Memory & Cognition

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 342-353

Environmental context and human memory

  • Steven M. SmithAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Wisconsin
  • , Arthur GlenbergAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Wisconsin
  • , Robert A. BjorkAffiliated withUniversity of California


Five experiments examined the effects of environmental context on recall and recognition. In Experiment 1, variability of input environments produced higher free recall performance than unchanged input environments. Experiment 2 showed improvements in cued recall when storage and test contexts matched, using a paradigm that unconfounded the variables of context mismatching and context change. In Experiment 3, recall of categories and recall of words within a category were better for same-context than different-context recall. In Experiment 4, subjects given identical input conditions showed strong effects of environmental context when given a free recall test, yet showed no main effects of context on a recognition test. The absence of an environmental context effect on recognition was replicated in Experiment 5, using a cued recognition task to control the semantic encodings of test words. In the discussion of these experiments, environmental context is compared with other types of context, and an attempt is made to identify the memory processes influenced by environmental context.