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The Effects of Levels of Processing on Memorability

Daniel Pinchasow

Queens College, CUNY

 

Author Note

Daniel Pinchasow is a Junior at Queens College, CUNY, majoring in Psychology with a minor in the Pre-Health Services.

This experiment was supervised by the Department of Psychology of Queens College. Any questions regarding this experiment, please contact 718-997-3200 or email: qc_psychology@qc.cuny.edu.

 

Abstract 

We observed a sample of 26 participants’ different levels of processing through the use of questions and recall rate for 60 words that we presented to them. We aimed to identify which level of processing would be triggered the most among each of the participants. Levels of processing focuses on the different levels of encoding, which are retained, recognized, and recalled in the human brain. The human brain takes in information differently, and with the levels of processing theory, we can determine how well something can be remembered for. For this experiment, the use of words and questions were designed to induce the participant’s different levels of processing. We induced three different levels of processing; shallow, intermediate, and deep processing. When inducing a shallow processing of words, it resulted the participants to use their short-term memory, whereas a deeper processing of words resulted the participants to use their long-term memory (i.e.: A deeper processing of words results in a person interacting with the information and being able to analyze it.). The experiment yielded significant results, which showed that the questions that induced a deeper level of processing led to a higher recall rate than questions that induced intermediate or shallow processing.

 

Keywords: levels of processing, encoding, short-term memory, long-term memory, recall rate, shallow level of processing, intermediate level of processing, deep level of processing

 

Memory Processing

The human brain is very complex, composed of an intricate structure, and wired to store almost every experience that it has gone through. This information is stored in the memory the brain which not  only stores the information but also provides for a retrieval mechanism for all the information stored. Memories begin to form at the earliest stages of our lives. At all stages, we learn from observation and retain everything that we observe into our memories.  The information stored throughout our lives continues to play an integral part in our daily lives by informing our actions, omissions, and perceptions that we have. Our memories continue to guide almost every decision we make regardless of whether we are aware of the memory.

When we form new memories, the ability to remember the said memory is pegged on the cognitive operations that are triggered in the process of encoding A typical example of this phenomenon is that if we learn something through a deeper level of processing, our memory of the event will be better than when we learn the same thing through a shallow level of processing. This phenomenon is best captured by the model of different levels of the processing developed by Craik and Lockhart in 1972. Craik defines depth as “the meaningfulness extracted from the stimulus rather than in terms of the number of analyses performed upon it” (1973, P. 48).  Basically, memory is a byproduct of what occurs as a result of processing the information.

Our ability to remember an event is largely dependent on a set of mental processes and brain mechanisms that occur or that are triggered during the initial coding of the memory; its subsequent retrieval and merging process facilitates the retrieval of the memory. It is important to note the factors that are triggered during the process of encoding a memory to the level with which an event is cognitively processed, which affects a person’s memorability. Furthermore, our ability to recall memories is a function of the depth of mental processing. Deeper involvement in an event’s semantics provides an individual with better and more vivid memories than shallow level of involvement, where the ability to remember is largely impaired. However, it is important to note that there are variables that could potentially influence the results of memorability. For example, familiarity, the specificity of processing, and a self-reliance effect are variables that could potentially influence the results of memorability.

Variables influencing the Results on Memorability

The familiarity of an Event: any memory will have a higher recall value if it conforms to the preexisting semantic structures. This phenomenon is explained by the interconnectedness of the stimuli with other encoded memories which are activated by virtue of their innate association in the semantic network structure. The effect of this activation significantly increases the cognitive analysis, which in turn boosts the ability to recall the memory.

The specificity of processing: this describes the increased recall rate of memory when presented or articulated in the same manner with which it was initially presented. A good example of this is the ability to recall visual stimuli when presented with the same image.

The Self-reliance effect: this relates to the innate ability to recall stimuli that is related semantically to the subject. If a stimulus is closely related to an event in a person’s life, it will have a vast activation within that person’s semantic network.

The Craik and Tuliving Experiments were specifically tailored to test the rememberability of words that were shallowly processed and deeply processed amongst the participants of the experiment. For deep processing, the attention of the subjects was called to the meaning of a word, shallow processing was tested by asking the participants if the words were written in uppercase letters, and for intermediate processing, the participants were asked if the word in question rhymed with weight.  The results of the test consistently indicated better memory for deeper levels of processing.

The experiment results supported the hypothesis that better memorability occurs as a function of deeper levels of processing. Further, the experiment also ruled out the notion that longer processing time affected memorability.

