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Fading memories of television past.

Fading remembrances of television past

A psychologist has come up with a happy ending for the plethora of prime-time television programs axes after one year on the major networks. He uses them to illuminate the nature of long-term memory over as many as 15 years.

His findings establish for the first time that forgetting can be gradual and continuous for many years after learning, particularly if there was limited, intermittent exposure to the learned material, reports Larry R. Squire of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in San Diego, in the March JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY: LEARNING, MEMORY AND COGNITION.

Squire devised a multiple-choice test based on one-season television shows aired from one to 15 years previously. He administered the test to a different group of 20 to 32 subjects for nine consecutive years, from 1978 to 1986. Each annual test contained an average of 70 questions and was updated to include canceled programs from the prior year. The test asked people to choose a former show from four titles, three of them fabricated.

A question for the year 1974, for example, provides the following choices: "Mandrake," "Shipmates," "Private Nelson" and "Lucas Tanner." The last title is the correct response.

Squire combined the average percentage of correct responses for each of the preceding 15 years across the nine test groups. The percentage of correct scores for each program was then statistically adjusted according to the number of weeks it remained on the air.

Subjects recognized about three-quarters of the shows from the year before taking the test. Two-thirds of the responses were correct for shows canceled five years previously. Correct responses bottomed out at 58 percent for 15-year-old-programs.

Evidence for the gradual forgetting of television-program names contrasts with research showing that although some Spanish learned in high school is soon forgotten, after several years a substantial amount of knowledge remains and is accessible for 25 to 50 years (SN: 3/10/84, p.149).

Gradual forgetting may not extend beyond a few years for material learned over several years with repeated exposures, such as a foreign language, Squire suggests. But for facts, names and events to which one has limited exposure, gradual and continuous forgetting appears the rule, he maintains.
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Title Annotation:canceled television programs used in memory research project
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 18, 1989
Words:369
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