Integration versus decomposition in the retention of complex ideas

Richardson, John T. E. (1985). Integration versus decomposition in the retention of complex ideas. Memory & Cognition, 13(2) pp. 112–127.



Four accounts of the processes underlying the retention of connected sentences expressing complex ideas were critically evaluated and experimentally compared. The constructive theory and the imagery theory emphasized the integration of the information expressed by different stimulus items; the tally theory and the fragmentation theory emphasized the decomposition of the information contained within individual stimulus items. In Experiment 1, concrete ideas did not show better integration than abstract ideas, and imagery mnemonic instructions failed to enhance the integration of concrete ideas; these findings were inconsistent with the imagery theory. Moreover, the detailed pattern of performance was inconsistent with specific predictions of the tally theory. In Experiments 2 and 3, a componential analysis was found to provide an accurate representation of performance in cued recall. However, patterns of recall were found that could not have resulted from a fragmentation process, but only from the integration of information from different stimulus items. Once again, concrete ideas did not show significantly better integration than abstract ideas. These findings support a constructive approach, according to which the synthesis of information into holistic representations involves abstract semantic processes that do not depend upon the use of mental imagery.

Experiment 1 was reported at the London Meeting of the Experimental Psychology Society m January 1980 Experiments 2 and 3 were reported at the Manchester Meeting of the Experimental Psychology Society in March 1983.

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