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Why do participants initiate free recall of short lists of words with the first list item? Toward a general episodic memory explanation.



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Spurgeon, Jessica 
Ward, Geoff 
Matthews, William J 


Participants who are presented with a short list of words for immediate free recall (IFR) show a strong tendency to initiate their recall with the 1st list item and then proceed in forward serial order. We report 2 experiments that examined whether this tendency was underpinned by a short-term memory store, of the type that is argued by some to underpin recency effects in IFR. In Experiment 1, we presented 3 groups of participants with lists of between 2 and 12 words for IFR, delayed free recall, and continuous-distractor free recall. The to-be-remembered words were simultaneously spoken and presented visually, and the distractor task involved silently solving a series of self-paced, visually presented mathematical equations (e.g., 3 + 2 + 4 = ?). The tendency to initiate recall at the start of short lists was greatest in IFR but was also present in the 2 other recall conditions. This finding was replicated in Experiment 2, where the to-be-remembered items were presented visually in silence and the participants spoke aloud their answers to computer-paced mathematical equations. Our results necessitate that a short-term buffer cannot be fully responsible for the tendency to initiate recall from the beginning of a short list; rather, they suggest that the tendency represents a general property of episodic memory that occurs across a range of time scales.



Acoustic Stimulation, Humans, Memory, Episodic, Memory, Short-Term, Mental Recall, Models, Psychological, Pattern Recognition, Visual, Photic Stimulation, Probability, Psychological Tests, Serial Learning, Speech, Speech Perception, Time

Journal Title

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn

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American Psychological Association (APA)