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The Importance of Time to Think Back: The Role of Reminding in Retroactive Effects of Memory

Jacob H. Negley Southwestern College

Colleen M. Kelley Florida State University

Larry L. Jacoby Washington University in St. Louis

Change has been described as detrimental for later memory for the original event in research on retroactive interference. Popular accounts of retroactive interference treat learning as the formation of simple associations and explain interference as due to response competition, perhaps along with unlearning or inhibition of the original response. By such accounts, providing additional study time for a changed response in a classic A–B, A–D learning paradigm should increase retroactive interference. In contrast, our experiments show that changing a response produces retroactive facilitation rather than retroactive interference but that outcome requires that the change be detected in the form of a reminding. When reminding does not occur, retroactive interference is observed. Increasing time to study the changed response increases the likelihood of being reminded. Accounts in terms of simple associations cannot explain the importance of reminding. We do so by assuming that being reminded results in a recursive representation that includes both the original and changed response along with the order in which they occurred. We discuss the importance of our results for application as well as for theory.

Keywords: reminding, interference, facilitation, retroactive effects

Suppose people were asked to read two articles presenting claims related to the Affordable Care Act, with some contradictory claims between the two articles. After reading the second article, they are asked to recall the claims presented in the first article. Would increasing the amount of time allowed for reading the second article influence their ability to recall the claims provided by the first article? This corresponds to a question about retroac- tive interference, which was frequently investigated using a paired- associate learning paradigm (e.g., Postman & Underwood, 1973). The typical finding was that presenting pairs with shared cues but changed memory targets across successive lists of word pairs for example, pair AB in the first list followed by changed pair AD in the second list, produced retroactive interference, poorer memory performance compared to that for control pairs that did not share cues across lists. Competition between responses negatively af- fects memory as a function of the relative strength of the responses paired with the same cue, and such response competition is an important mechanism of forgetting in many formal models of

memory (e.g., Raaijmakers & Shiffrin, 1981). In line with a strength prediction, studying second list changed pairs repeatedly in a paired associate paradigm can produce increased retroactive interference relative to studying them a single time (Delprato, 2005; Wichuwut & Martin, 1971; but see Underwood & Lund, 1981). From the perspective of response competition, increasing reading for the second article would be predicted to increase the memory strength of claims presented in it and, thereby, increase retroactive interference due to increased response competition. Alternatively, perhaps allowing greater time to read the second article would make it more likely that one would notice the contradictions between statements made in the two articles. No- ticing contradictions might lead to claims from the first article being more likely to be remembered than they would be had the second article not been read.

Such retroactive facilitation rather than the usual retroactive interference between competing claims was reported by Otero and Kintsch (1992). They found that many students failed to detect contradictions between sentences in text but the few who did so showed facilitation of memory for both the original and the con- tradicting sentences, whereas those who did not detect the contra- dictions recalled one or the other of the contradictory sentences or neither. Noticing contradiction requires that the earlier-read claim be brought to mind by reading the later-made claim, which serves as an implicit repetition of the earlier-made claim that could increase the probability of its later recall. Otero and Kintsch found large individual differences among participants in their experi- ment. Noticing contradictions likely requires sufficient time for the corresponding earlier-read claim to be brought to mind along with an inclination to look back to the earlier-read text.

This article was published Online First August 9, 2018. Jacob H. Negley, Department of Psychology, Southwestern College;

Colleen M. Kelley, Department of Psychology, Florida State University; Larry L. Jacoby, Department of Psychology, Washington University in St. Louis.

This research was supported National Science Foundation Grant Num- ber 1430778 awarded to Colleen M. Kelley.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jacob H. Negley, Department of Psychology, Southwestern College, 100 College Street, Winfield, KS 67156. E-mail:

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