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CCN Brown Bag Series

Wednesday, October 25, 2017,
  • Location: Wilson Hall • 111 21St Ave S • Nashville, TN 37240
  • Room: 115

Dakota Lindsey

Department of Psychology

Vanderbilt University

Item-to-Item Associations in Theories of Serial Order

Over a century ago, Hermann Ebbinghaus postulated that associative bonds are formed between the items in a list over the course of learning. Early theories of serial order attempted to explain response sequencing by appealing to these associations: Each item is associated to and evokes retrieval of the item that follows it in the sequence. Many arguments have since been presented against these theories, and recent theories of serial order tend to omit item-to-item associations entirely. We questioned whether it is necessary to include item-to-item associations in theories of serial order. In four experiments, participants typed non-word letter strings as they were presented on a computer screen. Participants typed each string several times (spaced practice), and we analyzed sequence-specific learning over practice. Half of the strings were spin-list sequences (SLS; same relative order of items but with different starting points; e.g., “abcdef” and “cdefab”), and the other half were control sequences (CS; letter order scrambled using a Latin square). In all four experiments, learning was faster for SLS than CS, attributable to the consistent relative order of items in SLS. In addition, training on some of the SLS produced positive transfer to untrained SLS that was insensitive to spin distance (and thus unaffected by overall sequence similarity). Our experiments suggest that participants learned item-to-item associations and used them to retrieve the proper sequence of keystrokes. More generally, we argue that item-to-item associations, while not sufficient alone, are necessary for theories of serial order.