The list strength effect: A contextual competition account

R A. Diana
L M. Reder

Abstract or Description

Research on the list strength effect (LSE) has shown that learning some words on a list more strongly than others impairs memory for the weakly learned words when tested with a recall task. Norman (2002) demonstrated that the LSE also occurs within the recollection process of a recognition test. In this study, a mechanistic dual-process account of the LSE was tested that simultaneously makes predictions concerning additional sources of context in interference effects. In two experiments, we attempted to replicate Norman's (2002) findings and provide the basis for our modeling efforts. We found evidence for a recollection LSE in raw measures of responding, with memory performance also benefiting from reinstatement of perceptual characteristics at test. However, large differences in the hits between the lists were accompanied by small differences in false alarms, such that when d' is calculated, differences between the lists are not significant. We propose an account of the LSE whereby the actual effect of competition between items on the list is small, although present, and difficult to distinguish from large effects of bias due to the strength manipulations. We argue that our findings provide support for a mechanistic explanation of LSE that is based on competition of source activation and changes in the thresholds for responses.