Testing the Myth of the Encoding-Retrieval Match


The encoding specificity principle, first proposed by Thomson and Tulving (1970), holds that successful memory performance depends importantly on the extent to which there is a match between encoding and retrieval conditions. However, Nairne (2002) proposed that the principle is a myth because one cannot make unequivocal predictions about memory performance by appealing to the encoding-retrieval match; instead, what matters is the relative diagnostic value of the match, and not the absolute match. Two experiments varied the diagnostic value of the cue by manipulating the degree of cue overload in terms of the extent to which the retrieval cues subsumed other items in the study list and the level of the encoding-retrieval match. Results support Nairne’s (2002) assertion that the diagnostic value of retrieval cues is a better predictor of memory performance than the absolute encoding-retrieval match.

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