Temporal Proximity Links Unrelated News Events in Memory

Psychol Sci. 2019 Jan;30(1):92-104. doi: 10.1177/0956797618808474. Epub 2018 Dec 4.


Some memories are linked such that recalling one can trigger the retrieval of another. What determines which memories are linked? Some models predict that simply occurring close together in time is sufficient for links to form between memories. A competing theory suggests that temporal proximity is generally not sufficient, and existing evidence for such links is an artifact of using chainlike lists of items in artificial laboratory tasks. To test these competing accounts, we asked subjects to recall news stories that they had encountered over the past 2 years (Experiment 1) or 4 months (Experiment 2). In both experiments, subjects showed a strong bias to successively recall stories that appeared in the news within days of each other-even after accounting for the fact that stories that occur close in time tend to be semantically related. By moving beyond laboratory tasks, this research solidifies the foundation of contemporary memory theory.

Keywords: episodic memory; free recall; temporal contiguity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Time Factors