Predicting the Optimal Spacing of Study: A Multiscale Context Model of Memory

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 22 (NIPS 2009)

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Harold Pashler, Nicholas Cepeda, Robert V. Lindsey, Ed Vul, Michael C. Mozer


When individuals learn facts (e.g., foreign language vocabulary) over multiple study sessions, the temporal spacing of study has a significant impact on memory retention. Behavioral experiments have shown a nonmonotonic relationship between spacing and retention: short or long intervals between study sessions yield lower cued-recall accuracy than intermediate intervals. Appropriate spacing of study can double retention on educationally relevant time scales. We introduce a Multiscale Context Model (MCM) that is able to predict the influence of a particular study schedule on retention for specific material. MCMs prediction is based on empirical data characterizing forgetting of the material following a single study session. MCM is a synthesis of two existing memory models (Staddon, Chelaru, & Higa, 2002; Raaijmakers, 2003). On the surface, these models are unrelated and incompatible, but we show they share a core feature that allows them to be integrated. MCM can determine study schedules that maximize the durability of learning, and has implications for education and training. MCM can be cast either as a neural network with inputs that fluctuate over time, or as a cascade of leaky integrators. MCM is intriguingly similar to a Bayesian multiscale model of memory (Kording, Tenenbaum, Shadmehr, 2007), yet MCM is better able to account for human declarative memory.