Contextual variability and serial position effects in free recall

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 1999 Jul;25(4):923-41. doi: 10.1037//0278-7393.25.4.923.


In immediate free recall, words recalled successively tend to come from nearby serial positions. M. J. Kahana (1996) documented this effect and showed that this tendency, which the authors refer to as the lag recency effect, is well described by a variant of the search of associative memory (SAM) model (J. G. W. Raaijmakers & R. M. Shiffrin, 1980, 1981). In 2 experiments, participants performed immediate, delayed, and continuous distractor free recall under conditions designed to minimize rehearsal. The lag recency effect, previously observed in immediate free recall, was also observed in delayed and continuous distractor free recall. Although two-store memory models, such as SAM, readily account for the end-of-list recency effect in immediate free recall, and its attenuation in delayed free recall, these models fail to account for the long-term recency effect. By means of analytic simulations, the authors show that both the end of list recency effect and the lag recency effect, across all distractor conditions, can be explained by a single-store model in which context, retrieved with each recalled item, serves as a cue for subsequent recalls.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Semantics
  • Time Factors
  • Vocabulary*