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Incidental verbatim memory for language

  • Olga Gurevich (a1), Matthew A. Johnson (a1) and Adele E. Goldberg

Abstract

It is widely believed that explicit verbatim memory for language is virtually nonexistent except in certain circumstances, for example if participants are warned they are to receive a memory test, if the language is ‘interactive’ (emotion-laden), or if the texts are exceedingly short and memory is tested immediately. The present experiments revisit the question of verbatim memory for language and demonstrate that participants do reliably recognize and recall full sentences that they are exposed to only once at above chance rates (Experiments 1 and 3). The texts are 300 words long, non-interactive, and no advanced warning of a memory test is given. Verbatim memory is demonstrated even when lexical content and memory for gist are controlled for (Experiments 2 and 4). The most striking finding is one of incidental recall: even after a six-day delay, participants reliably reproduce sentences they have heard before when asked to describe scenes, even though they are not asked to recall what they had heard (Experiment 5).

Copyright

Corresponding author

Correspondence addresses: Adele Goldberg, Adele Goldberg, Department of Linguistics, Princeton University, 33 Washington Rd, Princeton, NJ 08544-0001, USA. E-mail: adele@princeton.edu.

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