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Mem Cognit. 2002 Jul;30(5):731-44.

Factors modulating the effect of divided attention during retrieval of words.

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Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, Rotman Research Institute, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


In this study, we examined variables modulating interference effects on episodic memory under divided attention conditions during retrieval for a list of unrelated words. In Experiment 1, we found that distracting tasks that required animacy or syllable decisions to visually presented words, without a memory load, produced large interference on free recall performance. In Experiment 2, a distracting task requiring phonemic decisions about nonsense words produced a far larger interference effect than one that required semantic decisions about pictures. In Experiment 3, we replicated the effect of the nonsense-word distracting task on memory and showed that an equally resource-demanding picture-based task produced significant interference with memory retrieval, although the effect was smaller in magnitude. Taken together, the results suggest that free recall is disrupted by competition for phonological or word-form representations during retrieval and, to a lesser extent, by competition for semantic representations.

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