Individual Differences in Sternberg's Memory Scanning Task


Journal Article


Corbin, L., Marquer, J.




Individual Differences in Sternberg's Memory Scanning Task

Journal / Livre / Conférence

Acta Psychologica


This study provides a new perspective on both the cognitive processes actually implemented and the effect of a simple experimental control – the recall constraint – in Sternberg’s memory scanning task. These findings were highlighted by adopting a new approach based on the comparison of qualitative and quantitative results. The analysis of individual processing, on 72 adults, each participating in one of two experimental conditions (with or without sequence recall), highlighted a large variability in quantitative results as well as qualitative procedures. Based on the participants’ retrospective verbalisations, two categories of strategies were identified: (1) the procedures used to memorize the sequence of digits, and (2) the procedures used to compare this sequence with the test digit, which includes strategies for coding the items and processes for searching them in memory. The analysis of the strategies shows that their frequencies of use depend not only on the experimental condition, but also on the participants, the level of task difficulty and the interaction between participants and level of difficulty. This variability questions the accuracy of Sternberg’s mean model. Furthermore, this approach suggests some answers to the old debate concerning the exhaustive search pattern for the yes response. Indeed, our results show three types of strategies that can be identified according to the different models of search suggested in the literature. The “exhaustive” search, that would only be involved in the recall condition and only for some of the participants, the “self-terminating” search and the “immediate” strategy, which can be identified with a model of parallel search with limited resources. Thus our study suggests that the different search models are appropriate but depend on both the specific experimental conditions and participant’s strategy. Our results should help to improve the interpretation of data collected with this paradigm in cognitive and neuroscientific studies of memory.








Memory scanning; Cognitive strategies; Experimenter-imposed constraint


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