The impact of cognitive load on delayed recall

Valérie Camos, Sophie Portrat
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 2015, 22 (4): 1029-34
Recent studies have suggested that long-term retention of items studied in a working memory span task depends on the refreshing of memory items-more specifically, on the number of refreshing opportunities. However, it was previously shown that refreshing depends on the cognitive load of the concurrent task introduced in the working memory span task. Thus, cognitive load should determine the long-term retention of items assessed in a delayed-recall test if such retention relies on refreshing. In two experiments, while the amount of refreshing opportunities remained constant, we varied the cognitive load of the concurrent task by either introducing tasks differing in their attentional demands or varying the pace of the concurrent task. To verify that this effect was related to refreshing and not to any maintenance mechanism, we also manipulated the availability of subvocal rehearsal. Replicating previous results, increasing cognitive load reduced immediate recall. This increase also had a detrimental effect on delayed recall. Conversely, the addition of concurrent articulation reduced immediate but not delayed recall. This study shows that both working and episodic memory traces depend on the cognitive load of the concurrent task, whereas the use of rehearsal affects only working memory performance. These findings add further evidence of the dissociation between subvocal rehearsal and attentional refreshing.

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