Retrieval during learning facilitates subsequent memory encoding

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2011 Mar;37(2):287-97. doi: 10.1037/a0021801.


In multiple-list learning, retrieval during learning has been suggested to improve recall of the single lists by enhancing list discrimination and, at test, reducing interference. Using electrophysiological, oscillatory measures of brain activity, we examined to what extent retrieval during learning facilitates list encoding. Subjects studied 5 lists of items in anticipation of a final cumulative recall test and did either a retrieval or a no-retrieval task between study of the lists. Retrieval was from episodic memory (recall of the previous list), semantic memory (generation of exemplars from an unrelated category), or short-term memory (2-back task). Behaviorally, all 3 forms of retrieval enhanced recall of both previously and subsequently studied lists. Physiologically, the results showed an increase of alpha power (8-14 Hz) from List 1 to List 5 encoding when no retrieval activities were interpolated but no such increase when any of the 3 retrieval activities occurred. Brain-behavior correlations showed that alpha-power dynamics from List 1 to List 5 encoding predicted subsequent recall performance. The results suggest that, without intermittent retrieval, encoding becomes ineffective across lists. In contrast, with intermittent retrieval, there is a reset of the encoding process for each single list that makes encoding of later lists as effective as encoding of early lists.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Brain Waves / physiology
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Regression Analysis
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology*
  • Spectrum Analysis
  • Time Factors
  • Verbal Learning / physiology*
  • Young Adult