Retrieval of temporal structure at recall can occur automatically

Talya Sadeh, Morris Moscovitch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Temporal-structure, namely, the order in which events unfold over time, is one of the fundamental principles of episodic memory organization. A seminal empirical demonstration of the prominence of temporal structure in memory organization is the Temporal Contiguity Effect (TCE), whereby the proximity between two items at encoding predicts the likelihood of those two items being retrieved consecutively during recall. Recent studies have found that TCE occurs under a wide variety of conditions in which strategic control processes at encoding are reduced or even eliminated. This suggests that the encoding of temporal structure occurs automatically. Extending these findings, in the current study we asked whether the retrieval of temporal structure, as reflected by indices of the TCE, is influenced by strategic control processes at retrieval. To manipulate participants' ability to rely on strategic control processes, we compared standard recall performance (Full Attention condition) to a condition in which attention was divided between recall and a concurrent task (Divided Attention condition), which has been shown to disrupt such control processes. Across two experiments—one with standard encoding conditions and one with continual distraction during encoding—we found no differences in any index of the TCE between the two conditions. These results are all the more striking considering that in both experiments, dividing attention negatively affected overall recall performance compared to the Full Attention condition. Thus, while recall performance is reduced when disrupting strategic processes, the ability to use temporal structure to drive recall is not affected.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105647
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2024


  • Attention
  • Episodic memory
  • Free recall
  • Strategic retrieval
  • Temporal contiguity effect
  • Temporal organization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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