Serial and subjective clustering on a verbal learning test (VLT) in children aged 5-15: The nature of subjective clustering.
ABSTRACT This study investigated which strategies children aged 5-15 years (N = 408) employ while performing a multitrial free recall test of semantically unrelated words. Serial clustering (i.e., a relatively passive strategy) is an index of the sequential consistency of recall order. Subjective clustering (i.e., a more active strategy) is based on similar word groupings in successive trials. Previously, Meijs et al. (2009 ) found that the level of (serial and subjective) clustering increases with age. At all ages, the level of serial clustering correlates positively with the ability to recall information on VLT trials. However, subjective clustering is more predictive of VLT performance than serial clustering after ≥ 3 trials, but only in children aged 8+. Knowledge on how children organize words (based on, for example, sound or meaning) and how this relates to developmental stage is still lacking. This study revealed that the level of subjective clustering is primarily determined by the position of words in a VLT list. More specifically, primacy (i.e., recall of words 1-3 of the VLT list - whether recalled in the same order or reversed) and recency (i.e., recall of words 14-15) effects primarily determine level subjective organization over successive trials. Thus, older children still organize words based on the serial position of the VLT list and are much less likely to organize them based on any other feature of the words, for example, sound or meaning. This indicates that the most important information to be learned needs to be presented first or last, even in older children and even with repeated presentations.