The contribution of stimulus frequency and recency to set-size effects

Félice van ‘t Wout*

*Corresponding author for this work

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

2 Citations (Scopus)
223 Downloads (Pure)


Hick’s law describes the increase in choice reaction time (RT) with the number of stimulus-response (S-R) mappings. However, in choice RT experiments, set-size is typically confounded with stimulus recency and frequency: With a smaller set-size, each stimulus occurs on average more frequently and more recently than with a larger set-size. To determine to what extent stimulus recency and frequency contribute to the set-size effect, stimulus set-size was manipulated independently of stimulus recency and frequency, by keeping recency and frequency constant for a subset of the stimuli. Although this substantially reduced the set-size effect (by approximately two-thirds for these stimuli), it did not eliminate it. Thus, the time required to retrieve an S-R mapping from memory is (at least in part) determined by the number of alternatives. In contrast, a recent task switching study (Van ‘t Wout et al. in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition., 41, 363–376, 2015) using the same manipulation found that the time required to retrieve a task-set from memory is not influenced by the number of alternatives per se. Hence, this experiment further supports a distinction between two levels of representation in task-set control: The level of task-sets, and the level of S-R mappings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1123-1128
Number of pages6
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number3
Early online date5 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018

Structured keywords

  • Memory


  • Hick’s law
  • Memory retrieval
  • Set-size effect


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