Although the benefits of spaced retrieval for long-term retention are well established, the majority of this work has involved spacing over relatively short intervals (on the order of seconds or minutes). In the present experiments, we evaluated the effectiveness of spaced retrieval across relatively short intervals (within a single session), as compared to longer intervals (between sessions spaced a day apart), for long-term retention (i.e., one day or one week). Across a series of seven experiments, participants (N = 536) learned paired associates to a criterion of 70 % accuracy and then received one test–feedback trial for each item. The test–feedback trial occurred within 10 min of reaching criterion (short lag) or one day later (long lag). Then, a final test occurred one day (Exps. 1–3) or one week (Exps. 4 and 5) after the test–feedback trial. Across the different materials and methods in Experiments 1–3, we found little benefit for the long-lag relative to the short-lag schedule in final recall performance—that is, no lag effect—but large effects on the retention of information from the test–feedback to the final test phase. The results from the experiments with the one-week retention interval (Exps. 4 and 5) indicated a benefit of the long-lag schedule on final recall performance (a lag effect), as well as on retention. This research shows that even when the benefits of lag are eliminated at a (relatively long) one-day retention interval, the lag effect reemerges after a one-week retention interval. The results are interpreted within an extension of the bifurcation model to the spacing effect.
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The number of participants randomly assigned to each group was unexpectedly different in this experiment. Importantly, this was not due to differential attrition in each group since all participants had to return after a one week retention interval. Rather, it was because random assignment by the program assigned more participants to some groups than to others.
Because feedback was provided in the present experiments the results may have also reflected the contribution of test-potentiated learning (Arnold & McDermott, 2013a, 2013b; Izawa, 1966) when the spacing lag between original learning and the test–feedback phase was one day and the retention interval was one day. See Table 1 for the relevant comparisons that meet this criterion (24-h lag, 24-h retention interval). All experiments produced higher recall on the final test than on the test given 24 h previously (during the test–feedback practice phase), which was not observed in the short-lag conditions. Thus, the restudy after a test in the long-lag condition during the test–feedback practice phase provided a large boost to performance, which not only eliminated the expected forgetting over this one-day retention interval, but may have actually potentiated learning by showing an improvement. However, we refrain from favoring this explanation, because we did not have the proper control condition to demonstrate test-potentiated learning. Another difficulty in ascribing test-potentiated learning as a mechanism is that the initial learning phase in the present experiments was not a pure study phase, but instead an intermixed sequence of studying and testing (to criterion); this sequence occurred prior to the test–restudy sequence. Hence, the present design did not allow us to isolate the influence of test-potentiated learning, although this mechanism may have contributed to the observed patterns. Future research will be needed to pinpoint our improved recall after 24 h in the long-lag condition to test-potentiated learning.
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Supported by a grant from Dart Neuroscience, LLC. We thank David Blinn, Nicole McKay, John Slochower, Alexandra Taylor, and Teresa Yao for assistance with data collection and scoring.
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Pyc, M.A., Balota, D.A., McDermott, K.B. et al. Between-list lag effects in recall depend on retention interval. Mem Cogn 42, 965–977 (2014). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-014-0406-1
- Spacing effects
- Lag effects