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A Contextual Theory on the Generation Effect

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posted on 01.08.2020, 00:00 by Matthew P McCurdy
The generation effect is the memory benefit for information that is self-generated compared to information that is read. Several boundary conditions have been identified for this effect, suggesting the memory benefit for generating is not universal, but instead depends on certain experimental factors. Although several theories have been proposed to account for the generation effect throughout the study of this memory phenomenon, the existing theories often only apply under a specific set of experimental conditions, limiting their explanatory power. Based on principles of contextualism, I develop and empirically test a contextual theory of the generation effect that flexibly accounts for variations in the generation effect by considering interactions among four key experimental factors: encoding task, materials, memory test, and subject (abilities). To test the theory, I compared the size of the generation effect across 16 different experimental contexts (representing variation in how these four experimental factors interact with one another). The results of this study confirm that the generation effect is strongly influenced by the experimental context under which it is studied, revealing that the generation effect (i.e., the memory benefit over reading) varied from a 10% to 20% increase for a free recall memory test and from a 22% to 36% increase for a recognition memory test across the different experimental contexts. Further, analyses showed a four-way interaction between each of the four factors included in the theory, suggesting that these factors uniquely influence the outcomes of generation effect studies. The overall pattern of results, however, did not fully align with the predictions of the contextual theory, highlighting that more research is needed to refine the theory. The data from this project can be used as a guide for future investigations on the interactions among the four key factors to inform future theoretical work and advance understanding of the generation effect.



Leshikar, Eric D


Leshikar, Eric D



Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level


Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Pellegrino, James W Raney, Gary E Szpunar, Karl K Hunt, Reed

Submitted date

August 2020

Thesis type




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