The word length effect in backward recall: the role of response modality Journal Articles uri icon

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  • In immediate serial recall, it is well known that participants are better at recalling short rather than long words. This benchmark memory effect, known as word length effect, has been observed numerous times in forward recall. However, in backward recall, when participants are required to recall items in the reverse order, contradictory findings have been reported. For instance, in some studies, the word length effect was abolished in backward recall, whereas in others it was maintained. In the present study, we investigated the role of response modality in accounting for this discrepancy. Our results showed that in forward recall, the word length effect is unaffected by response modality. In backward recall with a manual response (click or written), the word length effect is as large as in forward recall. Critically, when participants recalled a word orally, the word length effect was severely reduced in backward recall. We concluded that response modality interacts with the processes called upon in backward recall.


  • Saint-Aubin, Jean
  • Beaudry, Olivia
  • Guitard, Dominic
  • Pâquet, Myriam
  • Guérard, Katherine

publication date

  • May 27, 2020

published in