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Metacognitive control, serial position effects, and effective transfer to self-paced study

Abstract

Serial position effects involve the differential recall of information based on its temporal order at encoding. Previous research indicates that learners may be aware of these effects under certain encoding conditions, but it is unclear whether metacognitive control is sensitive to serial position effects. The current study examined whether there are serial position effects in participants’ study time and whether they can learn about serial position effects under fixed encoding conditions and then transfer what they have learned to self-paced study conditions. Specifically, participants were given lists of to-be-remembered words and studied each word for a fixed duration on initial lists, but self-paced their study time on later lists. Results revealed that self-paced study times oppositely mirrored serial position effects (i.e., briefer study times in the beginning and end of each list), and serial position effects were reduced in self-paced study conditions, particularly in participants initially studying under fixed conditions before self-pacing their study time. Specifically, participants may have monitored their output and, based on observations of forgetting middle items, transferred their learning of serial position effects from prior lists. Thus, participants may use forgetting and serial position information to guide encoding, indicating that fundamental properties of the memory system can be incorporated into the processes that guide metacognitive control.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We did not include the fixed study time group in this analysis, because study time was constant (2 seconds).

  2. 2.

    Since each model is based on different data (i.e., Lists 1–3 versus Lists 4–6), we are unable to compute a formal comparison between models. Rather, we examine the serial position curves in terms of their relative effect sizes (i.e., R2). Specifically, we frame our discussion in terms of how much of the variance the relative quadratic models accounted for, with models accounting for more variance (revealing a greater quadratic trend) indicating more pronounced serial position effects and models accounting for less variance (revealing a weaker quadratic trend) indicating flatter serial position curves.

  3. 3.

    Similar to Experiment 1, we did not include the fixed study time group in this analysis, because study time was constant (2 seconds).

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Karina Agadzhanyan for her assistance in managing data collection.

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Correspondence to Dillon H. Murphy.

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None of the experiments reported in this article was formally preregistered, but the stimuli and data have been made available on the Open Science Framework (https://osf.io/9b35v/?view_only=97db5b2fa22540f28756e22c67912464).

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Murphy, D.H., Friedman, M.C. & Castel, A.D. Metacognitive control, serial position effects, and effective transfer to self-paced study. Mem Cogn (2021). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-021-01204-y

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Keywords

  • Serial position effects
  • Metacognition
  • Control
  • Transfer of learning