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Is There Hebb Repetition Learning for Semantic Information?

Legg, Rebecca and Johnson, Andrew (2023) Is There Hebb Repetition Learning for Semantic Information?
There are numerous pieces of empirical evidence (Hebb, 1961; Johnson et al., 2017; Page et al., 2013) showing that repeating a sequence of information results in better serial recall accuracy relative to non-repeated sequences (i.e., the Hebb repetition effect, HRE). Additional information, other than exact item and order repetition, can produce HREs such as motor responses (Johnson et al., 2017) and metrical patterns (Paice et al., in preparation). There has, however, been no investigation as to whether semantic information can be acquired in a similar way to item and order information, despite evidence showing semantic similarity improves recall in Immediate Serial Recall (ISR) tasks (Saint-Aubin et al., 2005). The current research therefore investigated whether a HRE for semantic information exists across three experiments using HRE procedures. Experiment 1 showed no evidence of a HRE when only a semantic pattern was repeated, (i.e., without exact item repetition). Experiment 2 replicated the canonical HRE with exact list repetitions; however, the recall advantage generated did not transfer to novel item lists following the same semantic pattern. That is, Experiment 2 showed that once learnt, sequence knowledge was not transferred to a semantically related list. Lastly, Experiment 3 adopted a typical Hebb repetition paradigm wherein participants learnt lists of category labels; however, at test participants reconstructed the lists using exemplars of the category labels. There was a significant HRE, however, the exact mechanism driving this effect is unclear. In general, results are discussed alongside two prominent models of the HRE (Burgess & Hitch, 1999, 2006; Page & Norris, 1998, 2009). Overall, findings across the three experiments suggest that semantic information is not acquired in a similar way to item and order information when learning new lists, therefore, supporting the two models in their current form as explanations of the HRE.
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