GVT: Memory Comparison Task


Information processing task based on Sternberg’s (1975) Memory Comparison Task. Unraveling reaction time into components for a cognitive scanning stage and a perceptual-motor phase, via linear regression of the reaction time (RT) as a function of memory load.

This is the information processing task based on S.Sternberg (1975) Memory Comparison Task. In this task the cognitive scanning stage and the perceptual-motor phase of information processing are measured by means of linear regression of the reaction time as a function of memory load.

The Memory Comparison Test is set up analogous to a paper & pencil (p & p) application that has been used extensively both in the clinic and in research (Brand & Jolles, 1987, Houx, 1991). The p & p test forms (each with 144 elements, including 24 so-called “targets”) are presented identically on the computer screen, and the targets (= memory items) have to be clicked with the mouse.

Standard setting of the (9) subtasks consists of: Exercise screen (target:%), three number tasks (targets 1, 2 and 4 digits) among letters, four letter tasks (1, 2, 3 and 4 letters) among other letters, and finally the Exercise screen again (%). Application of the two exercise or control screens gives the possibility to check for exercise or fatigue effects.

Reactions can be given using the mouse, or using the index finger if there is a touch screen. The individual times and marked elements are recorded. Time of completion of a screen is registered as well as items correct and incorrect. Reaction times are corrected for number of omissions (false negatives) The times of both the number tasks and the letter tasks are subjected to linear regression, from which the slope (cognitive stage) and the intercept (perceptual-motor phase) are calculated, as well as a measure of the linearity (correlation between RT and set size / memory load). A comprehensive interpretative report can be requested.

Normative information comes from research with students, and there are norms based on the original p & p version regarding patients with depression, schizophrenia, and with obsessive compulsive disorder, and from normal volunteers divided into age cohorts from 20 to 80 years. The results of this pc version are comparable to those of the p & p version. In healthy volunteers, the number tasks yield a lower slope than the letter tasks (see figure below), which may indicate the familiar distinction between automatic and controlled information processing (Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977).

With this test module it is possible to print out paper & pencil versions for face-to-face administration of the test. Additional scoring of the p&p results is then possible with the help program LINREG. This allows to enter the manually obtained time and error data on the various subtasks, and the linear regression data are then provided.


  • Brand, N. & Jolles, J. (1987). Information processing in depression and anxiety. Psychological Medicine, 17, 145153.
  • Houx, P. (1991). Cognitive Aging and Health-Related Factors. Maastricht, RL.
  • Brand, N., Schneider, N. & Arnts, P. (1995). Information Processing Efficiency and Noise. Interactions with Personal Rigidity. Personality and Individual Differences 18, 571-579.
  • Brand, N., Hanson, E., & Godaert, G. (2000). Chronic Stress affects Blood Pressure and Speed of Short Term Memory. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 91, 291-298.
  • Markus, C.R., Sierksma, A., Verbeek, C., Van Rooijen, J.J.M., Patel, H.J., Brand, A.N. & Hendriks, H.F.J. (2004). Moderate whisky consumption in combination with an evening meal reduces tryptophan availability to the brain but does not influence performance in healthy volunteers. British Journal of Nutrition, 92, 995-1000.
  • Shiffrin, R. M. & Schneider, W. (1977). Controlled and automatic human information processing II. Perceptual Learning, Automatic Attending, and a General Theory. Psychological Review 84, 127-190.
  • Sternberg, S. (1975). Memory scanning: New findings and current controversies. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 27, 1-32.
  • Sternberg, S. (2016). In defence of high-speed memory scanning. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 69, 2020-2075.

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