List composition and the word length effect in immediate recall: a comparison of localist and globalist assumptions

Nelson Cowan, Alan Baddeley, Emily M Elliott, Jennifer Norris

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Lists of short words usually are recalled better than lists of longer words in immediate recall tasks. Such word length effects might be explained by localist accounts, in which the length of each word in a list affects the recall of that word only, or by globalist accounts, in which the lengths of at least some words affect the recall of other words (e.g., Baddeley, 1986). In a recent localist account, Neath and Nairne (1995) proposed that the recall of each word depends on the likelihood that features within the word are contaminated within the memory representation. We tested this by presenting not only homogeneous lists of short and long words, but also mixed lists, and by including articulatory suppression on some trials. The short-word advantage depended on the composition of the list, ruling out a strictly localist approach. There appear to be several globalist influences on recall, including distinctiveness factors as well as phonological storage and articulation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-9
Number of pages6
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • Adult
  • Attention
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Phonetics
  • Semantics
  • Verbal Learning

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