A memory advantage for past-oriented over future-oriented performance feedback

Robert A. Nash, Naomi E. Winstone, Samantha Gregory, Emily Papps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People frequently receive performance feedback that describes how well they
achieved in the past, and how they could improve in future. In educational contexts, future-oriented (directive) feedback is often argued to be more valuable to learners than past-oriented (evaluative) feedback; critically, prior research led us to predict that it should also be better remembered. We tested this prediction in six experiments. Subjects read written feedback containing evaluative and directive comments, which supposedly related to essays they had previously written (Experiments 1-2), or to essays another person had written (Experiments 3-6). Subjects then tried to reproduce the feedback from memory after a short delay. In all six experiments, the data strongly revealed the opposite effect to the one we predicted: despite only small differences in wording, evaluative feedback was in fact recalled consistently better than directive feedback. Furthermore, even when adult subjects did recall directive
feedback, they frequently misremembered it in an evaluative style. These findings appear at odds with the position that being oriented toward the future is advantageous to memory. They also raise important questions about the possible behavioral effects and generalizability of such biases, in terms of students’ academic performance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1864-1879
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition
Issue number12
Early online date5 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2018 American Psychological Association. This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal. Please do not copy or cite without author's permission. The final article is available, upon publication, at: 10.1037/xlm0000549

Funding: Leverhulme Trust (Research Project Grant RPG-2016-189) and the Higher Education Academy (Grant GEN1024).


  • feedback
  • education
  • future orientation
  • recall
  • assessment


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