Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Two theories of associative memory that differ in the hypothesized structure of the memory trace (multiple independent traces or a single unitary trace) and in the way in which these representations are acquired (gradual strengthening or all-or-none) were examined in the context of a list-learning task. The associative, or multiple trace theory, characterizes memorial representation as a series of distinct memory locations that are independently linked together. Acquisition proceeds by continuously incrementing the strength of interconcept links. The Gestalt, or unitary trace theory, on the other hand, characterizes memorial representation as a single unitary structure. According to this model, acquisition consists of a discrete two-stage process. These theories were evaluated in two cued-recall experiments in which the degree of preexperimental knowledge was manipulated. Subjects learned lists of word triads (each of which consisted of a single cue and two target responses) to a stringent acquisition criterion. In Experiment 1, there were no preexperimental relationships between the members of the associative clusters. In Experiment 2, preexperimental knowledge was manipulated by varying the degree of intracluster category membership as measured by whether the cue and target items were typical or atypical category exemplars. In both experiments, a mathematical model that embodies stages-of-learning distinctions, was applied to the acquisition data. The results of these analyses indicated that: (a) Cues and targets were represented in a single holistic memory trace; (b) Learning consisted of a discrete two-stage process; and (c) The manipulation of the degree of preexperimental knowledge affected the learning parameters of both acquisition stages, but had only a minimal impact on second-stage performance parameters. It was argued that these findings were consistent with a single unitary trace interpretation, namely, the modified storage-retrieval model.



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