Navigating the "chain of command": Enhanced integrative encoding through active control of study

AbstractA growing body of research indicates that "active learning" improves episodic memory for material experienced during study. It is less clear how active learning impacts the integration of those experiences into flexible, generalizable knowledge. This study used a novel active transitive inference task to investigate how people learn a relational hierarchy through active selection of premise pairs. Active control improved memory for studied premises as well as transitive inferences involving items that were never experienced together during study. Active learners also exhibited a systematic search preference, generating sequences of overlapping premises that may facilitate relational integration. Critically, however, advantages from active control were not universal: Only participants with higher working memory capacity benefited from the opportunity to select premise pairs during learning. These findings suggest that active control enhances integrative encoding of studied material, but only among individuals with sufficient cognitive resources.

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