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Reminiscence and successive retention trials in human serial rote learning of paired-associate nonsense syllables Hickson, Robert Hugh

Abstract

It is the purpose of the present study to attempt to obtain reminiscence with paired-associate nonsense syllables, and to determine a "forgetting curve" based on a continuous measure of retention. Reminiscence is defined as an improvement in retention after learning, without intervening practice, as shown by some measure of ability to recall. The experiment is designed to give an empirical demonstration of reminiscence phenomena as predicted by the rote learning theory system of C. L. Hull, and the experimental work of C. I. Hovland. Hull's prediction of an initial increase in the amount retained after learning follows from a "differential forgetting" theory in which correct responses acquire decrement in strength at a slower rate than do incorrect responses: the result is that near-correct responses at the termination of learning temporarily reach supra-threshold strength during the early stages of retention, and "reminiscence" results. The majority of rote learning studies have used lists of single nonsense syllables presented in a serial order. Reminiscence effects have been found in some of the latter studies but have not been found with paired-associate materials presented in a random order on successive trials. In the present experiment the stimulus materials are paired-associate nonsense syllables presented in a serial order; the anticipation method of learning is used; the criterion of learning is 6/9 correct anticipations; two groups of 16 Ss each are employed - an immediate recall group, and a delayed recall group; the interpolated interval between learning and the first recall measure for the delayed recall group is two minutes; and successive measures of retention are obtained on Ss in both recall groups such that the time between reaching the learning criterion and the last recall trial is six minutes. From the results, a serial effect is demonstrated during learning and it is expected that this will enhance the possibility of reminiscence. With analyses of the data in terms of group indices, individual indices, and item indices, no difference between retention measures is found which could be called reminiscence. Successive trial retention measures are compared between the two recall groups. The Hullian theory predicts a general decrement in retention performance on successive trials following any reminiscence effect. The results show that overlearning of some responses results in a stereotypy of retention responses which obscures reduction in strength of the less well learned responses and results in no significant decline in retention on successive trials.

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