Inhibitory Control in Memory: Evidence for Negative Priming in Free Recall

J.E. Marsh, Phillip Beaman, Rob Hughes, Dylan M Jones

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Cognitive control mechanisms—such as inhibition—decrease the likelihood that goal-directed activity is ceded to irrelevant events. Here, we use the action of auditory distraction to show how retrieval from episodic long-term memory is affected by competitor inhibition. Typically, a sequence of to-be-ignored spoken distracters drawn from the same semantic category as a list of visually-presented to-be-recalled items impairs free recall performance. In line with competitor inhibition theory (Anderson, 2003), free recall was worse for items on a probe trial if they were a repeat of distracter items presented during the previous, prime, trial (Experiment 1). This effect was only produced when the distracters were dominant members of the same category as the to-be-recalled items on the prime. For prime trials in which distracters were low-dominant members of the to-be-remembered item category or were unrelated to that category—and hence not strong competitors for retrieval—positive priming was found (Experiments 2 & 3). These results are discussed in terms of inhibitory approaches to negative priming and memory retrieval.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2012


  • Inhibition, Distraction, Negative Priming, Semantic Relatedness, Free Recall

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