A serial position effect in recall of United States presidents

Abstract

College students asked to recall the names of all the presidents of the United States, either in their order of occurrence or in any order, produce a classical serial position curve with best performance at the beginning and end of the series. Except for extraordinarily high recall of Lincoln, memorability of presidents is strongly related to their chronological position in history. This result extends generality of the serial position effect to semantic memory and, if one seeks a general explanation of serial position effects in semantic and long-term episodic memory experiments, rules out several theoretical candidates. It appears most congruent with the hypothesis that end points of a series serve as distinct positional cues around which memory search is begun.

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Correspondence to Henry L. Roediger III.

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We would like to thank Katherine Golden, Christine McCormick, and Leslie Roediger for their aid in scoring the results, and Scott Paris for allowing us to test students in his classes.

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Roediger, H.L., Crowder, R.G. A serial position effect in recall of United States presidents. Bull. Psychon. Soc. 8, 275–278 (1976). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03335138

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Keywords

  • Free Recall
  • Serial Position
  • Semantic Memory
  • Memory Search
  • Serial Position Curve