowing the potent mecha- a mismatch between an experience and memory
nism from Livingstons (1967a,b) Now Print! theory. representations, whereas the significance of an
According to this view, the response to a significant experience results from a match between the experi-
event follows a three-stage process. First there is ence and previous significant experiences. Only
the recognition of novelty or unexpectedness significant stimuli were thought to lead to strong
(distinctiveness), followed by a test for biological emotional responses and poor memory for surround-
significance, and then the permanent registration ing stimuli.
of not only the significant novelty, but all recent
brain events (Brown and Kulik, 1977, p. 76). This Hybrid Theories
is accomplished, according to Livingston, through
diffuse action of the reticular formation. MacKays Although there is considerable divergence across the
binding hypothesis (MacKay et al., 2004) provides three theoretical perspectives described above, there
yet another perspective: in some of the other views is also commonality. For example, theories of stimu-
expressed above, emotional stimuli soak up encoding lus orientation (e.g., Ohman, 1979) often invoke a
resources. Specifically, through the action of the feature-matching process similar to representational
amygdala, the hippocampus binds word meanings to theories of distinctiveness. Fabiani (2006) and
the context in which they occur. Christianson (1992b) both describe poststimulus
Several researchers have proposed multistage elaboration and rehearsal processing that are remi-
processing of emotional stimuli. For example, niscent of organizational theories of distinctiveness.
Christianson (1992a,b) proposed a two-stage model Schmidt (1991; Schmidt and Saari, in press) devel-
wherein an emotional stimulus may automatically oped the incongruity hypothesis, which contains
receive preferential processing, followed by elabora- elements of all three approaches.
tive processing of the stimulus. Fabiani and Donchin According the incongruity hypothesis, each pre-
(1995) argued that working memory maintains a sented item is compared with the contents of working
model of recent experience or context. The P300 memory. If an item is encountered that contains
response to distinctive stimuli reflects the updating features that substantially differ from the weighted
of that model resulting from the necessity reorganiz- features in working memory, then the observer ori-
ing the experience. If a stimulus requires this update, ents to the item. This orientation is automatic and
then it is marked, and the marking can be used to aid leads to the increased storage of features extracted
retrieval processes. from the item. Because the process is automatic, the
An obvious criticism of the emotional distinctive- incongruent item will not rob attentional resource
ness view is its extensive coverage of responses from from other items with the typically slow rates of
the mild surprise of encountering a red word printed presentation used in many memory experiments.
in a list of black words to the shock and horror one Some effect may be observed, however, in RSVP
experiences at the loss of a loved one. Are the mech- tasks (Raymond et al., 1992). In a modification
anisms proposed above (e.g., attention focusing, brain of this view, significant stimuli hold attentional
glucose, contextual binding) qualitatively the same resources during an emotional appraisal process
Distinctiveness and Memory 131

(Schmidt, 2002b; Schmidt and Saari, in press), dis- distinctiveness on memory, been explained by refer-
rupting processing of material in the spatial or ence to the von Restorff effect, or been described as
temporal proximity of the significant item. Further the result of distinctive processing. In the following
processing of distinctive and significant experiences section, I provide a brief description of many of these
may occur as a result of controlled elaboration and phenomena and attempt to cast them within the
organizational processes. The first two phases in the theoretical frameworks outlined above.
incongruity hypothesis clearly place the locus of the
effects of distinctiveness on encoding processes.
However, Schmidt (1991) also included a retrieval von Restorffs Original Work
component: during the memory test (Phase 3), the
effect of incongruity on memory will depend on the von Restorffs (1933) original paper has been sum-
degree to which stored information supports good marized elsewhere (Hunt, 1995); in addition, there is
memory performance (p. 537). a very readable and accessible translation of her
There are several strengths of the incongruity paper available online (see Hunt, 1995). However,
hypothesis. First, the framework incorporates research given that her research is very unlike what most
concerning the effects of stimulus contrast on physio- people think of as the von Restorff effect (e.g.,
logical measures of orientation and attention. Second, Wikipedia, 2006), it is worth recounting some of her
the framework includes an explanation of the effects of original work.
distinctiveness on organization in recall (e.g., Bruce von Restorff described a series of experiments
and Gains, 1976). Third, the framework explains investigating proactive and retroactive interference
why the effects of secondary distinctiveness may be effects in recall and recognition. In some of her experi-
limited to within-subjects designs. However, some ments, she employed a collection of diverse objects
have argued that the incongruity hypothesis incor- (e.g., a number, a green square, a letter, a nonsense
rectly predicts that the effects of primary syllable). Some of the objects were massed, that is, four
distinctiveness should be reduced if the distinctive objects of the same type (e.g., four nonsense syllables)
item is in the first serial position of the list (Hunt, appeared in the list, and others were isolated, in that
1995; McDaniel and Geraci, 2006). According to this only one object of a specific type appeared in the list.
