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Mem Cognit. 2013 May;41(4):600-10. doi: 10.3758/s13421-012-0286-1.

Three more semantic serial position functions and a SIMPLE explanation.

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Department of Psychology, Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, IL 60035, USA.


There are innumerable demonstrations of serial position functions-with characteristic primacy and recency effects-in episodic tasks, but there are only a handful of such demonstrations in semantic memory tasks, and those demonstrations have used only two types of stimuli. Here, we provide three more examples of serial position functions when recalling from semantic memory. Participants were asked to reconstruct the order of (1) two cartoon theme song lyrics, (2) the seven Harry Potter books, and (3) two sets of movies, and all three demonstrations yielded conventional-looking serial position functions with primacy and recency effects. The data were well-fit by SIMPLE, a local distinctiveness model of memory that was originally designed to account for serial position effects in short- and long-term episodic memory. According to SIMPLE, serial position functions in both episodic and semantic memory tasks arise from the same type of processing: Items that are more separated from their close neighbors in psychological space at the time of recall will be better remembered. We argue that currently available evidence suggests that serial position functions observed when recalling items that are presumably in semantic memory arise because of the same processes as those observed when recalling items that are presumably in episodic memory.

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