Memory for Serial Order Across Domains: An Overview of the Literature and Directions for Future Research

Mark J Hurlstone, Graham J Hitch, Alan D Baddeley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


From vocabulary learning to imitating sequences of motor actions, the ability to plan, represent, and recall a novel sequence of items in the correct order is fundamental for many verbal and nonverbal higher level cognitive activities. Here we review phenomena of serial order documented across the verbal, visual, and spatial short-term memory domains and interpret them with reference to the principles of serial order and ancillary assumptions instantiated in contemporary computational theories of memory for serial order. We propose that functional similarities across domains buttress the notion that verbal, visual, and spatial sequences are planned and controlled by a competitive queuing (CQ) mechanism in which items are simultaneously active in parallel and the strongest item is chosen for output. Within the verbal short-term memory CQ system, evidence suggests that serial order is represented via a primacy gradient, position marking, response suppression, and cumulative matching. Evidence further indicates that output interference operates during recall and that item similarity effects manifest during both serial order encoding and retrieval. By contrast, the principles underlying the representation of serial order in the visual and spatial CQ systems are unclear, largely because the relevant studies have yet to be performed. In the spatial domain, there is some evidence for a primacy gradient and position marking, whereas in the visual domain there is no direct evidence for either of the principles of serial order. We conclude by proposing some directions for future research designed to bridge this and other theoretical gaps in the literature. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-373
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2013

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