view, the first item in a list cannot be incongruent, and She demonstrated that memory for isolated items
thus should not stand out at retrieval. However, this exceeded memory for massed items. In another of
interpretation of the incongruity hypothesis is overly her experiments, von Restorff contrasted memory for
simplistic. Increased attention to an item through three lists: one number with nine nonsense syllables,
incongruity has its impact on memory by increasing one syllable with nine numbers, and a list of ten
individual-item processing of the item. This increased heterogeneous items (a number, a syllable, a button,
processing then supports retrieval and discrimination a chemical compound, etc.). The proportion of iso-
processes, which lead to enhanced memory for the lated items recalled greatly exceeded the proportion
distinctive item. The first item in a list, because of its of common items from the same list. She also demon-
primacy position, should also lead to orientation and strated that isolated numbers or syllables were more
increased attention (Oberauer, 2003) relative to other likely to be recalled, and were more quickly recalled,
items on the list. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that than were numbers or syllables from the heteroge-
the same critical features will be encoded for the neous list. However, the difference between recall of
distinctive first item as are encoded for a distinctive an isolated item and recall of the same item from the
middle item. In addition, feature selection during the heterogeneous list was smaller than the difference
encoding of subsequent list items will be aligned with between the isolated item and the common items in
the contrast to the first item. Memory advantages the same list. Across experiments, she varied the struc-
enjoyed by a distinctive first item should thus be ture of the lists, as well as the position of the isolated
similar to those of a distinctive middle item. item. She concluded that similar list items were
absorbed into the memory trace field, whereas isolated
items were not. von Restorff reported these effects in
2.09.4 Empirical Phenomena recall and recognition, but the effects were larger in
recall. Finally, she concluded that both proactive and
As indicated above, a large number of phenomena retroactive interference were the result of these same
have been offered as examples of the effects of field effects.
132 Distinctiveness and Memory The Isolation Effect It is beyond the scope of this chapter to review the
vast literature on bizarre imagery effect. Additional
Numerous researchers have adapted the design of the
coverage can be found in the Mental Imagery chapter
second von Restorff experiment described in the
in this volume (See Chapter 2.08), and a recent review
preceding section. In these experiments, a single iso-
of the bizarreness effects can be found in Worthen
lated item (e.g., a word printed in red) is placed in a
(2006). Bizarreness appears to have both positive and
list of otherwise homogeneous items (printed in
negative effects on memory, aiding memory for the
black). Memory for this item is then compared to
bizarre material but interfering with sentence integra-
memory for the same item in a list of homogeneous
tion (McDaniel and Einstein, 1986) and retention of
items (all words printed in black). Typically, recall of
order information (DeLosh and McDaniel, 1996). As a
the isolated word would exceed recall of the same
result, the positive bizarreness effect is usually con-
word printed in black (Rabinowitz and Andrews,
fined to free-recall tests and not found on cued-recall
1973). This design focuses on one of the more strik-
(see Einstein and McDaniel, 1987, for a review),
ing findings reported by von Restorff and provides a
ordered-recall (DeLosh and McDaniel, 1996), or
purer measure of isolation. That is, in von Restorffs
recognition (McDaniel and Einstein, 1986) tests of
design, one cannot separate the positive effect of
memory performance. There are currently two pro-
isolation on memory for the isolated item from
minent explanations for these effects, one from the
potential negative effects of isolation on memory
organizational and one from the representational
for the remainder of the list. In a well-designed
perspectives outlined in section 2.09.3. From the
experiment, memory for a physically identical stim-
organizational perspective, bizarreness encourages in-
ulus can be either assessed with that stimulus isolated
dividual-item processing at the expense of relational
or not, and potential positive and negative effects of
processing and the processing of order information
isolation can be identified (e.g., Schmidt, 1985).
(DeLosh and McDaniel, 1996). In contrast, McDaniel
Wallace (1965) provided a detailed review of early
et al. (2000, 2005) have argued against differential
isolation effect experiments; Schmidt (1991) pro-
processing interpretations of the bizarreness effect.
vided a brief review of more recent research. Good
Rather, the bizarreness benefit occurs at retrieval
memory for isolated items can be found with both
when the set of features used during retrieval are
physical and semantic isolation and is observed on
functionally distinctive in the context of the retrieval
recall, recognition, and even implicit tests (Geraci
set(McDaniel et al., 2005, p. 271). It is unclear how to
and Rajaram, 2004) of memory. The presence of an
reconcile this position with the list order effects
isolated item in a list impairs recall but not recogni-
reported by McDaniel and Geraci (2006), described
tion of other items on the list (Schmidt, 1985).
in Section 2.09.2.
