Serial recall, word frequency, and mixed lists: the influence of item arrangement.J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 2012; 38(6):1731-40JE
Studies of the effect of word frequency in the serial recall task show that lists of high-frequency words are better recalled than lists of low-frequency words; however, when high- and low-frequency words are alternated within a list, there is no difference in the level of recall for the two types of words, and recall is intermediate between lists of pure frequency. This pattern has been argued to arise from the development of a network of activated long-term representations of list items that support the redintegration of all list items in a nondirectional and nonspecific way. More recently, it has been proposed that the frequency effect might be a product of the coarticulation of items at word boundaries and their influence on rehearsal rather than a consequence of memory representations. The current work examines recall performance in mixed lists of an equal number of high- and low-frequency items arranged in contiguous segments (i.e., HHHLLL and LLLHHH), under quiet and articulatory suppression conditions, to test whether the effect is (a) nondirectional and (b) dependent on articulatory processes. These experiments demonstrate that neither explanation is satisfactory, although the results suggest that the effect is mnemonic. A language-based approach to short-term memory is favored with emphasis on the role of speech production processes at output.