The effect of disfluency on memory for what was said
Disfluencies such as pauses, "um"s and "uh"s are common interruptions in the speech stream. Evidence from studies of both language production and comprehension show that different types of disfluencies appear in distinct contexts and as a result serve as a meaningful communicative signal. Complementary work probing recognition memory for words in spoken sentences shows a memory benefit for words preceded by fillers and pauses. If listeners are sensitive to regularities in form-meaning mappings in the input, forms of disfluency that signal new upcoming information (pauses and fillers) may produce a stronger memory boost, compared to forms which signal speaker difficulty (repetitions). We therefore first directly compare the relative mnemonic benefit of these three types of disfluent interruptions. We then examine the longevity of the predicted memory boost in order to better understand the cognitive underpinnings. Across the three experiments, we observed a disfluency-memory boost for all three types of disfluency. This boost was short-lived, only manifesting when the disfluency immediately preceded the critical memory probe word. Taken together, our findings reveal a disfluency boost in memory for words that is short lived but evoked by multiple types of disfluent forms, consistent with the idea that disfluencies bring attentional focus to immediately upcoming material, without necessarily driving predictions about what will be said next. The downstream consequence of this localized memorial benefit may be better understanding and encoding of the speaker's message as a whole.