Because of its central place within distinctiveness
research, all three theoretical perspectives described
here have been applied to the isolation effect. The Humor Effect
Humorous material is often remembered better than
nonhumorous material matched in content (Kaplan Bizarre Imagery and the
and Pascoe, 1977; Kintsch and Bates, 1977; Schmidt,
Bizarreness Effect
1994; Schmidt and Williams, 2001). Like the
Memorists have long believed that bizarre imagery bizarreness effect, humorous material only has a
is an effective mnemonic device (Yates, 1966). mnemonic advantage in mixed-lists designs. Also,
However, experimental tests of the benefits of bizarre similar to the bizarreness effect, the humor effect is
imagery led to an inconsistent and confusing array of eliminated if the humorous material is presented in
results. This confusion was greatly alleviated when a block prior to the nonhumorous material in the
McDaniel and Einstein (1986) conclusively demon- same list (Guynn et al., as reported in McDaniel and
strated a bizarreness advantage in the recall of Geraci, 2006). Unlike the bizarreness effect, the
sentences. They demonstrated that the bizarreness humor effect is obtained in cued recall (Schmidt,
effect was only obtained when participants experi- 1994). This is probably because humorous sentences
enced both bizarre and common sentences within the are easily integrated, whereas bizarreness disrupts
same experimental context. Thus was born the dis- sentence continuity. Schmidt (2002a) provided a
tinctiveness interpretation of the bizarre imagery hybrid explanation of the humor effect. He con-
effect. cluded that humorous cartoons received increased
Distinctiveness and Memory 133

attention and discrimination processes in a mixed Orthographic Distinctiveness

list and were given retrieval priority during the
Zechmeister (1972) was one of the first researchers to
memory test.
report that orthographically uncommon words (e.g.,
llama) are remembered better than words that con-
form to common English orthography. This effect has The Serial Position Curve been found on recall (Hunt and Mitchell, 1982),
and Temporal Distinctiveness recognition (Zechmeister, 1972), and word fragment
completion (Hunt and Toth, 1990) tests of memory.
Memory performance for a series of presented items However, like many of the effects of distinctiveness,
is often a U-shaped function of input position, with the orthographic distinctiveness effect appears to be
participants showing good memory for the beginning confined to mixed-list designs (Hunt and Elliot,
and ending of the series and relatively poor memory 1980). Interestingly, the effects of orthographic
for the middle positions. This ubiquitous phenom- distinctiveness are additive with the effects of con-
enon has led to numerous explanations, but it is most ceptual distinctiveness (Hunt and Mitchell, 1982;
often cast within the modal model (i.e., Atkinson and Kirchhoff et al., 2005), and thus orthographic and
Shiffrin, 1968) and the fate of items in sensory, short- conceptual distinctiveness may be mediated by dif-
term, and long-term memory (Crowder, 1976). ferent mechanisms (Kirchhoff et al. 2005).
However, Murdock (1962) suggested a different Geraci and Rajaram (2002) argued that the ortho-
cause in his seminal paper on the shape of the serial graphic distinctiveness effect is only obtained on
position curve. He argued that the shape of the curve implicit memory tests if the participants are aware
resulted from retroactive and proactive interference of the relation between the test and the encoding task.
between adjacent items on the list. In addition, In addition, orthographic distinctiveness effects were
Murdock (1960) applied his distinctiveness model reduced if the participants attention was divided
to the bowed serial position curve. Recently, between two tasks. They suggested that conceptual
researchers have returned to the distinctiveness processing of the relation between the distinctive and
explanation of the serial position curve (Nairne common items is important to produce the effect.
et al., 1997; Neath, 1993) within the representational Geraci and Rajaram concluded that their results
view described above. Surprenant (2001) applied this were consistent with Hunts distinctiveness hypoth-
approach to the memory of tonal sequences and, true esis, as well as Schmidts (1991) incongruity idea, and
to the von Restorff tradition, argued that a common the Fabiani and Donchin (1995) framework described
theory of relative distinctiveness could be applied to above.
both perceptual and memory phenomena.
