Individual differences in complex memory span and episodic retrieval: examining the dynamics of delayed and continuous distractor free recall
Unsworth, David I.
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Individual differences on complex memory spans predict a variety of higher-order cognitive tasks (e.g. reading comprehension, reasoning, following direction) as well as low-level attention tasks (e.g. Stroop, dichotic listening, antisaccade). The current study attempted to better determine the role of individual differences in complex memory span and episodic retrieval. Specifically, two experiments explored the possibility that individual differences in complex memory span reflect differences in the ability to successfully retrieve items from secondary memory via a cue-dependent search process. High and low complex span participants were tested in delayed (Experiment 1) and continuous distractor (Experiment 2) free recall with varying list-lengths. Across both experiments low spans recalled fewer items than high spans, recalled more previous list intrusions than high spans, and recalled at a slower rate than high spans. It is argued that low spans search through a larger set of items than high spans and, thus low spans episodic retrieval deficits are associated with an inability to use cues to guide a search and retrieval process of secondary memory. Implications for dual-component models of memory are discussed.