Distraction Control Processes in Free Recall: Costs and Benefits to Performance

Marsh, John Everett orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9494-1287, Sorqvist, Patrik, Hodgetts, Helen M., Beaman, Charles P. and Jones, Dylan M. (2015) Distraction Control Processes in Free Recall: Costs and Benefits to Performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 41 (1). pp. 118-133. ISSN 0278-7393

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037779


How is semantic memory influenced by individual differences under conditions of distraction? This question was addressed by observing how visual target words—drawn from a single category—were recalled whilst ignoring spoken distracter words that were either members of the same, or members of a different (single) category. Distracter words were presented either synchronously or asynchronously with target words. Recall performance was correlated with participants’ working memory capacity (WMC), which was taken to be an index of the capacity for distracter inhibition. Distraction was greater from semantically similar words and distraction was greater when the words were presented synchronously. WMC was related to disruption only with synchronous, not asynchronous, presentation. Subsequent experiments found more distracter inhibition – as measured by subsequent negative priming of distracters – amongst individuals with higher WMC but this may be dependent on targets and distracters being comparable category exemplars: With less dominant category members as distracters, target recall was impaired – relative to control – only amongst individuals with low WMC. The results demonstrate distracter inhibition occurring only in conditions where target-distracter selection is challenging. Inhibition incurs costs to subsequent performance, but there is an immediate price for not inhibiting.

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