Theoretical And Review Articles

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 771-790

First online:

Time does not cause forgetting in short-term serial recall

  • Stephan LewandowskyAffiliated withSchool of Psychology, University of Western Australia Email author 
  • , Matthew DuncanAffiliated withSchool of Psychology, University of Western Australia
  • , Gordon D. A. BrownAffiliated withUniversity of Warwick


Time-based theories expect memory performance to decline as the delay between study and recall of an item increases. The assumption of time-based forgetting, central to many models of serial recall, underpins their key behaviors. Here we compare the predictions of time-based and event-based models by simulation and test them in two experiments using a novel manipulation of the delay between study and retrieval. Participants were trained, via corrective feedback, to recall at different speeds, thus varying total recall time from 6 to 10 sec. In the first experiment, participants used the keyboard to enter their responses but had to repeat a word (called thesuppressor) aloud during recall to prevent rehearsal. In the second experiment, articulation was again required, but recall was verbal and was paced by the number of repetitions of the suppressor in between retrieval of items. In both experiments, serial position curves for all retrieval speeds overlapped, and output time had little or no effect. Comparative evaluation of a time-based and an event-based model confirmed that these results present a particular challenge to time-based approaches. We conclude that output interference, rather than output time, is critical in serial recall.