Situational Episodic Context Theory: An Extension of the Episodic Context Account of the Testing Effect



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Thesis paper Violet Jun 27-1

Situational Episodic Context Theory: An Extension of the Episodic Context Account of the Testing Effect

A Thesis Presented for the


Bachelor of Science
Degree
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Violet/Ammon James Luckart


May 2023

Abstract
The testing effect, the idea that testing benefits recall more than restudying, has many different theories to explain it. One of these, the episodic context account, is incomplete because it does not incorporate other kinds of episodic memory related to the learning experience besides temporal context. According to a new theory, the situational episodic context (SEC) theory, not only temporal but visuospatial, environmental, and procedural (collectively called 'situational') contexts also play a vital role in the testing effect. In this experiment, participants read a short story, then either tested on or restudied the material twice, with two days separating each attempt. These participants either did so in a classroom setting or while riding the bus. All participants then took a final test and final scores were compared across groups.


Preface
When I was younger, I never considered myself a scientist. I saw the mandatory scientific method lessons at the beginning of nearly every introductory science course as one I could largely skip. However, in college, I grew to love the scientific method. It was not long before I was already thinking like a scientist in everyday life. I had doubts about whether I would enjoy research as a profession, but thanks to Dr. Robert Dubois, (also known as Dr. Bob), my research methods instructor, I found research to be my calling. Dr. Bob agreed to advise me on this project and his expertise in psychological research methods will prove incredibly useful. I am thankful for all of his advice and encouragement. It was his class that sparked my idea to write a bachelor’s thesis.


As a scholar of cognitive psychology and neuroscience, I have always been fascinated with the processes of learning and memory. I remember preparing for chemistry exams at my community college by completing practice tests. I always did really well on those exams. Years later, I came across a phenomenon in published research called the testing effect. When I read that testing can enhance later recall, I remembered my chemistry practice exams, and the idea really resonated with me. Later, in university, I studied under a famous mnemonist, Dr. Rajan Mahadevan, who made the Guinness Book of World Records in 1981 for reciting over 31,000 digits of the irrational mathematical constant, pi (π). Dr. Rajan invited me to do some student-led, instructor-supervised undergraduate research, and very excitedly, I managed to convince my fellow researchers to study the testing effect. I realized then that I wanted to do a more in-depth study of the testing effect. When I decided to do a thesis, I had no trouble finding a topic to write about. Dr. Rajan agreed to join my thesis review committee and I consider it an absolute honor to have him both as an advisor and as a friend. I look forward to a lifelong friendship and career with him.
Much research on the testing effect and many theories to explain it have arisen over the last few decades. One of the most recent theories is called the episodic context account (ECA), posited by Karpicke, Lehman, and Aue in 2014. I intend to build on this theory. The ECA makes sense to me, but it seems incomplete. Ergo, here I propose a new, closely related theory: the situational episodic context (SEC) theory. I will attempt to test this theory of situational episodic context for memory of details in short stories. Hopefully this will serve as a foundation for future explorations of my theory and contribute to our understanding of the testing effect.
While this paper is aimed at researchers of memory, teachers and learners can also utilize the information in this paper to improve their teaching and study habits.
I would like to thank Dr. Rajan and Dr. Bob for the countless hours of unfailing support and advice they have given me. I also wish to acknowledge my mother, who inspired me by writing her own doctoral thesis, and my wife, who supported me every step of the way and watched our child while I worked hard on this project. I would also like to thank all the teachers who have fostered in me a love for science and learning, including my chemistry instructor, Nadine Fattaleh, who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.

Table of Contents


Page
Abstract.........................................................................................................................................................................ii
Acknowledgements.................................................................................................................................................iii
Preface..........................................................................................................................................................................iv
Table of Contents......................................................................................................................................................vi
List of Figures..........................................................................................................................................................viii

  1. Introduction.........................................................................................................................................................1

    1. Theories to Explain the Testing Effect....................................................................................3

    2. Factors Affecting and Conditions Necessary for the Testing Effect.........................15

  1. Situational Episodic Context Theory.......................................................................................................23

    1. Extending the Episodic Context Account........................................................................23

    2. Testing Situational Context for Novel "On-the-Go" Learning Experiences.......29

  2. Methodology......................................................................................................................................................29

    1. Research Design.........................................................................................................................

    2. Limitations...................................................................................................................................

    3. Summary and Predictions.......................................................................................................

  3. Results..................................................................................................................................................................

    1. Testing vs. Restudy....................................................................................................................

    2. Bus vs. Classroom..........................................................................................................................

  4. Discussion and Analysis.................................................................................................................................

List of Figures



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