Sequencing effects on the acquisition and retention of general knowledge and detailed memory specificity

Noh, Sharon Mina
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Using a category learning paradigm, we measured the acquisition and retention of generalized (category-level) and detailed (exemplar-level) knowledge as a function of different learning experiences to improve different types of knowledge (general vs. specific). Participants were trained to identify paintings by different artists for which half of the artists were studied in a blocked sequence and the remainder were interleaved. Participants were tested on general (category) and more detailed (exemplar) knowledge, both immediately after training and after a 1-week delay. We found that although memory performance declines over time, generalized knowledge is more stable. Our results also suggest that generalization and specificity may be competing processes: on immediate test, the schedule that is better for general knowledge (interleaved) is worse for detailed memory, and vice versa. Collectively, our results can inform theories of learning and memory and help determine the optimal conditions for enhancing long-term retention in various contexts.