Analyzing the Dynamics of Free Recall: An Integrative Review of the Empirical Literature

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Free Recall, Target Item, List Item, Recall Period, Proactive Interference

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Relatively few experiments have measured the time course of free recall from episodic or semantic memory. Of those that have, most report that cumulative recall is a negatively accelerated exponential (or hyperbolic) function that is characterized by two properties: asymptotic recall and rate of approach to asymptote. The most common measure of free recall performance (viz., the number of items recalled) provides a reasonably good estimate of asymptotic recall if a relatively long recall period is used (which is rare), but the effect of experimental manipulations on the rate of approach to asymptote cannot be determined without timing when recall responses occur. The research reviewed herein suggests that the rate of approach to asymptote may offer an estimate of the breadth of search through long-term memory. The search in question, unlike most of those investigated in the memory literature, is unique in that it requires minutes rather than milliseconds to complete.

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Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, v. 1, issue 1, p. 89-106