Memory & Cognition

, Volume 42, Issue 8, pp 1211–1224 | Cite as

Deconstructing the effect of self-directed study on episodic memory

  • Douglas MarkantEmail author
  • Sarah DuBrow
  • Lila Davachi
  • Todd M. Gureckis


Self-directed learning is often associated with better long-term memory retention; however, the mechanisms that underlie this advantage remain poorly understood. This series of experiments was designed to “deconstruct” the notion of self-directed learning, in order to better identify the factors most responsible for these improvements to memory. In particular, we isolated the memory advantage that comes from controlling the content of study episodes from the advantage that comes from controlling the timing of those episodes. Across four experiments, self-directed learning significantly enhanced recognition memory, relative to passive observation. However, the advantage for self-directed learning was found to be present even under extremely minimal conditions of volitional control (simply pressing a button when a participant was ready to advance to the next item). Our results suggest that improvements to memory following self-directed encoding may be related to the ability to coordinate stimulus presentation with the learner’s current preparatory or attentional state, and they highlight the need to consider the range of cognitive control processes involved in and influenced by self-directed study.


Memory Metacognition Self-directed learning Self-regulated learning Volitional control Decision making Metamemory Object recognition Spatial cognition 


Author note

The authors thank Patricia Chan, Hao Wang, and Devin Domingo for their help collecting the data. We also thank Joel Voss for sharing the stimuli used in the experiments.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas Markant
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sarah DuBrow
    • 2
  • Lila Davachi
    • 2
    • 3
  • Todd M. Gureckis
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for Adaptive Rationality, Max Planck Institute for Human DevelopmentBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Center for Neural ScienceNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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