Publication Details

Miller, L. M. & Roodenrys, S. J. (2012). Conditional recall and the frequency effect in the serial recall task: An examination of item-to-item associativity. Memory and Cognition, 40 (8), 1246-1256.


The frequency effect in short-term serial recall is influenced by the composition of lists. In pure lists, a robust advantage in the recall of high-frequency (HF) words is observed, yet in alternating mixed lists, HF and low-frequency (LF) words are recalled equally well. It has been argued that the preexisting associations between all list items determine a single, global level of supportive activation that assists item recall. Preexisting associations between items are assumed to be a function of language co-occurrence; HF-HF associations are high, LF-LF associations are low, and mixed associations are intermediate in activation strength. This account, however, is based on results when alternating lists with equal numbers of HF and LF words were used. It is possible that directional association between adjacent list items is responsible for the recall patterns reported. In the present experiment, the recall of three forms of mixed lists-those with equal numbers of HF and LF items and pure lists-was examined to test the extent to which item-to-item associations are present in serial recall. Furthermore, conditional probabilities were used to examine more closely the evidence for a contribution, since correct-in-position scoring may mask recall that is dependent on the recall of prior items. The results suggest that an item-to-item effect is clearly present for early but not late list items, and they implicate an additional factor, perhaps the availability of resources at output, in the recall of late list items.



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