Selective interference with verbal short-term memory for serial order information: a new paradigm and tests of a timing-signal hypothesis

Q J Exp Psychol A. 2003 Nov;56(8):1307-34. doi: 10.1080/02724980244000747.


Many recent computational models of verbal short-term memory postulate a separation between processes supporting memory for the identity of items and processes supporting memory for their serial order. Furthermore, some of these models assume that memory for serial order is supported by a timing signal. We report an attempt to find evidence for such a timing signal by comparing an item probe task, requiring memory for items, with a list probe task, requiring memory for serial order. Four experiments investigated effects of irrelevant speech, articulatory suppression, temporal grouping, and paced finger tapping on these two tasks. In Experiments 1 and 2, irrelevant speech and articulatory suppression had a greater detrimental effect on the list probe task than on the item probe task. Reaction time data indicated that the list probe task, but not the item probe task, induced serial rehearsal of items. Phonological similarity effects confirmed that both probe tasks induced phonological recoding of visual inputs. Experiment 3 showed that temporal grouping of items during list presentation improved performance on the list probe task more than on the item probe task. In Experiment 4, paced tapping had a greater detrimental effect on the list probe task than on the item probe task. However, there was no differential effect of whether tapping was to a simple or a complex rhythm. Overall, the data illustrate the utility of the item probe/list probe paradigm and provide support for models that assume memory for serial order and memory for items involve separate processes. Results are generally consistent with the timing-signal hypothesis but suggest further factors that need to be explored to distinguish it from other accounts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology
  • Phonetics
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Serial Learning / physiology*
  • Speech / physiology
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology