In conversation, answers are remembered better than the questions themselves


Language is used in communicative contexts to identify and successfully transmit new information that should be later remembered. In three studies, we used question–answer pairs, a naturalistic device for focusing information, to examine how properties of conversations inform later item memory. In Experiment 1, participants viewed three pictures while listening to a recorded question–answer exchange between two people about the locations of two of the displayed pictures. In a memory recognition test conducted online a day later, participants recognized the names of pictures that served as answers more accurately than the names of pictures that appeared as questions. This suggests that this type of focus indeed boosts memory. In Experiment 2, participants listened to the same items embedded in declarative sentences. There was a reduced memory benefit for the second item, confirming the role of linguistic focus on later memory beyond a simple serial-position effect. In Experiment 3, two participants asked and answered the same questions about objects in a dialogue. Here, answers continued to receive a memory benefit, and this focus effect was accentuated by language production such that information-seekers remembered the answers to their questions better than information-givers remembered the questions they had been asked. Combined, these studies show how people’s memory for conversation is modulated by the referential status of the items mentioned and by the speaker’s roles of the conversation participants.

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 49
Eirini Zormpa
Eirini Zormpa
Quantitative Researcher & Scientific Community Manager

passionate about open source & reproducibility | research background in psychology & language