1997, Vol. 104, No. 4, 728-748
A Production System Theory of Serial Memory
John R. Anderson
A theory is described that provides a detailed model of how people recall serial lists of items. This theory is based on the Adaptive Character of Thought - Rational (ACT-R) production system (J. R. Anderson, 1993). It assumes that serial lists are represented as hierarchical structures consisting of groups and items within groups. Declarative knowledge units encode the position of items and of groups within larger groups. Production rules use this positional information to organize the serial recall of a list of items. In ACT-R, memory access depends on a limited-capacity activation process, and errors can occur in the contents of recall because of a partial matching process. These limitations conspire in a number of ways to produce the limitations in immediate memory span: As the span increases, activation must be divided among more elements, activation decays more with longer recall times, and there are more opportunities for positional and acoustic confusions. The theory is shown to be capable of predicting both latency and error patterns in serial recall. It addresses effects of serial position, list length, delay, word length, positional confusion, acoustic confusion, and articulatory suppression.
and ACT-R and Lisp code:
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