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  • Writer's pictureDillon Murphy

Serial and strategic memory processes in goal-directed selective remembering


Cognition_Murphy, Schwartz, Castel, 2022
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Serial and strategic memory processes in goal-directed selective remembering

Dillon H. Murphy, Shawn T. Schwartz, & Alan D. Castel


People often rely on habitual, serial processing when presented with to-be-learned information. We tested how strategic processing can override more bottom-up, serial processes when remembering information by having participants study a list of word triads (e.g., “dollar phone pizza”). Participants' goal was manipulated by maximizing either (i) their recall for each of the studied words or (ii) their total score associated with recalling certain words in each triad that were more valuable (worth more points) to engage either serial or strategic processing and retrieval mechanisms. Results revealed that when learners were told to maximize their total recall, they frequently engaged in serial remembering—remembering guided by an item's location within the study phase (i.e., words were retrieved according to a habitual reading bias). However, when words were paired with point values that counted towards participants' scores if recalled, participants were not only selective for high-value words but also attempted to overcome the tendency to engage in serial remembering; instead, they appeared to engage in strategic remembering whereby retrieval is guided by value. Thus, to maximize memory utility, it may be beneficial to override habitual processes and initiate retrieval with high-value words, and when making recall transitions, to recall high-value words together. Importantly, when certain to-be-remembered words were more valuable than their neighbors, participants still demonstrated some serial processing of the to-be-remembered words, indicating that even when engaging in strategic memory, some habitual processes can persist.

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