In search of a theory of list memory: an inquiry into the efects of long-term information on short-term recall

  • A.F. Turvey

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Over recent years, evidence has been accumulating in favour of the importance of long-term information as a variable which can affect the success of short-term recall. Lexicality, word frequency, imagery and meaning have all been shown to augment short term recall performance. Two competing theories as to the causes of this long-term memory influence are outlined and tested in this thesis. The first approach is the order-encoding account, which ascribes the effect to the usage of resources at encoding, hypothesising that word lists which require less effort to process will benefit from increased levels of order encoding, in turn enhancing recall success. The alternative view, trace redintegration theory, suggests that order is automatically encoded phonologically, and that long-term information can only influence the interpretation of the resultant memory trace. The free recall experiments reported here attempted to determine the importance of order encoding as a facilitatory framework and to determine the locus of the effects of long-term information in free recall.
Experiments 1 and 2 examined the effects of word frequency and semantic categorisation over a filled delay, and experiments 3 and 4 did the same for immediate recall. Free recall was improved by both long-term factors tested. Order information was not used over a short filled delay, but was evident in immediate recall. Furthermore, it was found that both long-term factors increased the amount of order information retained. Experiment 5 induced an order encoding effect over a filled delay, leaving a picture of short-term processes which are closely associated with long-term processes, and which fit conceptions of short-term memory being part of language processes rather better than either the encoding or the retrieval-based models.
Experiments 6 and 7 aimed to determine to what extent phonological processes were responsible for the pattern of results observed. Articulatory suppression affected the encoding of order information where speech rate had no direct influence, suggesting that it is ease of lexical access which is the most important factor in the influence of long-term memory on immediate recall tasks.
The evidence presented in this thesis does not offer complete support for either the retrieval-based account or the order encoding account of long-term influence. Instead, the evidence sits best with models that are based upon language-processing. The path urged for future research is to find ways in which this diffuse model can be better specified, and which can take account of the versatility of the human brain.
Date of AwardMay 2003
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorFiona C. Fylan (Supervisor) & A. Bridges (Supervisor)


  • list memory
  • long-term information
  • short-term recall

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