On the Right Track? Investigating the Effect of Path Characteristics on Visuospatial Bootstrapping in Verbal Serial Recall

J Cogn. 2017 Dec 8;1(1):3. doi: 10.5334/joc.2.


Visuospatial bootstrapping (VSB) occurs when memory for verbal material is enhanced via association with meaningful visuospatial information. Sequences of digits are visually presented either in the center of the screen or within a keypad layout in which the digits may be arranged identically to familiar pin pad and mobile phone layouts, or randomly. Recall is consistently higher when digits are presented in the familiar layout. This "bootstrapping" could involve primarily long-term knowledge of the layout, primarily short-term memory of the unique spatial path, or may depend on both. We manipulated the path complexity of sequences to test whether the VSB effect depends on the quality of spatial representations in conjunction with the familiarity of the spatial layout in two experiments. We consistently observed both VSB effects and path complexity effects on verbal serial recall, but never observed any interaction between these factors, even when articulatory suppression was imposed. Analysis of recall by serial position revealed that the VSB effect was focused on the end-of-list items. Our finding of pervasive path complexity effects on verbal serial recall suggests incidental encoding of spatial path occurs during visually-presented verbal tasks regardless of layout familiarity, confirming that spatial factors can affect verbal recall, but ruling out the notion that incidental spatial paths are uniquely and voluntarily encoded with familiar layouts.

Keywords: path complexity; serial recall; spatial memory; visual short-term memory; working memory.