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Cued Recall

Cued recall is like free recall except subjects are given hints (cues) at the time of recall. The cues are supposed to help the subject recall the memorized items. However, to be effective, the cue must relate to the way a subject interpreted the item in the list. If you interpret plane as flat surface, then a cue like flying will not help you remember it later. If you interpret plane as airplane, then the cue flying might help you recall it, later.

How do cued recall experiments work? How can cued recall be used to demonstrate spontaneous trait inference?

Cued recall is useful for detecting unconscious or automatic aspects of a subject's interpretation of a stimulus. For example, researchers discovered a phenomenon called spontaneous trait inference. Given a sentence like "The librarian carries the old woman's groceries across the street" a word like helpful was an effective cue that aided recall (Winter & Uleman, 1984).

The word helpful does not appear in the original sentence. Subjects infer that the librarian was helpful. The reason this is called spontaneous trait inference is that the subject does it spontaneously (automatically, without instruction), it involves an inference (a logical assumption), and it involves a trait of a person (helpfulness). Cued recall experiments in this case provide valuable evidence about complex encoding processes, showing that people automatically elaborate a simple sentence, making logical inferences that can affect memory later.

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