The distinctiveness interpretation of the serial
position curve also has its opponents. Rouder and The Word Frequency Effect
Gomez (2001) argued that the temporal distinctive- Recall of frequent words usually exceeds recall of
ness parameters used to model the serial position infrequent words. In contrast, recognition memory
curve were arbitrary. Oberauer (2003) argued that for infrequent words usually exceeds that for fre-
an attentional gradient was necessary to account for quent words (Gregg, 1976). The word-frequency
the primacy effect. Lewandowsky et al. (2006) argued effect in recognition is often cast within a representa-
for an event-based rather then a temporal-based tional view of item distinctiveness. That is, low-
account of the curve. Within this view, the temporal frequency words appear in fewer preexperimental
structure of the list (beginning, end, inserted pauses, encodings than high-frequency words. In terms of
etc.) provides opportunities for consolidation, rehear- Eysencks framework described above, it should be
sal, and organizational processes. These processes are relatively easy to discriminate between the low-
responsible for the shape of the serial position curve, frequency words experimental and preexperimental
not temporal distinctiveness per se. Note that one encodings (Brown, 1976; Eysenck and Eysenck,
could still use the concept of distinctiveness to 1980), leading to higher hit rates and lower false
explain the serial position curve within this frame- alarm rates for low- than for high-frequency words
work. However, item distinctiveness would be (Rao and Proctor, 1984). Superior recognition of low-
event or item based and not tied to the memory frequency words is found in both homogeneous and
representation of the temporal gradient. mixed lists (see Gregg, 1976, for a review), as well as
134 Distinctiveness and Memory

with implicit memory tests (MacLeod and Kampe, word-frequency effect. Interestingly, Saint-Aubin
1996). Eysenck and Eysenck (1980) provided support and LeBlanc (2005) argued that their results sup-
for the distinctiveness interpretation by demonstrat- ported a distinctiveness interpretation, citing Hulme
ing that distinctive processing (e.g., producing an et al.s (2004) explanation of the word-length effect.
infrequent modifier for the nouns in the study) According to Saint-Aubin and LeBlanc, high-
reduced the word-frequency effect in recognition. frequency words were more distinctive than low-
The word-frequency effect in recall has been cast frequency words.
within the individual item/relational processing view
of distinctiveness (DeLosh and McDaniel, 1996; The Word Length Effect
Dobbins et al., 1998; Saint-Aubin and LeBlanc,
2005). DeLosh and McDaniel (1996) argued that On immediate-recall tests, recall of short words often
memory for word order plays an important role in exceeds recall of long words. This finding is often
many recall tasks. In addition, encoding resources interpreted within a working memory model and the
are lured to processing and interpreting the individ- role of the phonological loop in immediate recall
ual and idiosyncratic features of unusual items (Baddeley et al., 1975). However, the word-length
(DeLosh and McDaniel, 1996, p. 1137). This shift in effect is also found with delayed tests, and with lists
encoding robs resources from processing order infor- that should exceed the memory span (Russo and
mation. In a pure list of high-frequency words, there Grammatopoulou, 2003), challenging the working
are greater resources to devote to order processing memory interpretation of the effect. Three different
than in a pure list of infrequent words, leading to the distinctiveness interpretations of the word-length
typical recall advantage found for the high-frequency effect have been offered as alternatives to the work-
words. However, in a mixed list of high- and low- ing memory hypothesis. Hulme et al. (2004) argued
frequency words, increased processing of the low- that the word-length effect was in reality an effect of
frequency words takes place at the expense of the item complexity. Short items are less complex than
order encoding of both types of words. The low- long items and, thus, are less susceptible to memory
frequency words received increased individual item errors (Neath and Nairne, 1995). In addition, because
processing relative to the high-frequency words, and short items contain fewer features than long items,
both types of items suffer from a disruption of order they will share fewer features across other list items.
encoding or relational processing. The result is that As a result, short items have greater item distinctive-
in the recall of mixed lists, low-frequency words are ness within the Neath representational framework.
sometimes recalled better than high-frequency words Hulme et al. used this framework to explain the
(Delosh and McDaniel, 1996; Saint-Aubin and absence of a word-length effect in mixed lists of
LeBlanc, 2005). DeLosh and McDaniel demonstrated long and short words alternating across input
this reversal, as well as the predicted effect of mixed positions.
lists on memory for order information. Cowan et al. (2003) also evaluated the word-length
Saint-Aubin and LeBlanc (2005) also compared effect in mixed lists, but they varied the number of
memory for pure and mixed lists of high- and low- long and short words in the list and compared mem-
frequency words. They employed relatively short ory with and without articulatory suppression. The
lists of words and a serial order recall task. In their word-length effect was either reversed (without
mixed lists, a single high- or low-frequency word was articulatory suppression) or eliminated (with articu-
isolated in lists of five words of the other type. My latory suppression) when the list was composed of
interpretation of the order-encoding hypothesis leads primarily short words. The typical word-length effect
me to predict that a single high-frequency item was obtained when the list was predominately long
should be poorly recalled in the context of infrequent words. They concluded that in mixed lists, organiza-
words. That is, the infrequent words should rob tional factors play an important role in recall,
encoding processes from the high-frequency word. invoking the organizational view of distinctiveness.
