A memory study of people and places


Much of the research on human episodic memory has come from experiments conducted in the laboratory (Misra et al., 2018). These studies typically present and test participants on random lists of words and researchers can control the selection and ordering of the word lists as well as the timing intervals used at study and test. However, a recent body of literature questions whether lab-based memory findings can be extrapolated beyond the laboratory settings in which they were obtained (Fonti, 2021). A reliable, yet perplexing, memory effect relates to word frequency. The relative frequency with which a word occurs in language can either assist or impede memory performance depending on the task. In a laboratory free recall task, where participants are presented with a list of words and told to recall them in any order, performance is better for high-frequency (i.e., common) words compared to low-frequency (i.e., rare) words (Gillund & Shiffrin, 1984). Conversely, in a laboratory recognition task, where participants study a list of words and at test have to discriminate between words that were on the study list and words that were not, performance is better for low-frequency words compared to high-frequency words. A number of explanations have been proposed to account for the frequency effect findings in free recall. What all of these accounts have in common, however, is that they were established in the laboratory. To better capture everyday memory processes, researchers must evaluate these findings in real-world paradigms.

Research Questions / Hypotheses

It is hypothesised that discriminability (and performance) will be greater for low-frequency locations and emails compared to high-frequency locations and emails. This will be measured using SDT and d’ will be larger for low-frequency items. There will also be a criterion bias towards responding with a high-frequency location and email compared to a low-frequency location and email. This will, again, be measured using SDT and the C criterion will be negative for high-frequency items. If interitem associations play a role in the high-frequency (correct) recall advantage, then the contiguity effect would be larger for high-frequency locations and emails compared to low-frequency locations and emails. Sequential responses with small lag values will thus be more probable for high-frequency items than low-frequency items. If, on the other hand, order-information is important then the asymmetry effect would be larger for high-frequency locations and emails compared to low-frequency locations and emails. Sequential responses with positive lag values will thus be more probable for high-frequency items compared to low-frequency items.


A total of 18 participants signed up to the study; of which only 3 completed Part 1. All of these participants were not eligible to complete Part 2 of the study because they did not have their Google Map Location Services enabled. Therefore, no one completed the study (both Part 1 and Part 2).


Participants were required to sign up for an https://unforgettable.me account and were asked to collect 30-days of Google Map location and email data. Once they uploaded this data to their unforgettable.me account, a test appeared in their account on the unforgettable.me site. For a given day, this test asked participants to select the locations they had visited and the people they had emailed. It takes approximately 60 minutes to complete. In Part 1 of this study, participants attended a zoom meeting with the researcher where they received instructions on how to download their Google location and email data. Participants were also shown how to create an unforgettable.me account and how to upload their data for the memory task. In Part 2, participants completed their unique memory task on the unforgettable.me website.


This is an ongoing study, and the data has not yet been analysed. The findings are expected to be in line with the aforementioned hypotheses.


Given that the results have not yet been reported, they cannot be interpreted at this stage. This study is part of a Fourth Year Honours research project.