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The effects of verbal and spatial interference in the encoding and retrieval of spatial and nonspatial texts

Abstract

The paper investigates the specific roles of visual–spatial working memory (VSWM) and verbal working memory (VWM) in encoding and retrieval of information conveyed by spatial and nonspatial texts. In two experiments, a total of 109 undergraduate students—54 in Experiment 1, 55 in Experiment 2—listened to spatial and nonspatial texts while performing a spatial (Experiment 1) or verbal (Experiment 2) concurrent task during either encoding or retrieval. Text memorisation and comprehension were tested by free-recall and sentence-verification tasks. The results show that a concurrent spatial task is detrimental to memory performance for spatial text more than for nonspatial text. In contrast, a concurrent verbal task is equally damaging to memory performance for both spatial and nonspatial texts. Moreover, a spatial task interferes with both encoding and retrieval, in contrast with a verbal task, where the interference effect is active only when the task is performed during encoding. Overall, these findings show the involvement of VSWM in the construction and reactivation of mental models derived from spatial descriptions, and the role played by VWM in construction, but not reactivation, of mental models derived from spatial and nonspatial texts.

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Alessandra Canossa for collecting the Experiment 2 data, and are also grateful to Valerie Gyselinck for valuable suggestions.

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Correspondence to Francesca Pazzaglia.

Additional information

Support for this research was provided by a PRIN 2003 grant to the first author. A preliminary report of this experiment was presented at the European Workshop of Imagery and Cognition (2003).

Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Spatial text

Imagine yourself standing in a meadow dotted with flowers in front of the tall boundary walls of a holiday farm called “Tranquillity” stretching over a rectangular area.

On your right, on the corner of the holiday farm, there is the entrance gate...

...Once you have reached the restaurant, turn left and, leaving the restaurant behind, you will soon pass a little bridge crossing a small lake...

...When you get there, turn left leaving the barn behind you and continue on your way for a while. You will see the poultry pen on your right...

...Turn left and continue walking for a long way along the brick wall; keeping the vineyard on the left. You will then get back to the gate.

Nonspatial text

The grape harvest is performed at different times of the year depending on the quality of the wine: sparkling wine during the first week of September, and non-sparkling wine during the second week of September...

...Non-sparkling wines are obtained from fully matured grapes and have a high alcohol level and low acidity...

...There are two types of vinification process, i.e. two different ways to make wine, for red and white wine.

...Before bottling, crystallisation takes place by bringing the wine to sub-zero temperatures, about −5°C. This procedure lasts 2 days and allows the excess tartar to deposit so it can be eliminated later.

To produce white wines, the grapes are crushed and the skins immediately discarded: the must obtained is put into casks.

Fermentation occurs at 15–18°C, then crystallisation and bottling takes place.

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Pazzaglia, F., De Beni, R. & Meneghetti, C. The effects of verbal and spatial interference in the encoding and retrieval of spatial and nonspatial texts. Psychological Research 71, 484–494 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-006-0045-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-006-0045-7

Keywords

  • Mental Model
  • Spatial Task
  • Concurrent Task
  • Verification Task
  • Spatial Description