More is not always better: Paradoxical effects of repetition on semantic accessibility

Brice A. Kuhl, Michael C. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Repetition normally enhances memory. While in some cases the benefit of added repetition may be incremental, few would expect that massed repetition could actually reverse the benefits of brief repetition. Here we report two experiments that document a clear example of a paradoxical effect of massed repetition. Subjects first repeated words (e. g., "sheep") aloud one at a time for 0, 5, 10, 20, or 40 s. A free association phase followed in which cues could be completed with repeated words (e. g., "herd s___" for "sheep") or with semantically associated words (e. g., "fabric w___" for "wool"). Brief periods of repetition (5-10 s) resulted in priming, as would be expected based on research on repetition priming and spreading activation. Longer periods of repetition (20-40 s), however, abolished priming. Interestingly, this massed-repetition decrement was particularly robust for semantic associates of repeated words, and was evident after a 15-min delay. These findings document a paradoxical feature of the effects of rehearsal on memory: When ideas are repeated often enough, the benefits of rehearsal can actually be reversed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)964-972
Number of pages9
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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