However, the high-frequency words were recalled Hendry and Tehan (2005) investigated the word-
better than the low-frequency words in this list struc- length effect in mixed lists and employed both serial
ture. In addition, there was not a significant effect of recall and recognition measures of memory perfor-
word frequency when the lists contained primarily mance. They observed the typical short word
high-frequency items. These results seem to chal- advantage on the recall task, but long words were
lenge the order-encoding interpretation of the recognized better than short words. They interpreted
Distinctiveness and Memory 135

their results with DeLosh and McDaniels (1996) word stem completion test for a list of related words
order-encoding hypothesis (see section but not for a list of unrelated words, providing
That is, long words rob encoding resources from support for the Marschark and Hunt position.
the processing of order information, impairing serial Nonetheless, a concreteness effect was observed for
recall, but, long words also benefit from increased the unrelated word list in their free-recall test.
item processing relative to short words, leading to Clearly, neither dual coding nor distinctiveness
greater recognition of long words than short words. by themselves provides complete explanations of
From this perspective, long words are more distinc- the concreteness effect. Both perspectives rely on
tive than short words. other mechanisms (e.g., task-appropriate processing,
Hamilton and Rajaram, 2001) to handle the full range
of phenomena. The Concreteness Effect
Concrete language is remembered better than The Picture Superiority Effect
abstract language in a wide variety of tasks (Paivio
et al., 1994, p. 1196). The concreteness effect is most Under many conditions, including in both mixed-
often interpreted within Paivios (1971) dual-coding and between-list designs, people remember pictures
theory, according to which imaginal and verbal pro- better than they remember words (see Paivio, 1971,
cessing independently contribute to memory for 1986). Research concerning this picture superiority
concrete words, whereas only verbal processing is effect parallels research on the concreteness effect in
usually possible for abstract material. The concrete- several ways. Like the concreteness effect, early
ness effect is found in both within- and between- explanations of the picture superiority effect were
subjects designs (Marschark and Hunt, 1989). cast within Paivios (1971) dual-coding hypothesis.
Nonetheless, Marschark and Hunt (1989) noted that The dual-coding explanation was then challenged
the concreteness effect was greatly attenuated in free by a distinctiveness explanation (Nelson et al., 1976;
recall and argued that this challenged the dual-coding Nelson, 1979), and the distinctiveness explanation
interpretation. Instead, they cast the concreteness was then given further support by studies employing
effect within the individual item/relational-processing implicit memory tests (Weldon and Coyote, 1996;
framework (see also Marschark, 1985, and Marschark Hamilton and Geraci, 2006). Despite these similari-
and Surian, 1992). Within this view, concrete materials ties, the concreteness effect has been cast within an
encourage encoding of perceptual attributes of the individual item/relational processing view of distinc-
material that can serve a distinctive function at tiveness, whereas the picture superiority effect
retrieval. has been cast within a representational view of
It is worth noting that both views of the concrete- distinctiveness.
ness effect include the role of item distinctiveness Nelsons (1979) conceptualization of distinctive-
(Paivio et al., 1994). What appears to be at issue is ness is very similar to that of Eysenck (1979)
whether or not separate memory codes for verbal and and other representational views of distinctiveness.
imaginal processing is a necessary component of an Retention level is assumed to be a direct function of
explanation of the concreteness effect. According to the relatively unique and unified nature of the study
the dual-coding theory, the additive effects of con- trial encoding and [authors emphasis] the degree to
creteness and relatedness on memory performance which the retrieval environment recapitulates this
implicate independent contributions of the two sys- encoding (Eysenck, 1979: p. 49). From this view,
tems. In contrast, Marschark and Hunt (1989) argued pictures have more unique (distinctive) features
that concreteness effects in recall should only be than words. Words presented in a list are limited by
observed in the presence of relational processing. font and letter constraints that render them visually
That is, the distinctive memory representations of similar. In contrast, a picture of an object may contain
concrete words cannot contribute to good memory many features that help distinguish it from pictures of
performance if the search set cannot be identified by other objects appearing on a list. Evidence for this
appropriate relational information. Paivio et al. perspective was found in the fact that the picture
(1994) and Richardson (2003) have challenged this superiority effect could be diminished, or even
assertion by reporting additive effects of concreteness reversed, by employing pictures that were visually
and relatedness. However, ter Doest and Semin similar to one another (Nelson et al., 1976). This
(2005) found a concreteness effect on an explicit explanation of the picture superiority effect has
136 Distinctiveness and Memory

faired better than empirical tests of the individual participants were instructed to put check marks
item/relational explanation of the concreteness next to items that actually appeared on the memory
effect. Perhaps the concreteness effect should be lists. Support for the distinctiveness heuristic was
recast within the Nelson/Eysenck view of distinc- found when false recognition was lower for pictures
tiveness. That is, perhaps concrete words encourage then for words. Additional support for the distinc-
visual imagery processes, and the resulting images tiveness heuristic was reported by Dodson and Hege
are more distinctive than the verbal representations (2005). In this study, the researchers varied the rate of
of abstract words (Hamilton and Rajaram, 2001). presentation of test items on the recognition test. On
self-paced tests, pictures lead to lower rates of false
memories than words. However, on fast-paced tests False Memory and the
(750 ms/item), the pictures and words led to compar-
Distinctiveness Heuristic
able false recognition rates. In contrast, true
Research concerning the distinctiveness heuristic recognition rates for words and pictures were similar,
trades heavily on the picture superiority effect. and both declined equally as the test pace increased.
