The combination of primacy and recency produces a U-shaped serial position curve typical of memory for lists. In humans, primacy is often thought to result from rehearsal, but there is little evidence for rehearsal in nonhumans. To further evaluate the possibility that rehearsal contributes to primacy in monkeys, we compared memory for lists of familiar stimuli (which may be easier to rehearse) to memory for unfamiliar stimuli (which are likely difficult to rehearse). Six rhesus monkeys saw lists of five images drawn from either large, medium, or small image sets. After presentation of each list, memory for one item was assessed using a serial probe recognition test. Across four experiments, we found robust primacy and recency with lists drawn from small and medium, but not large, image sets. This finding is consistent with the idea that familiar items are easier to rehearse and that rehearsal contributes to primacy, warranting further study of the possibility of rehearsal in monkeys. However, alternative interpretations are also viable and are discussed.
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