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Working memory capacity predicts the beneficial effect of selective memory retrieval

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Selective retrieval of some studied items can both impair and improve recall of the other items. This study examined the role of working memory capacity (WMC) for the two effects of memory retrieval. Participants studied an item list consisting of predefined target and nontarget items. After study of the list, half of the participants performed an imagination task supposed to induce a change in mental context, whereas the other half performed a counting task which does not induce such context change. Following presentation of a second list, memory for the original list's target items was tested, either with or without preceding retrieval of the list's nontarget items. Consistent with previous work, preceding nontarget retrieval impaired target recall in the absence of the context change, but improved target recall in its presence. In particular, there was a positive relationship between WMC and the beneficial, but not the detrimental effect of memory retrieval. On the basis of the view that the beneficial effect of memory retrieval reflects context-reactivation processes, the results indicate that individuals with higher WMC are better able to capitalise on retrieval-induced context reactivation than individuals with lower WMC.
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Keywords: Blocking; Context reactivation; Inhibition; Retrieval; Working memory capacity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Experimental Psychology, Regensburg University, Regensburg, Germany

Publication date: July 4, 2015

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