Variation in working memory capacity and episodic memory: Examining the importance of encoding specificity

Nash Unsworth, Gene Brewer, Gregory J. Spillers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

20 Scopus citations


In the present study, we examined the extent to which encoding specificity influences the relation between individual differences in working memory capacity (WMC) and episodic recall. Participants performed a paired associates cued recall task in which a rhyme or a semantic judgment was made during encoding. During recall participants were presented with the cue word along with either a rhyme or semantic cue. Across both rhyme and semantic conditions, encoding and retrieval conditions either matched or mismatched. When encoding and retrieval conditions matched, high WMC individuals outperformed low WMC individuals. When encoding and retrieval conditions mismatched, high and low WMC individuals performed equivalently. Importantly, this occurred because high WMC individuals were hurt more than low WMC individuals when conditions mismatched. These results demonstrate the importance of encoding specificity in the relation between WMC and episodic recall as well as of unifying prior work that has demonstrated that high WMC individuals are hurt more in some recall conditions than are low WMC individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1113-1118
Number of pages6
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011



  • Individual differences in memory capacity
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

Cite this