Associative retrieval processes in free recall

Mem Cognit. 1996 Jan;24(1):103-9. doi: 10.3758/bf03197276.


I present a new method for analyzing associative processes in free recall. While previous research has emphasized the prominence of semantic organization, the present method illustrates the importance of association by contiguity. This is done by examining conditional response probabilities in the output sequence. For a given item recalled, I examine the probability and latency that it follows an item from a nearby or distant input position. These conditional probabilities and latencies, plotted as a function of the lag between studied items, reveal several regularities about output order in free recall. First, subjects tend to recall items more often and more rapidly from adjacent input positions than from remote input positions. Second, subjects are about twice as likely to recall adjacent pairs in the forward than in the backward direction and are significantly faster in doing so. These effects are observed at all positions in the output sequence. The asymmetry effect is theoretically significant because, in cued recall, nearly symmetric retrieval is found at all serial positions (Kahana, 1995; Murdock, 1962). An attempt is made to fit the search of associative memory model (Raaijmakers & Shiffrin, 1980, 1981) with and without symmetric interitem associations to these data. Other models of free recall are also discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall*
  • Models, Statistical
  • Paired-Associate Learning*
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Reaction Time
  • Serial Learning*