Inhibitory control in memory: Evidence for negative priming in free recall

Marsh, John Everett orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9494-1287, Beaman, Phillip, Hughes, Rob and Jones, Dylan M. (2012) Inhibitory control in memory: Evidence for negative priming in free recall. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 38 (5). pp. 1377-1388. ISSN 0278-7393

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Cognitive control mechanisms—such as inhibition—decrease the likelihood that goal-directed activity is ceded to irrelevant events. Here, we use the action of auditory distraction to show how retrieval from episodic long-term memory is affected by competitor inhibition. Typically, a sequence of to-be-ignored spoken distracters drawn from the same semantic category as a list of visually presented to-be-recalled items impairs free recall performance. In line with competitor inhibition theory (Anderson, 2003), free recall was worse for items on a probe trial if they were a repeat of distracter items presented during the previous, prime, trial (Experiment 1). This effect was produced only when the distracters were dominant members of the same category as the to-be-recalled items on the prime. For prime trials in which distracters were low-dominant members of the to-be-remembered item category or were unrelated to that category—and hence not strong competitors for retrieval—positive priming was found (Experiments 2 and 3). These results are discussed in terms of inhibitory approaches to negative priming and memory retrieval.

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