When asked to recall verbatim a short list of items, performance is very limited. However, if the list of items is repeated across trials, recall performance improves. This phenomenon, known as the Hebb repetition effect (Hebb, 1961; Brain Mechanisms and Learning: A Symposium, pp. 37–51), is considered a laboratory analogue of language learning. In effect, learning a new word implies the maintenance of a series of smaller units, such as phonemes or syllables, in the correct order for a short amount of time before producing them. The sequence of smaller units is typically presented more than once. In the present study, we investigated the role of overt language production in language learning by manipulating recall direction. If the learning of a repeated list of items relies on overt language production processes, changing list production order by manipulating recall direction should impact the learning of the list. In Experiment 1, one list was repeated every third trial, and recall direction of the repeated list changed on the ninth repetition. In Experiment 1a, the repeated list changed from a forward to a backward order recall, where participants had to recall the items in reverse presentation order. In Experiment 1b, the repeated list changed from a backward to a forward order recall. Results showed a cost in recall performance for the repeated list when recall direction switched from forward to backward recall, whereas it was unaffected by the change from backward to forward recall. In Experiment 2, we increased the number of trials before introducing the change from a backward to a forward order recall. Results showed a decrement in recall performance for the repeated list following the change in recall direction, suggesting that language production processes play a role in the Hebb repetition effect.
Hebb repetition effect Sequence learning Overt language production Backward recall
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
This research was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada graduate scholarship to Marie-Claude Guerrette and by discovery grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to Jean Saint-Aubin and to Katherine Guérard.
Beaudry, O., Saint-Aubin, J., Guérard, K., & Pâquet, M. (2018). Are lexical factors immune to response modality in backward recall? The effects of imageability and word frequency. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 72, 105–116. https://doi.org/10.1037/cep0000126
Hebb, D. O. (1961). Distinctive features of learning in the higher animal. In J. F. Delafresnaye (Ed.), Brain mechanisms and learning: A symposium (pp. 37–51). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Scientific Publications.Google Scholar
Saint-Aubin, J., & Guérard, K. (2018). The Hebb repetition effect as a laboratory analogue of language acquisition: Learning three lists at no cost. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 72, 2-8. https://doi.org/10.1037/cep0000136