An Analysis of Latency and Interresponse Time in Free Recall

Document Type


Publication Date



Free Recall, Latency Distribution, Study List, Proactive Interference, List Length

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


In four experiments, subjects freely recalled previously studied items while a voice key and computer recorded each item’s recall latency relative to the onset of the recall period. The measures of recall probability and mean recall latency were shown to be empirically independent, demonstrating that there exists no a priori relationship between the two. In all four experiments, latency distributions were fit well by the ex-Gaussian, suggesting that retrieval includes a brief normally distributed initiation stage followed by a longer exponentially distributed search stage. Further, the variation in mean latency stemmed from the variation in the duration of the search stage, not the initiation stage. Interresponse times (IRTs), the time elapsed between two successive item recalls, were analyzed as well. The growth of mean IRTs, plotted as a function of output position, was shown to be a simple function of the number of items not yet recalled. Finally, the mathematical nature of both free recall latency and IRT growth are shown to be consistent with a simple theoretical account of retrieval that depicts mean recall latency as a measure of the breadth of search.

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

Memory & Cognition, v. 22, issue 5, p. 511-524