Tracing the path of forgetting in rule abstraction and exemplar retrieval


People often forget acquired knowledge over time such as names of former classmates. Which knowledge people can access, however, may modify the judgement process and affect judgement accuracy. Specifically, we hypothesised that judgements based on retrieving past exemplars from long-term memory may be more vulnerable to forgetting than remembering rules that relate the cues to the criterion. Experiment 1 systematically tracked the individual course of forgetting from initial learning to later tests (immediate, 1 day, and 1 week) in a linear judgement task facilitating rule-based strategies and a multiplicative judgement task facilitating exemplar-based strategies. Practising the acquired judgement strategy in repeated tests helped participants to consistently apply the learnt judgement strategy and retain a high judgement accuracy even after a week. Yet, whereas a long retention interval did not affect judgements in the linear task, a long retention interval impaired judgements in the multiplicative task. If practice was restricted as in Experiment 2, judgement accuracy suffered in both tasks. In addition, after a week without practice, participants tried to reconstruct their judgements by applying rules in the multiplicative task. These results emphasise that the extent to which decision makers can still retrieve previously learned knowledge limits their ability to make accurate judgements and that the preferred strategies change over time if the opportunity for practice is limited.

Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology