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Psychol Rev. 2008 Jul;115(3):544-76. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.115.3.544.

Forgetting in immediate serial recall: decay, temporal distinctiveness, or interference?

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  • 1Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.


Three hypotheses of forgetting from immediate memory were tested: time-based decay, decreasing temporal distinctiveness, and interference. The hypotheses were represented by 3 models of serial recall: the primacy model, the SIMPLE (scale-independent memory, perception, and learning) model, and the SOB (serial order in a box) model, respectively. The models were fit to 2 experiments investigating the effect of filled delays between items at encoding or at recall. Short delays between items, filled with articulatory suppression, led to massive impairment of memory relative to a no-delay baseline. Extending the delays had little additional effect, suggesting that the passage of time alone does not cause forgetting. Adding a choice reaction task in the delay periods to block attention-based rehearsal did not change these results. The interference-based SOB fit the data best; the primacy model overpredicted the effect of lengthening delays, and SIMPLE was unable to explain the effect of delays at encoding. The authors conclude that purely temporal views of forgetting are inadequate.

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