Israel and Schacter (1997) investigated memory These results provide evidence against the idea that
within the Deese-Roediger and McDermott false the low rate of false recognition of pictures results
memory paradigm (Roediger and McDermott, 1995; from reduced relational processing relative to words.
See Chapter 2.14). In this paradigm, a list of related Rather, the authors invoked two-stage theories
words, for example, bed, rest, awake, and dream, is of recognition (e.g., McElree et al., 1999; See
followed by a memory test. Of interest is participants Chapter 2.23) and argued that the distinctiveness
false memory for a related target word, such as sleep heuristic is a time-consuming retrieval processes. As a
Israel and Schacter compared memory for words result, lower false memories for pictures than for words
spoken and written to words spoken and depicted in only occurs during slow-paced recognition tests.
pictures. Picture presentation led to lower false The distinctiveness heuristic should confound
recognition than written presentation. The authors those of us studying distinctiveness and memory for
argued that distinctive perceptual qualities of the several reasons. First, the idea presupposes that par-
pictures, features not available following written ticipants have the metamemorial abilities to discern
word presentation, served to reduce false memory. which mnemonic variables are likely to increase and
Schacter et al. (1999) later developed the idea of a decrease the distinctiveness of memories. Given the
distinctiveness heuristic: a mode of responding literature reviewed here, it is clear that memory
based on participants metamemorial awareness that researchers do not agree on how variables impact
true recognition of studied items should include item distinctiveness. Attributing this knowledge to
recollection of distinctive details (Schacter et al., the typical research participant is questionable at
1999, p. 3). Schacter, Dodson, and associates have best. Second, the argument begins with the explicit
provided impressive support for the use of the dis- assumption that pictures are more distinctive than
tinctiveness heuristic (e.g., Schacter et al., 2001; words. Whereas there is research to support this
Dodson and Schacter, 2001, 2002). claim, it is not an incontrovertible fact and, according
Hege and Dodson (2004) provided an alternative to Nelson et al. (1976), depends on the pictures.
explanation for the lower false memories for pictures Third, the Dodson and Hege (2005) results seem to
than for words. According to this view, the distinctive undermine the whole enterprise. Not only do these
nature of pictures leads to impaired relational pro- results challenge the idea that words receive greater
cessing relative to the processing of printed text. As a relational processing than pictures but they challenge
test of this hypothesis, Hege and Dodson compared the idea that the memory representations of pictures
both recall and recognition memory following pic- are more distinct than the memory representations of
ture and word presentations. On the recall test, words. More distinctive memories should lead to
participants were asked to report any items related greater true and lower false recognitions independent
to the studied list, presumably bypassing any use of of the pace of the recognition test (from a representa-
the distinctiveness heuristic. In support of the indi- tional view of distinctiveness). Nonetheless, the
vidual item/relational view, participants were still proportion of both hits and false alarms for pictures
less likely to commit false recall of the target items were equal to those of words on the fast-paced test.
following the picture than following the word Perhaps the picture superiority effect results from
presentation. On a follow-up recognition test, dual coding, and the distinctive memory traces
Distinctiveness and Memory 137

referred to by the distinctiveness heuristic are stored face recognition. Typical faces fall in a crowded
in Paivios imagery system. During the recognition region of space, whereas atypical faces fall in less
test, participants may need to access this visual code densely populated regions, aiding item discrimina-
to aid memory discrimination processes. It is well tion processes in recognition.
established that accessing a visual code for verbally It is worth noting that research concerning facial
presented materials requires time (Paivio and Csapo, memory relies on subjective ratings of facial typical-
1969). If this dual-coding interpretation is correct, ity or distinctiveness. Memory performance is
then the picture superiority effect on both true and usually tested over a range of stimuli differing in
false memories may tell us more about dual coding distinctiveness, and then either memory is correlated
than about item distinctiveness. with the measure of distinctiveness (e.g., Valentine
and Bruce, 1986) or a median split is used to group
faces into distinctive and common groups (e.g., Face Recognition
Newel et al., 1999). In other words, researchers
Recognition memory for unfamiliar faces is greatly always seem to employ a mixed-list presentation of
influenced by face uniqueness (Going and Reed, common and distinctive items. Valentines (1991)
1974), distinctiveness (Cohen and Carr, 1975), or theory implies that the effects of facial distinctiveness
typicality (Light et al., 1979). Going and Reed should occur in between-list manipulation of facial
(1974) attributed this effect to the fact that a greater type as well. It would be nice to see an empirical
number of eye fixations were devoted to unique than demonstration of this prediction.