In another study called, Depth of Processing and Memory Organization, conducted by Asher Koriat and Rachel Melkman, it examines the notion that the organization of information in memory depends on the depth of processing during memory creation and the conditions at the time of retrieval. This study distinguished two types of memory organization: the conceptual organization where items are grouped based on a principled taxonomic system, and an associative organization based on direct links among group members.  The experiment was fashioned to examine the notion that conceptual relations demand more effort during encoding of the memory and more effort in remembering compared to associative relations. To facilitate this experiment, 28 words were used. These words could be grouped into 14 conceptual categories or into 14 associative categories. The test subjects were presented with either shallow or deep encoding conditions. The results of the experiment indicated that increased depth of encoding increased conceptual clustering. However, this had little effect on the amount of associative clustering.  During early output, similar amounts of associative and conceptual clustering were seen. However, this similarity was breached by the increase in recall trials for conceptual clustering, which alluded to the notion that recall ability might be dependent on the establishment of a retrieval schema (J. R. Anderson et al., 1979).

In a third study conducted by Hyde and Jenkins, aimed at understanding the typical levels of processing. Hyde and Jenkins (1973) manipulated the orienting task of a number of groups of experimental subjects to achieve this feat. The group was presented with words that were specifically tailored to be processed in one of several ways. In one condition, the subjects were asked to rate the words presented as pleasant or unpleasant on a scale of one to five. In another group in this experiment, the participants were asked to count and note the number of words the letter E appeared in the words presented. Following this task, the experiment’s subjects were given a surprise task and instructed to write all the words they could remember. The results of the experiment observed a difference in the recall ability among the two groups. The letter counting group approximately recalled 28% of the words while the group that was asked to rate how pleasant or unpleasant words were, got 48%. These results led to the presumption that the only way to account for the difference in recall ability between the two groups was through the processing levels because the participants were exposed to the words for the same time and in identical conditions.

For this experiment, The Effect of Levels of Processing on Recall Memory, we aimed to induce three different levels of processing through the use of words, to show which category of processing (shallow, intermediate, deep) would be recalled most frequently. As we conducted the experiment, the participants were a part of two tasks. First, the participants were asked to look at 60 words presented to them and respond to each word on the print out by either numbering the number of times the letter E appears in the word, thinking of another word that rhymes with the word, or thinking of a similar word that comes to mind. After a 5-minute break, the participants were then asked to write down any words they recalled from the list of 60 words, to show which level of processing was triggered the most. The two tasks work hand in hand by allowing us to first observe the participant’s different levels of processing through the use of specific questions for the words presented, which then was used to determine which level of processing was triggered the most through the use of a memory test.

The main difference between the current experiment and the other experiments cited above is that this experiment conducted a deeper test of the deeper processing levels by asking the participants to write similar words (synonyms) that came to mind. Secondly, this experiment induced an intermediate processing ability by asking the participants to write down words that rhyme. In effect, this experiment summoned the participants to use their brains beyond the scope of the words and questions presented in the experiment. We expect questions that triggered deeper processing were more likely to be recalled as compared to those that required shallow level processing.

Method

Participants

There were 26 participants. Each participant volunteered to be a part of this experiment. The ages ranged from 15-57 years old, with a mean of 25.61. Of the 26 participants, 21 participants’ native language is English. Prior to giving the experiment, none of the participants had any knowledge of what the study was.

Materials

Participants needed pen, paper, and a printout of the instructions for the experiment. On the printout, there were 60 different words. Each of the 60 words consisted one of three questions following it. The three questions provided were designed to induce one of three levels of encoding categories that were observed: shallow, intermediate, or deep level of encoding.

Experimental Design

This experiment used a within-subjects, one-way ANOVA with an alpha level of 0.05, design to determine if the hypothesis; words that triggered a deeper level of processing are more likely to be recalled, is significant by manipulating the independent variable; the different levels of processing, with three different types of questions. Each question was designed to induce a different level of processing: shallow, intermediate, or deep processing. When participants were asked to write down the number of times the letter E appeared in the word, it induced a shallow level of processing. When participants were asked to write down a word that rhymes with the given word, it induced an intermediate level of processing. Lastly, when participants were asked to write down the first word that comes to mind, it induced a deep level of processing. After observing the participant’s different levels of processing through the use of three different questions, we wanted to further identify which level of processing would be triggered the most by conducting a random second test; a recall test. For the recall test, we aimed to identify the number of words recalled most frequently; the dependent variable, per level of processing category for each participant. Within this experiment, the number of words provided, the age and native language of the participants served as the controls.

