Automatic and controlled processing in sentence recall: The role of long-term and working memory

Elizabeth Jefferies, Matthew A. Lambon Ralph, Alan D. Baddeley

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    Immediate serial recall is better for sentences than word lists presumably because of the additional support that meaningful material receives from long-term memory. This may occur automatically, without the involvement of attention, or may require additional attentionally demanding processing. For example, the episodic buffer model (Baddeley, 2000) proposes that the executive component of working memory plays a crucial role in the formation of links between different representational formats and previously unrelated concepts. This controlled integrative encoding may be more important in sentence than word recall. Three experiments examined the effect of an attention-demanding concurrent visual choice reaction time task on the recall of auditorily presented stories, sentences, and lists of unrelated words, in order to investigate the relative importance of automatic and controlled processing for these materials. The concurrent task was found to disrupt the recall of strings of unrelated sentences more than random word lists, suggesting that controlled processing played a greater role in the sentence recall task. On subsequent learning trials, however, recall of the unrelated words was also disrupted by the concurrent task, possibly due to the development of chunking. The large dual task decrement for unrelated sentences did not generalise to the recall of more naturalistic prose, suggesting that the requirement to integrate phonological with long-term linguistic information is not attentionally demanding per se; instead, the integration of unrelated concepts is effortful once recall extends beyond the capacity of the phonological loop. Our results suggest that sentence recall reflects contributions from both automatic linguistic processes and attentionally limited working memory. © 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)623-643
    Number of pages20
    JournalJournal of Memory and Language
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2004


    • Chunking
    • Episodic buffer
    • Prose memory
    • Sentence span
    • Working memory


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