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Using cumulative‐recall curves to assess the extent of relational and item‐specific processing

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Although distinguishing between item-specific and relational information has proved to be a useful approach for understanding a variety of important memory phenomena, finding measurement tools for assessing the amount and type of information processed has proven difficult. Using the repeated-testing procedure, Burns (1993) demonstrated that item gains (the recall of items on a later test that were not recalled on earlier tests) and item losses (the forgetting of items on a later test that were recalled on earlier tests) reflected differences in amount of item-specific and relational information processed, respectively. Although several researchers have begun to use the measures with apparent success, the present research demonstrates that the accuracy of the item-gain measure is largely dependent on the rather arbitrary choice of recall-test length. We also show that a related but alternative measure, analysis of cumulative-recall curves, avoids some of the shortcomings of the item gain and loss measures. Moreover, we provide evidence for the generality of the cumulative-recall approach by demonstrating its effectiveness in mixed-list designs.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Union College, NY, Schenectady, USA

Publication date: February 1, 2005

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