The Hebb repetition effect in simple and complex memory span

Klaus Oberauer*, Tim Jones, Stephan Lewandowsky

*Corresponding author for this work

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

20 Citations (Scopus)


The Hebb repetition effect refers to the finding that immediate serial recall is improved over trials for memory lists that are surreptitiously repeated across trials, relative to new lists. We show in four experiments that the Hebb repetition effect is also observed with a complex-span task, in which encoding or retrieval of list items alternates with an unrelated processing task. The interruption of encoding or retrieval by the processing task did not reduce the size of the Hebb effect, demonstrating that incidental long-term learning forms integrated representations of lists, excluding the interleaved processing events. Contrary to the assumption that complex-span performance relies more on long-term memory than standard immediate serial recall (simple span), the Hebb effect was not larger in complex-span than in simple-span performance. The Hebb effect in complex span was also not modulated by the opportunity for refreshing list items, questioning a role of refreshing for the acquisition of the long-term memory representations underlying the effect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)852-865
Number of pages14
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number6
Early online date25 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Structured keywords

  • Memory


  • Complex span task
  • Immediate serial recall
  • Long-term memory
  • Working memory


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