Rehearsal in serial recall: An unworkable solution to the nonexistent problem of decay

Stephan Lewandowsky*, Klaus Oberauer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


We examine the explanatory roles that have been ascribed to various forms of rehearsal or refreshing in short-term memory (STM) and working memory paradigms, usually in conjunction with the assumption that memories decay over time if they are not rehearsed. Notwithstanding the popularity of the rehearsal notion, there have been few detailed examinations of its underlying mechanisms. We explicitly implemented rehearsal in a decay model and explored its role by simulation in several benchmark paradigms ranging from immediate serial recall to complex span and delayed recall. The results show that articulatory forms of rehearsal often fail to counteract temporal decay. Rapid attentional refreshing performs considerably better, but so far there is scant empirical evidence that people engage in refreshing during STM tasks. Combining articulatory rehearsal and refreshing as 2 independent maintenance processes running in parallel leads to worse performance than refreshing alone. We conclude that theoretical reliance on articulatory rehearsal as a causative agent in memory may be unwise and that explanatory appeals to rehearsal are insufficient unless buttressed by quantitative modeling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)674-699
Number of pages26
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015

Structured keywords

  • Memory


  • Decay and forgetting
  • Models of short-term memory
  • Rehearsal in short-term memory

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Rehearsal in serial recall: An unworkable solution to the nonexistent problem of decay'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this