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Encoding, maintenance, and retrieval processes in the lag effect: A multinomial processing tree analysis

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Short-term studies on repeated learning of verbatim material have typically revealed an overall benefit of long lags compared to short lags between repetitions. This has been referred to as the lag effect. On educationally relevant time scales, however, an inverted-U-shaped relation between lag and memory performance is often observed. Recently, Cepeda et al. (2009) showed that the optimal lag for relearning depends heavily on the time interval between the last learning session and the final memory test (i.e., the retention interval; RI). In order to explore the cognitive mechanisms underlying this result in more detail we independently manipulated both the lag and the RI in a 3×2 experimental design and analysed our data using a multinomial processing tree model for free-then-cued-recall data. Our results reveal that the lag effect trends are mainly driven by encoding and maintenance processes rather than by retrieval mechanisms. Our findings have important implications for theories of the lag effect.
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Keywords: Distributed practice; Lag effect; Long-term memory; Mathematical modelling

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology III, University of Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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