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Memory resources recover gradually over time: The effects of word frequency, presentation rate, and list composition on binding errors and mnemonic precision in source memory


Popov, Vencislav; So, Matthew; Reder, Lynne M (2022). Memory resources recover gradually over time: The effects of word frequency, presentation rate, and list composition on binding errors and mnemonic precision in source memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 48(9):1263-1280.

Abstract

Normative word frequency has played a key role in the study of human memory, but there is little agreement as to the mechanism responsible for its effects. To determine whether word frequency affects binding probability or memory precision, we used a continuous reproduction task to examine working memory for spatial positions of words. In three experiments, after studying a list of five words, participants had to report the spatial location of one of them on a circle. Across experiments we varied word frequency, presentation rate, and the proportion of low-frequency words on each trial. A mixture model dissociated memory precision, binding failure, and guessing rate parameters from the continuous distribution of errors. On trials that contained only low- or only high-frequency words, low-frequency words led to a greater degree of error in recalling the associated location. This was due to a higher word-location binding failure and not due to differences in memory precision or guessing rates. Slowing down the presentation rate eliminated the word frequency effect by reducing binding failures for low-frequency words. Mixing frequencies in a single trial hurt high-frequency and helped low-frequency words. These findings support the idea that word frequency can lead to both positive and negative mnemonic effects depending on a trade-off between an HF encoding advantage and a LF retrieval cue advantage. We suggest that (1) low-frequency words require more resources for binding, (2) that these resources recover gradually over time, and that (3) binding fails when these resources are insufficient.

Abstract

Normative word frequency has played a key role in the study of human memory, but there is little agreement as to the mechanism responsible for its effects. To determine whether word frequency affects binding probability or memory precision, we used a continuous reproduction task to examine working memory for spatial positions of words. In three experiments, after studying a list of five words, participants had to report the spatial location of one of them on a circle. Across experiments we varied word frequency, presentation rate, and the proportion of low-frequency words on each trial. A mixture model dissociated memory precision, binding failure, and guessing rate parameters from the continuous distribution of errors. On trials that contained only low- or only high-frequency words, low-frequency words led to a greater degree of error in recalling the associated location. This was due to a higher word-location binding failure and not due to differences in memory precision or guessing rates. Slowing down the presentation rate eliminated the word frequency effect by reducing binding failures for low-frequency words. Mixing frequencies in a single trial hurt high-frequency and helped low-frequency words. These findings support the idea that word frequency can lead to both positive and negative mnemonic effects depending on a trade-off between an HF encoding advantage and a LF retrieval cue advantage. We suggest that (1) low-frequency words require more resources for binding, (2) that these resources recover gradually over time, and that (3) binding fails when these resources are insufficient.

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Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Language and Linguistics
Social Sciences & Humanities > Linguistics and Language
Language:English
Date:September 2022
Deposited On:20 Jan 2022 16:46
Last Modified:26 Jun 2024 01:50
Publisher:American Psychological Association
ISSN:0278-7393
Additional Information:This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1037/xlm0001072
PubMed ID:34672661