The effects of divided attention on encoding and retrieval processes in human memory

J Exp Psychol Gen. 1996 Jun;125(2):159-80. doi: 10.1037//0096-3445.125.2.159.


The authors examined the effects of divided attention (DA) at encoding and retrieval in free recall, cued recall, and recognition memory in 4 experiments. Lists of words or word pairs were presented auditorily and recalled orally; the secondary task was a visual continuous reaction-time (RT) task with manual responses. At encoding, DA was associated with large reductions in memory performance, but small increases in RT; trade-offs between memory and RT were under conscious control. In contrast, DA at retrieval resulted in small or no reductions in memory, but in comparatively larger increases in RT, especially in free recall. Memory performance was sensitive to changes in task emphasis at encoding but not at retrieval. The results are discussed in terms of controlled and automatic processes and speculatively linked to underlying neuropsychological mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Attention*
  • Humans
  • Memory*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Reaction Time
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Time Factors
  • Vocabulary