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Turning simple span into complex span: time for decay or interference from distractors?

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Zurich Open Repository and Archive
  • Institute Of Psychology
  • 150 Psychology
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We investigated the effects of the duration and type of to-be-articulated distractors during encoding of a verbal list into short-term memory (STM). Distractors and to-be-remembered items alternated during list presentation, as in the complex-span task that underlies much of working-memory research. According to an interference model of STM, known as serial order in a box (SOB; Farrell & Lewandowsky, 2002), additional repeated articulations of the same word between list items should cause minimal further disruption of encoding into STM even though the retention interval for early list items is increased. SOB also predicts that the articulation of several different distractor items should lead to much enhanced disruption if the distractor interval is increased. Those predictions were qualitatively confirmed in 4 experiments that found that it is the type of distractors, not their total duration, that determines the success of encoding a list into STM. The results pose a challenge to temporal models of complex-span performance, such as the time-based resource sharing model (Barrouillet, Bernardin, & Camos, 2004). The results add to a growing body of evidence that memory for the short term is not exclusively governed by purely temporal processes.

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