Procedure

For the first task of the experiment, participants responded to the 60 words presented on the printout. Each word preceded one of three questions: 1. How many times does the letter E appear? 2. What rhymes with it? 3. What is the first word that comes to mind?

The first question, “How many times does the letter E appear?” induced shallow/structural encoding. The second question, “What rhymes with it?” induced intermediate/phonetic encoding. Lastly, the third question, “What is the first word that comes to mind?” induced deep/semantic encoding. The test did not end for each participant until all 60 words were responded to. After the completion of the first task, participants were given a 5-minute break. Once the 5-minute break was over, the participants were given a random second task. For the second task of the experiment, the participants were not told that they were going to need to remember the words provided to them from the first task. The participants were required to have a blank sheet of paper and a pen. The goal for this task was to have the participants write down as many words as they could remember from the list of 60 words provided to them. The participants were given about 15 minutes to complete this task. Once the time was up, the participants were asked to stop writing and to hand in their sheet of paper for grading. The papers were graded in front of the participants. After grading the participants’ papers, their results were presented to them.

Results

            The aim of this experiment was to determine which level of processing would be triggered the most among the 26 participants. Figure 1 below, shows the boxplot for the distribution of the numbers of words recalled at the three levels of processing; the distribution at the shallow level shows a positive skew with two outliers, while the distribution at the intermediate and deep levels shows a positive skew with no outliers. The difference in the data is further displayed in the line graph shown on figure 2, which shows that a deeper level of processing was triggered the most when the participants were asked to write down the words they recalled from the list of 60 words.

The experiment results, outlined by table 1 and table 2 (summary), inform the notion that the words which required the participants to use deep/semantic encoding (M = 5.07, s = 3.11) abilities significantly aided the participants to recall the words more frequently. For the intermediate/phonetic encoding (M = 2.85, s = 2.09) and shallow/structural encoding (M = 0.96, s = 1.17), the results show that the participants struggled to recall the words.

In addition to the experiment results, outlined by table 1 and table 2 (summary), a within-subjects, one-way ANOVA with an alpha level of 0.05 was used to further prove the hypothesis by determining the difference between group means of words recalled by the participants for the three levels of processing, which showed the results to be significant, F (2,75) = 21.884, p < 0.05.

Discussion

While it cannot be claimed that the results of this experiment are precise and apply uniformly across the board, it can be concluded that the results are representations of the common elements of the cognitive ability of the general population. When the participants were asked about what are the synonyms of a particular word are, it was more likely that the participant’s association level will influence its recall-ability. This experiment has demonstrated that the ability to remember words is varied by the type of question asked in relation to the level of processing that the question elicits.

This conclusion is as supported by the experiments used in the Asher Koriat study which examined the notion that the organization of information in memory depends on the depth of processing during memory creation and the conditions at the time of retrieval; and the study by Hyde and Jenkins, which aimed at understanding the typical levels of processing

The experiment’s results allude to the fact that questions that are fashioned to trigger deeper level processing are more likely to be remembered. In contrast, questions that are fashioned to trigger shallow level processing are less likely to be remembered. Although it cannot be disputed that the repetition of words can influence the recall-ability of a word, it may be that the use of repetition, as a variable, presents the test subjects with an opportunity to cognitively apply the word to better their recall-ability. Based on this realization, it seems noble to conclude that the cognitive theory of Craik and Lockhart’s levels of processing are reliable and credible.

Future research should build on this platform to further understand the factors that  affect memorability.

 

 

Table 1

Recall Rate of the Words: Calculating Standard Deviation (s)

Shallow Processing Intermediate Processing Deep Processing
Sample Size (n) 26 26 26
Sum (Σx) 25 74 132
Mean (M) 0.96 2.85 5.07
Variance (s2) 1.37 4.37 9.67
Standard Deviation (s) 1.17 2.09 3.11

 

Table 2

one-way ANOVA ()

SUMMARY
Groups Count Sum Average Variance
shallow 26 24 0.923076923 1.353846154
intermediate 26 74 2.846153846 4.375384615
deep 26 132 5.076923077 9.673846154
ANOVA
Source of Variation SS df MS F P-value F crit
Between Groups 224.7179487 2 112.3589744 21.88373951 3.26317E-08 3.118642128
Within Groups 385.0769231 75 5.134358974
Total 609.7948718 77
 

 

 

Figure 1. The figure shows the shape of the distribution among the three levels of processing we observed, the central value, and the variability of recalling any of the 60 words.

By Daniel Pinchas

Phone number: +1 347 5421 265

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