to common visual stimuli. Cohen and Carr (1975)
argued that the effect was akin to the von Restorff The Modality Effect
effect, whereas Light et al. (1979) attributed the effect
to interitem similarity. The most comprehensive Auditory presentation of verbal material often leads to
treatment of the effect of facial distinctiveness on superior memory performance than visual presenta-
recognition has been offered by Valentine and his tion. This effect is more robust on tests of immediate
associates (Valentine and Bruce, 1986; Valentine, memory than on tests of delayed memory (Penney,
1991; Valentine and Ferrara, 1991). 1989). The immediate memory modality effect is
Valentine has argued that faces are represented in often attributed to the beneficial effects of a separate
a multidimensional space, with typical faces repre- auditory sensory store (Crowder and Morton, 1969).
sented near the conceptual core of the category and However, both the immediate-memory modality
atypical faces located at the categorical fringe. effect (Nairne, 1990) and the long-term modality
Valentine and Bruce (1986) argued that participants effect (Conway and Gathercole, 1987) have been
detected that an atypical face was different from the attributed to item distinctiveness. Conway and
category norm, and this led to distinctive encodings Gathercole have shifted their view of the role of
of these faces. However, they concluded that [t]he distinctiveness in the long-term modality effect.
exact nature of a mechanism which may give rise to Conway and Gathercole (1987) and Gathercole and
the effect of distinctiveness of encoding is unclear Conway (1988) argued that auditory stimuli were
(Valentine and Bruce, 1986, p. 304). Valentine and temporally more distinct than visual stimuli. Conway
Ferrara (1991) were more specific in that they mod- and Gathercole (1990) argued for a translation pro-
eled facial recognition within both the McClelland cesses, wherein translation from one input domain to
and Rumelhart (1985) distributed memory theory another (e.g., voicing a visually presented word) led
and Nosofskys (1986) model of item recognition. In to a more distinctive memory representation than
the McClelland and Rumelhart theory, connection processing in one domain. Nairne (1990) argued
weights were determined by the difference between that visual presentation led to primarily modality-
an input face and the facial prototype. Within the independent memory representations, whereas audi-
Nosofsky framework, the atypical face is not given tory presentation created both modality-independent
special treatment at encoding. Rather, the distinctive and modality-specific memory representation. The
memory representation of the atypical trace aids modality-specific representations available following
discrimination processes in recognition memory. auditory presentation provide distinctive features to
Valentine (1991), again adopted a representational aid memory performance. Nairnes model has been
view, and argued that distance in the multidimen- used to explain an impressive range of phenomena,
sional space supported discrimination processes in including modality, suffix, and serial position effects,
138 Distinctiveness and Memory

as well as the impacts of articulatory suppression and (Kleinsmith and Kaplan, 1963, 1964; Maltzman et al.,
irrelevant speech on memory performance (see Neath 1966). However, several researchers have noted that
and Surprenant, 2003). the effect may depend on experimental design
Recent research into the phenomenon of false (Walker and Tarte, 1963). Most of the early research
memory (See Chapter 2.14) has led to an interesting investigating memory for emotional material
twist in the interpretation of the modality effect. Smith employed mixed lists of emotional and neutral
and Hunt (1998) found that visual presentation led to words. When memory for a homogeneous list of emo-
fewer false memories in the Deese-Roediger and tional words has been compared to a memory for a
McDermott paradigm (see Roediger and McDermott, homogeneous list of neutral words, the emotional
1995) than did auditory presentation. They also memory effect sometimes disappears (Dewhurst and
demonstrated that a task designed to increase distinc- Parry, 2000; Hadley and MacKay, 2006). Dewhurst
tive processing (pleasantness rating) reduced false and Parry (2000) argued that the mixed-list presenta-
memories. They concluded that visual presentation tion enhanced the distinctiveness of the emotional
led to more distinctive memory representations than words; however, they do not specify how this hap-
auditory presentation. Gallo et al. (2001) replicated and pens. Perhaps they have in mind a trade-off between
extended these findings to both within- and between- individual-item and relational processing.
subject manipulations of modality. Furthermore, audi- However, a distinctiveness interpretation of the
tory presentation only led to greater false memories on emotional memory effect is complicated by the fact
visual tests of recognition memory. They concluded that not all emotional words have the same impact on
that participants use a list-specific heuristic, wherein memory and attention processes. Words associated
distinctive visual cues retained from visually presented with sex and the bathroom have a greater impact on
words aid discrimination between old and new items memory than do less offensive words (Manning and
on the memory test. Goldstein, 1976), and the emotional memory effect is
It is hard to reconcile these views of the modality larger for negative than for positively valenced emo-
effect in false memory with the Conway and tional words (McNulty and Isnor, 1967; Dewhurst
Gathercole (1990) and Nairne (1990) explanations and Parry, 2000). Furthermore, Saari and Schmidt
of the modality effect in immediate recall. The false (2005) found an emotional memory effect for taboo
memory research is more consistent with the view of words in both within- and between-subjects designs.
