Memory & Cognition

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 103–109 | Cite as

Associative retrieval processes in free recall



I present a new method for analyzing associative processes in free recall. While previous research has emphasized the prominence of semantic organization, the present method illustrates the importance of association by contiguity. This is done by examining conditional response probabilities in the output sequence. For a given item recalled, I examine the probability and latency that it follows an item from a nearby or distant input position. These conditional probabilities and latencies, plotted as a function of the lag between studied items, reveal several regularities about output order in free recall. First, subjects tend to recall items more often and more rapidly from adjacent input positions than from remote input positions. Second, subjects are about twice as likely to recall adjacent pairs in the forward than in the backward direction and are significantly faster in doing so. These effects are observed at all positions in the output sequence. The asymmetry effect is theoretically significant because, in cued recall, nearly symmetric retrieval is found at all serial positions (Kahana, 1995; Murdock, 1962). An attempt is made to fit the search of associative memory model (Raaijmakers & Shiffrin, 1980, 1981) with and without symmetric interitem associations to these data. Other models of free recall are also discussed.


  1. Asch, S. E., &Ebenholtz, S. M. (1962). The process of free recall: Evidence for non-associative factors in acquisition and retention.Journal of Experimental Psychology,54, 3–31.Google Scholar
  2. Atkinson, R. C., &Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. In K. W. Spence & J. T. Spence (Eds.),The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 2, pp. 89–195). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, S. C., Conover, J. N., Flores, L. M., &Goodman, K. M. (1991). Clustering and recall: Do high clusterers recall more than low clusterers because of clustering?Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,17, 710–721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cooke, N. M., Durso, F. T., &Schvaneveldt, R. W. (1986). Recall and measures of memory organization.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,12, 538–549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Deese, J., &Kaufman, R. A. (1957). Serial effects in recall of unorganized and sequentially organized verbal material.Journal of Experimental Psychology,54, 180–187.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Gillund, G., &Shiffrin, R. M. (1984). A retrieval model for both recognition and recall.Psychological Review,91, 1–67.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Glanzer, M., &Cunitz, A. R. (1966). Two storage mechanisms in free recall.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,5, 351–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Glenberg, A. M., &Swanson, N. G. (1986). A temporal distinctiveness theory of recency and modality effects.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,12, 3–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Harcum, E. R. (1975).Serial learning and paralearning. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  10. Kahana, M. J. (1995). Associative symmetry and memory theory. Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
  11. Loftus, G. R., &Masson, M. E. J. (1994). Using confidence intervals in within-subject designs.Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,1, 476–490.Google Scholar
  12. Metcalfe, J. A., &Murdock, B. B. (1981). An encoding and retrieval model of single-trial free recall.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,20, 161–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Murdock, B. B. (1962). The serial position effect of free recall.Journal of Experimental Psychology,64 482–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Murdock, B. B., &Metcalfe, J. A. (1978). Controlled rehearsal in single-trial free recall.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,17, 309–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Murdock, B. B., &Okada, R. (1970). Interresponse times in singletrial free recall.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,86, 263–267.Google Scholar
  16. Nairne, J. S., Riegler, G. L., &Serra, M. (1991). Dissociative effects of generation on item and order retention.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,17, 702–709.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Nelder, J. A., &Mead, R. (1965). A simplex method for function minimization.Computer Journal,7, 308–313.Google Scholar
  18. Nilsson, L.-G., Wright, E., &Murdock, B. B. (1975). The effects of visual presentation method on single-trial free recall.Memory & Cognition,3, 427–433.Google Scholar
  19. Phillips, J. L., Shiffrin, R. J., &Atkinson, R. C. (1967). The effects of list length on short-term memory.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,6, 303–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Raaijmakers, J. G. W., &Shiffrin, R. M. (1980). SAM: A theory of probabilistic search of associative memory. In G. H. Bower (Ed.),The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 14, pp. 207–262). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  21. Raaijmakers, J. G. W., &Shiffrin, R. M. (1981). Search of associative memory.Psychological Review,88, 93–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Rohrer, D., &Wixted, J. T. (1994). An analysis of latency and interresponse time in free recall.Memory & Cognition,22, 511–524.Google Scholar
  23. Romney, A. K., Brewer, D. D., &Batchelder, W. H. (1993). Predicting clustering from semantic structure.Psychological Science,4, 28–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Shuell, T. J. (1969). Clustering and organization in free recall.Psychological Bulletin,72, 353–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Tulving, E. (1968). Theoretical issues in free recall. In T. R. Dixon & D. L. Horton (Eds.),Verbal behavior and general behavior theory (pp. 2–36). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Complex SystemsBrandeis UniversityWaltham

Personalised recommendations