What is it about?

The temporal contiguity effect (TCE) is the tendency for the recall of one event to cue recall of other events originally experienced nearby in time. In this experiment, we test the predictions of Retrieved Context Theory, which predicts that temporal information is automatically encoded and influences the order of later recall. If these processes are automatic, the TCE should be present regardless of if individuals are intentionally studying, or not and regardless of the delay between events. In a large-scale study with over 5,000 participants we found a small, but reliable, TCE regardless of encoding intentionality or delay between items, although the effect was dramatically reduced in incidental encoding. Using computational models and simulations, we demonstrated Retrieved Context Theory can account for both overall recall and the TCE in incidental encoding conditions.

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Why is it important?

We demonstrated that temporal order information is automatically encoded regardless of the timescale of when events were experienced (whether they are separated by just a few seconds or by longer additional tasks). Importantly, these results support a single-store theory of memory (Retrieved Context Theory) which assumes that events automatically form associations with the current state of mental context, and a dual-store model of memory is not required to explain these results. However, our results do suggest that intentional strategy use can affect the use of temporal information during recall, in particular by increasing the likelihood of recalling events in forward order.

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This page is a summary of: A test of retrieved context theory: Dynamics of recall after incidental encoding., Journal of Experimental Psychology Learning Memory and Cognition, August 2021, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/xlm0001001.
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