the modality effect developed by Penney (1989). She In contrast, with negative affect non-taboo words, an
argued for separate streams of processing for visually emotional memory effect was only found when
and auditorily presented information. Visual infor- mixed-list designs were employed (Schmidt and
mation led to a rapidly fading visual code and a Saari, in press).
phonological code, whereas auditory information The complex relation between word emotion and
led to a more persistent acoustic code plus a phono- memory will likely require a hybrid explanation that
logical code. As a result, visual inputs are associated includes both a representational view of distinctive-
based on simultaneous presentation, whereas audi- ness and shifts in attentional resources. Schmidt and
tory information is integrated across time. Similarly, Saari (in press) noted that emotional words often lead
Arndt and Reder (2003) argued that auditory presen- to increased attention as measured by the Stroop
tation encouraged relational processing across items, color-naming task (see Williams et al., 1996, for a
whereas visual presentation encouraged individual review). However, Schmidt and Saari found that emo-
item (i.e., distinctive) processing (see also, Pierce tional Stroop effect was modulated by both list
et al., 2005). Thus, in order to explain enhanced structure and the type of emotional words employed.
memory following auditory presentation, and lower With taboo words, the emotional Stroop effect was
false memory following visual presentation, the mo- found in both mixed- and pure list designs and was of
dality effect has been recast from the original equal magnitude in both designs. In addition, the
representational view to the individual item/rela- memory advantage for taboo words occurred in both
tional processing view of distinctiveness. list structures but was larger in the mixed list design.
This suggests that taboo words attract extra encoding
resources in both experimental designs but benefit Emotional Words
from item distinctiveness in a within-list design. A
Researchers have long argued that emotional different pattern of results was found with nontaboo
material is remembered better than neutral material emotional words. With nontaboo words, the Stroop
Distinctiveness and Memory 139

effect was only found with relatively short interstimu- high-frequency words are more distinctive than
lus intervals (ISIs) and when the emotional and low-frequency words (see also the word-length
neutral words were presented in blocks. The Stroop effect). Auditory presentation apparently leads to a
effect for these nontaboo words was thus probably the more distinctive memory representation than visual
result of carryover in the processing of one emotional presentation, unless of course you are discussing false
word to the processing of the next word in the series memory, in which case visual presentation leads to
(see also McKenna and Sharma, 2004). In contrast more distinctive memory representations than audi-
with the Stroop effect, enhanced memory only tory presentations. Within the same phenomenon,
occurred in mixed list with these emotional nontaboo many different distinctiveness interpretations have
words, and the memory effect was independent of ISI been offered (e.g., the bizarreness effect, the word
or blocking. Thus, increased attention was not related length effect, the concreteness effect). And, with con-
to good memory for the nontaboo emotional words. ceptually and empirically similar phenomena (e.g.,
Instead, these words gained their mnemonic salience the concreteness effect and the picture superiority
from a distinctive retrieval context. Schmidt and Saari effect), distinctiveness explanations have taken dif-
concluded that increased attention and a distinctive ferent forms.
retrieval context work together to produce enhanced Schmidt (1991) also noted the varied forms of the
recall of taboo words, whereas with nontaboo emo- distinctiveness hypothesis, leading him to ask: Can
tional words, the emotional memory effect is the we have a distinctive theory of memory? (Schmidt,
result of item distinctiveness. Thus, the results were 1991, p. 523). There are several answers to this ques-
compatible with the Schmidt (1991) incongruity tion. One answer is that the concept of distinctiveness
hypothesis and the Fabiani and Donchin (1995) orien- can be used heuristically, or descriptively. In this
tation-distinctiveness view. approach, good memory implies distinctiveness.
That is, distinctiveness is not really a theory of
good memory but a description of why memory is Odor
good. Unfortunately, many researchers continue to
Several researchers have reported that odor is a very use distinctiveness in this manner (see Hunt, 2006,
effective retrieval cue (the so-called Proust phenom- for a similar complaint).
enon; Chu and Downes, 2002; Herz and Schooler, Alternatively, one can look for a coherent struc-
2002). However, some researchers have failed to find ture in the phenomena reviewed in this chapter and
that odor cues facilitate memory (Bjork and use that structure to narrow the theoretical and
Richardson-Klavehn, 1989). Herz (1997) argued that empirical fields. With very few exceptions, the effects
for an odor cue to be effective, the odor must be of distinctiveness are modulated by experimental
salient in the environment. That is, the odor cue design. The notable exceptions include the word fre-
must be distinctive, or contextually inappropriate, quency effect in recognition, the concreteness effect,