Is there really very rapid forgetting from primary memory? The role of expectancy and item importance in short-term recall

Thomas F. Cunningham, Alice F. Healy, Robert E. Till, David W. Fendrich, Christina Z. Dimitry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Scopus citations


In two experiments, subjects recalled one of two letter segments following a digit-filled retention interval. In Experiment 1, recall expectancy was manipulated by using precues that correctly informed or misinformed subjects concerning which letter segment wou;d be tested for recall. In Experiment 2, item importance was varied by precuing one segment as important but requiring that the uncued segment be recalled first. Recall performance was very low under conditions of low expectancy and low segment importance, but the slopes of the retention-functions did not demonstrate more rapid forgetting than under standard -conditions. The previous observations of very rapid forgetting from primary memory may be a function of an elevated initial recall level in the earlier studies. Our retention functions were compared with predictions of the Estes perturbation model. The findings suggested that when secondary memory processes were reduced, forgetting order information from primary memory occurred at the same rate as that estimated on the basis of previous studies using the standard distractor task.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)671-688
Number of pages18
JournalMemory & Cognition
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 1993


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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