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Mem Cognit. 2009 Apr;37(3):316-25. doi: 10.3758/MC.37.3.316.

The spacing effect in intentional and incidental free recall by children and adults: Limits on the automaticity hypothesis.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania 19085, USA.


Preschoolers, elementary school children, and college students exhibited a spacing effect in the free recall of pictures when learning was intentional. When learning was incidental and a shallow processing task requiring little semantic processing was used during list presentation, young adults still exhibited a spacing effect, but children consistently failed to do so. Children, however, did manifest a spacing effect in incidental learning when an elaborate semantic processing task was used. These results limit the hypothesis that the spacing effect in free recall occurs automatically and constrain theoretical accounts of why the spacing between repetitions affects recall performance.

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