AbstractDecay theory posits that memory traces gradually fade away over the passage of time unless they are actively rehearsed. Much recent work exploring verbal short-term memory has challenged this theory, but there does appear to be evidence for trace decay in nonverbal auditory short-term memory. Numerous discrimination studies have reported a performance decline as the interval separating two tones is increased, consistent with a decay process. However, most of this tone comparison research can be explained in other ways, without reference to decay, and these alternative accounts were tested in the present study. In Experiment 1, signals were employed toward the end of extended retention intervals to ensure that listeners were alert to the presence and frequency content of the memoranda. In Experiment 2, a mask stimulus was employed in an attempt to distinguish between a highly detailed sensory trace and a longer-lasting short-term memory, and the distinctiveness of the stimuli was varied. Despite these precautions, slow-acting trace decay was observed. It therefore appears that the mere passage of time can lead to forgetting in some forms of short-term memory.
CitationDecay uncovered in nonverbal short-term memory. 2014, 21 (1):128-35 Psychon Bull Rev
JournalPsychonomic bulletin & review
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