Associate Professor of Psychology Matthew Kelley co-authors article on semantic memory

Semantic memory research by Lake Forest professor Matthew Kelley, along with Ian Neath and Aimee Surprenant from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, will be published in the leading journal Memory & Cognition.

What can the theme song from Scooby-Doo, the movies of Pixar, and the books of Harry Potter tell us about how our memory operates?  Quite a bit!

The present study showed that when people were asked to remember the order of lyrics, films, and books—a task that requires long-term semantic memory—they tended to produce a serial position curve.  That is, they remembered the first and last few items well, but had poor memory for the middle items.  

Whereas these curves are common in episodic (autobiographical) tasks, semantic serial position functions had previously only been reported with two classes of stimuli: politicians (presidents and prime ministers) and lyrics (hymns and college fight songs). 

According to Kelley, “Our study addressed some shortcomings of past lyrical research, demonstrated the phenomenon with two new classes of stimuli, and provided support for the idea that one general principle may be responsible for all types of serial position effects.”

The article, titled “Three More Semantic Serial Position Functions and a SIMPLE Explanation,” will appear in a spring issue of Memory & Cognition.