On the Relative and Absolute Strength of a Memory Trace

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Latency Distribution, Proactive Interference, List Length, Strength Model, Output Position

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Subjects studied either an 8- or 16-word list and later recalled the items while a voice key recorded each response latency. The trials were partitioned by recall total in order to examine the means and distributions of both latencies and interresponse times as a function of recall total. Each analysis was consistent with the view that an item’s absolute strength determineswhether it is recalled whereas an item’s relative strength determineswhen it is recalled. In addition, mean latency was effectively proportional to study list length yet independent of recall total. All of the analyses were consistent with the view that the set of study items is sampled according to a relative-strength rule until all items are found and that a sampled item is recovered into consciousness only when its absolute strength exceeds a fixed threshold.

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Memory & Cognition, v. 24, issue 2, p. 188-201