Spatial Descriptions Eliminate the Serial Position Effect

Ilaria Santoro1, Fabrizio Sors1, Serena Mingolo1, Valter Prpic2, 3, Tiziano Agostini1, Mauro Murgia1, *
1 Department of Life Sciences, University of Trieste, Trieste 34138, Italy
2 Department of Philosophy and Communication Studies, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy
3 Institute for Psychological Science, De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom

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© 2023 Murgia et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Life Sciences, University of Trieste, Trieste 34138, Italy; Tel: +39 3404020442; E-mail:



The present study aims to investigate the occurrence of the serial position effect in the recall of items verbally presented in three different contexts.


The serial position effect has been studied with both verbal (e.g., words) and visuospatial (e.g., locations) stimuli but not with verbal-spatial stimuli (i.e., spatial description of an environment). In particular, a spatial description of an environment has both spatial information and a meaningful context.


The objective of the present study is to determine whether the use of different contexts (namely, a classic word list, a spatial description of a room, and a narrative without spatial information) can alter the serial position effect.


Depending on the condition, participants were exposed to a) a list of objects, b) a spatial description of a room containing the same objects; c) a narrative presenting the same objects in lack of spatial information. After this learning phase, participants performed a recognition task.


The recognition task revealed different accuracy distributions in the three conditions. In particular, in the spatial description condition, the accuracy distribution did not change across the item position.


This result is in line with previous studies with visuospatial stimuli. Thus, it seems that spatial descriptions are a particular kind of verbal stimuli, which are encoded similarly to visuospatial stimuli. Overall, these outcomes support the idea that spatial descriptions elicit a spatial representation, which enhances item retention and eliminates the serial position effect.

Keywords: Spatial description, Serial position, Context, Verbal stimuli, Visuospatial stimuli, Serial position effect.