Is variability appropriate? Encoding Variability and Transfer-Appropriate Processing

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Virginia Tech


Transfer-appropriate processing (TAP) proposes that retrieval success is based on the match between processing at encoding and retrieval. We propose that the processing described by TAP determines the contextual cues that are encoded with an event. At retrieval, the presence or absence of contextual cues matching the encoding cues will influence success. To implement these principles as a strategy to improve memory, the nature of future retrieval processing or cues must be known during encoding. As this is unlikely in real-world memory function, we propose that increased encoding variability – increasing the range of encoded cues – increases the likelihood of TAP when the retrieval scenario is unknown. The larger the set of encoded cues, the more likely those cues will recur during retrieval and therefore achieve TAP. Preliminary research in our lab (Diana, unpublished data) has found that increased encoding variability improves memory for item information in a novel retrieval context. To test whether this benefit to memory is due to the increased likelihood of TAP, the current experiment compared the effects of encoding variability under conditions that emphasize TAP to conditions that reduce TAP. We found main effects of encoding variability and TAP, but no interaction between the two. Planned comparisons between high and low variability encoding contexts within matching and non-matching retrieval contexts did not produce a significant difference between high and low variability when encoding-retrieval processing matched. We conclude that further studies are necessary to determine whether encoding variability has mechanisms that benefit memory beyond TAP.



encoding variability, context variability, transfer-appropriate processing, episodic memory