Errorless learning and spaced retrieval: how do these methods fare in healthy and clinical populations?

J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2011 Apr;33(4):432-47. doi: 10.1080/13803395.2010.533155. Epub 2011 Jan 10.


While errorless learning and spaced retrieval have both proved effective in helping many patients with acquired brain injury (ABI) and dementia learn novel information, it is not clear which of these principles we should apply to target treatment most effectively. To address this issue we conducted a systematic comparison of these principles in three experiments, comparing their effectiveness in healthy controls (N = 60), patients with ABI (N = 30), and patients with dementia (N = 15). Participants were asked to learn face-name associations, and the relative effectiveness of the principles over and above trial-and-error learning was investigated. The results were remarkably consistent across experiments: Both errorless learning and spaced retrieval produced greater accuracy in name recall than did trial-and-error learning, but recall under conditions of spaced retrieval was significantly better than that under errorless learning. We discuss the implications of these findings and suggest that spaced retrieval may be the stronger memory rehabilitation principle when it comes to learning face-name associations in people with mild to moderate memory impairment.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Brain Injuries / complications*
  • Brain Injuries / rehabilitation
  • Dementia / complications*
  • Dementia / rehabilitation
  • Face
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning Disabilities / etiology*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult