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Capacity and contextual constraints on product activation: Evidence from task-irrelevant fact retrieval

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Three experiments tested the limiting conditions of multiplication facts retrieval in a number-matching task (LeFevre, Bisanz, & Mrkonjic, 1988). By presenting two digits as cue and by requiring participants to decide whether a subsequent numerical target had been present in the pair, we found interference when the target coincided with the product of the cue digits. This was evidence for obligatory activation of multiplication facts. Also, we showed that multiplication facts retrieval occurred even in the absence of any arithmetic context (i.e., a multiplication sign between the cue digits) and did not require processing resources (i.e., the process met the capacity criterion of automaticity; Jonides, 1981), whereas manipulation of the spatial relation between the two operands (cue digits) negatively affected retrieval. The present work appears to be unique in the context of previous similar studies on mental calculation, which invariably adopted an arithmetic task as the primary demand. We identify this difference as the reason for the failure of all previous studies in revealing independence of multiplication facts from attentional resources. Furthermore, we suggest the application of a contextual definition of automaticity to this kind of retrieval, given the fact that it might depend both on association strength and on contextual setting variables.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University of Padua Padua Italy 2: University of Trento Rovereto Italy 3: Ospedale S. Camillo Venezia Italy

Publication date: November 1, 2004


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