Temporal isolation does not facilitate forward serial recall--or does it?

University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia.
Memory & Cognition (Impact Factor: 1.92). 07/2008; 36(5):957-67. DOI: 10.3758/MC.36.5.957
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT In numerous recent studies in short-term memory, it has been established that forward serial recall is unaffected by the temporal isolation of to-be-remembered items. These findings contradict the temporal distinctiveness view of memory, which expects items that are temporally isolated from their neighbors to be more distinct and hence remembered better. To date, isolation effects have only been found with tests that do not constrain output order, such as free recall. This article reports two experiments that, for the first time, report a temporal isolation effect with forward serial recall, using a running memory task in which the end of the list is unpredictable. The results suggest that people are able to encode and use temporal information in situations in which positional information is of little value. We conclude that the overall pattern of findings concerning temporal isolation supports models of short-term memory that postulate multidimensional representations of items.

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    ABSTRACT: Recent temporal distinctiveness models of memory predict that temporally isolated items will be recalled better than temporally crowded items. The effect has been found in some tasks (free recall, memory for serial order when report order is unconstrained, running memory span) but not in others (forward serial recall). Such results suggest that the attentional weighting given to a temporal dimension in memory may vary with task demands. Here, we find robust temporal isolation effects in recognition memory (Experiment 1) and a smaller isolation effect in forward serial recall when an open pool of items is used (Experiment 2). Analysis of 26 temporal isolation effects suggests that the phenomenon occurs in a range of tasks but is larger when it is useful to attend to a temporal dimension in memory. The overall pattern of results is taken to favor memory models that rely on multiple weighted dimensions in memory, one of which is temporal.
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    ABSTRACT: This article is concerned with how information about time and position in a sequence is represented in short-term memory and expressed in the dynamics of serial recall. Temporal-distinctiveness theories of memory predict that isolating a list item in time will improve recall accuracy for that item. Although the majority of research in short-term memory has failed to demonstrate a temporal isolation effect (TIE), there are occasions on which a TIE is observed. The disparity in results has been explained by assuming that participants can adaptively weight temporal and nontemporal information at retrieval, with differences between experiments promoting or discouraging reliance on time as a source of episodic information. A particular focus of the present study is the finding that the TIE is substantially observed in standard serial recall only when participants are instructed to group the list into minisequences. The findings of two experiments using instructed grouping replicated this effect but showed that it is attributable to a longer gap at the group boundary enhancing the positive effect of grouping on recall accuracy. These results show that the hierarchical representations usually associated with temporal grouping are also elicited by instructed grouping but that an additional and nonspecific benefit to recall obtains from lengthening the pause between groups. An additional role for time is identified in the timing of responses: The dynamics of input sequences tend to be mirrored in output sequences for ungrouped lists, whereas the primacy pattern in grouped lists is for a longer duration to speed access to the following group when that duration occurs at an instructed group boundary.
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