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Some Tests Of The Decay Theory Of Immediate Memory

John Brown

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The hypothesis of decay of the memory trace as a cause of forgetting has been unpopular. The reasons for this unpopularity are criticized and a theory of the memory span, based on this hypothesis, is put forward. Three experiments which test the hypothesis are described. In each, two kinds of stimuli are presented to the subject, viz., “required” stimuli, which he attempts to remember, and “additional” stimuli, to which he merely makes responses. The first experiment will show that even when the number of required stimuli is well below the memory span, forgetting occurs if the presentation of additional stimuli delays recall for several seconds. The second shows that the effect of the additional stimuli depends only slightly on their similarity to the required stimuli: it also shows that their effect is negligible when they precede, instead of follow, the required stimuli. The third shows that the effect of additional stimuli interpolated before recall remains considerable even when there is an interval of several seconds between presentation of required and additional stimuli.