Memory & Cognition

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 183-195

An examination of the continuous distractor task and the “long-term recency effect”

  • Lois KoppenaalAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, New York University
  • , Murray GlanzerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, New York University


The continuous distractor task has yielded a so-called “long-term recency effect” that appears to call into question the dual-storage explanation of serial position effects in free recall. In this study, weshow that the “long-term recency effect” is really a short-term storage effect, resulting from adaptation to the repeated presentation of a particular type of distractor throughout the list. This adaptation, a time-sharing process, permits short-term storage to carry out its normal functions. Experiment 1 shows that an appropriate postlist distractor task does in fact eliminate the “long-term recency effect.” This finding supports the assertion that the effect is a product of short-term storage. Experiment 2 demonstrates the benefits and costs of the time-sharing process, relative to standard free recall, for both long-term and short-term storage. The findings support the time-sharing hypothesis. Experiment 3 replicates Experiment 2, with a change in procedure that rules out output interference as a mechanism responsible for the results of Experiment 2. Data are also presented on the development of the adaptation over trials. It is concluded that the adaptation and time-sharing processes need to be included-in-the-dual-storage-model-of shortterm storage.