Multitrial Free Recall for Evaluating Memory

R. T. Adrogue, N. Herz, D. J. Halpern, J. Tracy, M. J. Kahana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Much of our knowledge concerning the neural basis of human memory derives from lab-based verbal recall tasks. Outside of the lab, clinicians use validated and normed neuropsychological tests to assess patients’ memory function and to evaluate clinical interventions. Here we sought to establish the clinical validity of examining memory through multitrial free recall of semantically organized and unrelated word lists. Method: We compare memory performance in multitrial free recall tasks with the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test and the California Verbal Learning Test, two common neuropsychological tests aimed at evaluating memory function in clinical settings. We compare predictive validity between the tasks by evaluating deficits in a patient sample and examining age-related declines in memory. We additionally compare test–retest reliability, establish convergent validity, and show the emergence of common recall dynamics between the tasks. Results: We demonstrate that both laboratory free recall tasks have better predictive validity and test–retest reliability than the established neuropsychological tests. We further show that all tasks have good convergent validity and reveal core memory processes, including temporal and semantic organization. However, we also demonstrate the benefits of repeated trials for evaluating the dynamics of memory search and their neuropsychological sequelae. Conclusions: These results provide evidence for the clinical validity of lab-based multitrial free recall tasks and highlight their psychometric benefits over neuropsychological measures. Based on these results, we discuss the need to bridge the gap between clinical understanding of putative mechanisms underlying memory disorders and neuroscientific findings obtained using lab-based free recall tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-68
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Psychological Association


This work was supported by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (Grant R01 NS 106611) awarded to M. J. Kahana and also by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Restoring Active Memory program (Cooperative Agreement N66001-14-2-4032).

FundersFunder number
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Restoring Active Memory programN66001-14-2-4032
Foundation for the National Institutes of HealthR01 NS 106611


    • California Verbal Learning Test
    • Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test
    • categorized free recall
    • free recall


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