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Encoding and Retrieval Influences on the Strategic Study of Important Information


Convenient though it might be, remembering everything that one might hope to remember is often rather unlikely. Prior research suggests that learners are capable of strategically offsetting an inability to remember everything within a set of information that exceeds their encoding capacity by strategically attending to the most valuable or important units within the set (e.g., Castel, 2008; Castel et al., 2012). Such value-directed remembering reflects an effort to ensure that at least the most important information is retained when all cannot be. Abiding by general models of self-regulated learning (Nelson & Narens, 1990; Winne & Hadwin, 1998) and, specifically, the agenda-based regulation (ABR) model (Dunlosky et al., 2011), the research conducted in the present dissertation expands upon this robust finding of value-directed remembering to examine factors that can arise during encoding and retrieval which have been shown not only to influence the total quantity of information that a learner can encode in a given study session (and thus later remember), but have also been shown to or are predicted to influence the extent to which a learner will study strategically in light of the limitations these factors can place on the central executive mechanism of working memory.

The results of the present research support prior value-directed remembering research and general models of self-regulated learning in that participants prioritized high-value (i.e., the most goal-relevant) information over low-value information and adapted their study as per task constraints during study and retrieval demands at test. Support for the ABR model across experiments was somewhat more nuanced, as heightened stress to the central executive mechanism from a variety of sources (e.g., inherent learner characteristics; task-related demands) did not consistently impair value-based prioritization during study or retrieval.

Ongoing research is certainly needed to identify moderating factors and to more clearly outline the extent to which working memory resources can be strained without consequence. Nevertheless, the present research establishes that the ability to recognize and strategically offset limits to one’s memory during encoding by selectively prioritizing the most important/valuable information can, in some situations, withstand even rather notable stressors.

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