I am a rulebook writer and editor, and I have been digging into the literature for cognitive effects and heuristics that affect one's ability to learn and remember complicated concepts from text. For example, the primacy effect and recency effect show that it's easier to recall information stated at the beginning and end of a list.

What are some other predominant cognitive effects or heuristics that affect learning and recall from text?


1 Answer 1


Both the primacy and recency effects may also be referred to as parts of the serial position effect. Wikipedia has a list of memory biases you may want to peruse. Most entries are potentially relevant:

  • Cryptomnesia: a form of misattribution where a memory is mistaken for imagination, because there is no subjective experience of it being a memory.[1][See misattribution of memory.]
  • Egocentric bias: recalling the past in a self-serving manner, e.g., remembering one's exam grades as being better than they were...
  • Fading affect bias: a bias in which the emotion associated with unpleasant memories fades more quickly than the emotion associated with positive events.[4]...
  • Google effect: the tendency to forget information that can be easily found online...
  • Humor effect: that humorous items are more easily remembered than non-humorous ones, which might be explained by the distinctiveness of humor, the increased cognitive processing time to understand the humor, or the emotional arousal caused by the humor...
  • Leveling and Sharpening: memory distortions introduced by the loss of details in a recollection over time, often concurrent with sharpening or selective recollection of certain details that take on exaggerated significance in relation to the details or aspects of the experience lost through leveling. Both biases may be reinforced over time, and by repeated recollection or re-telling of a memory.[6]
  • Levels-of-processing effect: that different methods of encoding information into memory have different levels of effectiveness (Craik & Lockhart, 1972).
  • List-length effect: a smaller percentage of items are remembered in a longer list, but as the length of the list increases, the absolute number of items remembered increases as well...
  • Misattribution of memory: when information is retained in memory but the source of the memory is forgotten. One of Schacter's (1999) Seven Sins of Memory, Misattribution was divided into Source Confusion, Cryptomnesia and False Recall/False Recognition.[1]
  • Memory inhibition: that being shown some items from a list makes it harder to retrieve the other items (e.g., Slamecka, 1968).
  • Modality effect: that memory recall is higher for the last items of a list when the list items were received via speech than when they were received via writing.
  • Mood congruent memory bias: the improved recall of information congruent with one's current mood...
  • Peak-end effect: that people seem to perceive not the sum of an experience but the average of how it was at its peak (e.g. pleasant or unpleasant) and how it ended...
  • Picture superiority effect: that concepts are much more likely to be remembered experientially if they are presented in picture form than if they are presented in word form.[7]...
  • Positivity effect: that older adults favor positive over negative information in their memories.
  • Primacy effect, Recency effect & Serial position effect:[10] that items near the end of a list are the easiest to recall, followed by the items at the beginning of a list; items in the middle are the least likely to be remembered.[10]...
  • Rosy retrospection: the remembering of the past as having been better than it really was.
  • Self-reference effect: the phenomena that memories encoded with relation to the self are better recalled than similar information encoded otherwise...
  • Source Confusion: [Omitted; redundant with misattribution of memory.]
  • Spacing effect: that information is better recalled if exposure to it is repeated over a longer span of time. [Also mentioned as "lag effect".]
  • Stereotypical bias: memory distorted towards stereotypes (e.g. racial or gender), e.g. "black-sounding" names being misremembered as names of criminals.[1]
  • Suffix effect: the weakening of the recency effect in the case that an item is appended to the list that the subject is not required to recall (Morton, Crowder & Prussin, 1971)...
  • Testing effect: that frequent testing of material that has been committed to memory improves memory recall.
  • Tip of the tongue: when a subject is able to recall parts of an item, or related information, but is frustratingly unable to recall the whole item. This is thought to be an instance of "blocking" where multiple similar memories are being recalled and interfere with each other.[1]
  • Verbatim effect: that the "gist" of what someone has said is better remembered than the verbatim wording (Poppenk, Walia, Joanisse, Danckert, & Köhler, 2006).
  • Von Restorff effect: that an item that sticks out is more likely to be remembered than other items (von Restorff, 1933).
  • Zeigarnik effect: that uncompleted or interrupted tasks are remembered better than completed ones.

I've reproduced most of the list, because most could apply for one kind of written material or another (e.g., novels, textbooks, one's own work). I've noted a few redundancies in brackets, but I may have missed others. I've also embedded a few extra hyperlinks to original sources where freely available.

1. Schacter, D. L. (1999). The seven sins of memory: Insights from psychology and cognitive neuroscience. American Psychologist, 54(3), 182–203. Retrieved from http://nwkpsych.rutgers.edu/~jose/courses/578_mem_learn/2012/readings/Schacter_1999.pdf.
4. Walker, W. R., Skowronski, J. J., & Thompson, C. P. (2003). Life is pleasant—and memory helps to keep it that way! Review of General Psychology, 7(2), 203–210. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/zs179s.
6. Koriat, A., Goldsmith, M., & Pansky, A. (2000). Toward a psychology of memory accuracy. Annual Review of Psychology, 51(1), 481–537. Retrieved from http://academic.udayton.edu/SusanDavis/PSY%20522/Articles/Towards%20a%20psychology%20of%20memory%20accuracy.pdf.
7. Nelson, D. L., Reed, V. S., & Walling, J. R. (1976). Pictorial superiority effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 2(5), 523–528.
10. Martin, G. N., Carlson, N. R., & Buskist, W. (2007). Psychology (3rd ed., pp. 309–310). Pearson Education.

- Craik, F. I., & Lockhart, R. S. (1972). Levels of processing: A framework for memory research. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11(6), 671–684. Retrieved from http://www.numyspace.co.uk/~unn_tsmc4/prac/labs/depth/craiklock.pdf.
- Morton, J., Crowder, R. G., & Prussin, H. A. (1971). Experiments with the stimulus suffix effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 91(1), 169–190.
- Poppenk, J., Walia, G., Joanisse, M., Danckert, S., & Köhler, S. (2006). Why is form information in sentences poorly remembered? An fMRI study on the role of novelty-encoding processes. Supplement of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18, (Paper presented at the 13th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, San Francisco, California, USA).
- Slamecka, N. J. (1968). An examination of trace storage in free recall. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 76(4), 504–513. Retrieved from http://www.tamu.edu/faculty/stevesmith/689/Inhibition/Slamecka%201968.pdf.
- Von Restorff, H. (1933). Über die wirkung von bereichsbildungen im spurenfeld. Psychologische Forschung, 18(1), 299–342.


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