A Context Maintenance and Retrieval Model of Organizational Processes in Free Recall

Sean M. Polyn, Kenneth A. Norman, Michael J. Kahana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

488 Scopus citations


The authors present the context maintenance and retrieval (CMR) model of memory search, a generalized version of the temporal context model of M. W. Howard and M. J. Kahana (2002a), which proposes that memory search is driven by an internally maintained context representation composed of stimulus-related and source-related features. In the CMR model, organizational effects (the tendency for related items to cluster during the recall sequence) arise as a consequence of associations between active context elements and features of the studied material. Semantic clustering is due to longstanding context-to-item associations, whereas temporal clustering and source clustering are both due to associations formed during the study episode. A behavioral investigation of the three forms of organization provides data to constrain the CMR model, revealing interactions between the organizational factors. Finally, the authors discuss the implications of CMR for their understanding of a broad class of episodic memory phenomena and suggest ways in which this theory may guide exploration of the neural correlates of memory search.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-156
Number of pages28
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • computational model
  • context
  • encoding task
  • organization theory
  • source


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