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Postman And Phillips Serial Position Effect Theory


Figure 2. (A) Average reaction time on correct trials as a function of the serial position of the correct item in the JOR and JOP tasks. (B) Average accuracy as a function of the serial position of the correct item in the JOR and JOP tasks.

Figure 3. Average magnitude of primacy and recency effects in JOR and JOP. Error bars represent the standard error of the mean. Calculation of primacy and recency effects produces an index of the percent reaction time advantage for retrieval of the primacy/recency item when compared to retrieval of middle items. (A) Primacy and recency effects in JOR and JOP calculated using method 1. Method 1 divides trials by the serial position of the correct probe item, and primacy and recency trials were defined by whether the earliest or latest possible correct response was the correct answer in the probe. (B) Primacy and recency effects in JOR and JOP calculated using method 2. Here, trials are divided by considering both items in the probe, and primacy and recency item trials are trials that include the earliest (primacy) or latest (recency) item.

Figure 6. A frontal lobe region showing an interaction between task and serial position on activation during the retrieval period of JOR and JOP. During the JOP task, individuals showed a higher level of activation during middle item trials than during the primacy item trials. No such difference emerged during the JOP task. * denotes significance at p < 0.05.

The purpose of the present study was not to directly test any previous or new hypotheses for the animacy advantage in memory. Rather, we suggest that comparing the retrieval dynamics (e.g., serial-position effects, probability of first recall, output order, categorical clustering, recall contiguity) of animate vs. inanimate words can help to identify or rule out potential mechanisms for the effect. Most published studies of the animacy advantage in free recall do not report aspects of retrieval dynamics, besides overall recall performance. One exception is Bonin et al. (2015): they found some tendency for participants to recall animate words before inanimate words, and the animacy advantage occurred across serial position in their lists.

The effect of presentation order (serial position) on the free recall of a list of items is one of the oldest documented effects in cognitive psychology (e.g., Robinson and Brown, 1926; Jenkins and Dallenbach, 1927). Compared to words from the middle of the list, participants typically show better memory for words from the beginning (the primacy effect) and better memory for words from the end (the recency effect). Much empirical evidence indicates that these two effects are independent (e.g., Murdock, 1962). For example, discouraging rehearsal during learning only reduces the primacy effect (e.g., Marshall and Werder, 1972; Tan and Ward, 2000), whereas including a distracter task between the last item presented and the test only reduces the recency effect (e.g., Postman and Phillips, 1965; Tan and Ward, 2000). The classic explanation for this independence (e.g., Waugh and Norman, 1965; Glanzer and Cunitz, 1966; Atkinson and Shiffrin, 1968; Milner, 1974; Moscovitch, 1982) is that the primacy effect reflects recall from long-term memory while the recency effect reflects recall from working memory. Although the animacy advantage is typically characterized as an effect of long-term memory (specifically, episodic memory; Nairne et al., 2017; VanArsdall et al., 2017), it can also occur for very short word lists presumably recalled from working memory (cf. Daley et al., 2020). Researchers studying the animacy advantage often design their studies to prevent the primacy effect and recency effects from occurring. For example, Nairne et al. (2013) included buffer words at the start and end of their lists and a distracter task between encoding and recall to deter these effects. In the present experiment, we did not include any buffer words or a distracter task to allow the primacy and recency effects to occur so we could consider if the animacy advantage favors long-term or working memory. Accounts of the animacy advantage that rely on preferential processing for animate over inanimate items might predict a larger animacy effect earlier in the list than later in the list, as it would become more difficult to favor one subset of the words as more words are presented at a fixed rate. In contrast, categorical accounts might predict a greater animacy advantage later in the list than earlier in the list, as the animate and inanimate subsets of words become more apparent. 153554b96e


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