Context Retrieval and Context Change in Free Recall: Recalling From Long-Term Memory Drives List Isolation

Yoonhee Jang, David E. Huber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


Three experiments used the "list-before-the-last" free recall paradigm (Shiffrin, 1970) to investigate retrieval for context and the manner in which context changes. This paradigm manipulates target and intervening list lengths to measure the interference from each list, providing a measure of list isolation. Correct target list recall was only affected by the target list length when participants engaged in recall between the lists, whereas there were effects of both list lengths with other activities. This suggests that the act of recalling drives context change, thus isolating the target list from interference. Correspondingly, incorrect recall of intervening list items was affected only by the length of the intervening list when recall occurred between the lists, but was otherwise affected by both list lengths. Concurrent with these changes in context similarity, there were apparent changes in context retrieval, as indicated by the overall levels of target retrieval versus intervening recall. A multinomial model of sampling and recovery was implemented to assess the adequacy of this account and to quantify context similarity and context retrieval.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-127
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of experimental psychology. Learning, memory, and cognition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • context change
  • context reinstatement
  • free recall
  • list-length effect
  • retroactive interference


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