The Effect of Levels of Processing on Recognition Memory

This study is designed to examine Craick and Lockhart’s “Levels of Processing Theory”. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions. For one condition, participants were asked to judge the pleasantness of a series of words and for the other condition, participants were asked to judge whether the same list of words contained either an “E” or a “G”. Both groups were subsequently subjected to recognition task. It was found that participants who were asked to judge words for pleasantness recalled words better than participants in the “E/G” condition.

Introduction:

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Theories regarding memory are generally concerned with the structure of the memory system and the processes operating within that structure, that is, the way the memory system is organised and the activities occurring within it.

After encoding, some information is stored in the long-term memory where it can be extracted for retrieval easily whereas other information is more difficult to retrieve. Information stored in long-term memory can be used in various ways, for example, recognising an item of clothing on a stranger as being a replica of one owned by ourselves, or recalling the last conversation to had with a friend. However, we also use stored information to drive a car or structure a formal letter.

Craick and Lockhart (1972) proposed a “Levels of Processing Theory” which suggested that the way in which information is encoded has some bearing on how easy it is to retrieve at a later date. They assumed that the attentional and perceptual processes that occur at the time of learning determine information stored in long-term memory. There are many different levels of processing, ranging from shallow or physical analysis (e.g. detecting specific letters in words) to deep or semantic analysis (Eysenck and Keane, 2000) For verbal information, shallow processing refers to encoding where superficial characteristics of a stimulus are emphasised. On the other hand, deep processing refers to encoding where the meaning of the material is emphasised. Depth can be defined as “the meaningfulness extracted from the stimulus rather than … the number of analysis performed upon it” Craick (1973, p48). Craick and Lockhart (1972) suggested that deeper levels of processing produce stronger memory traces than shallow levels of processing.

This study aims to test Craick and Lockhart’s theory, replicating components of a study by Hyde and Jenkins (1973). Participants will be asked to judge words either for pleasantness of for whether they contain certain letters. Judging the words for pleasantness is an example of semantic processing (as the meaning of the must be considered) and is an example of a fairly deep level of processing.

Judging the words for whether they contain certain letters would be regarded as perpetual processing (as only the appearance of the words is important) and, in contrast to pleasantness rating, would be considered shallow processing.

So applying the principles of Craick and Lockhart’s theory, participants who have judged the words for pleasantness at encoding should recognise more words in the recognition task than participants who indicated whether the word contained and “E” of “G”.

Therefore the experimental hypothesis will be that more words will be recognised in the pleasantness consideration that the letters condition.

Method

Design

An independent groups design was used. The independent variable was the type of instruction given (i.e. whether to judge for “pleasantness” or “letters” condition). The dependent variable was the number of words successfully recognised by the participants.

Participants

The participants were first year under-graduate Psychology students following a course in basic cognitive functions at the University of Portsmouth. However, only the data from forty participants will be reported here, half of which were randomly assigned to the letters condition and the other half were assigned to the pleasantness condition.

Materials

The computer program ‘Erst Lab’ was used for this experiment. A thirty-item word list was also used.

Procedure

Half of the group were asked to judge the pleasantness of a series of words (responding pleasant or unpleasant) and then, in a subsequent recognition task, indicate ones they remembered seeing. This was called the “Pleasantness” condition.

The other half of the group saw the same list of words but they had to judge whether the word had either the letters “E” or “G” in it (responding yes or no). The second group also indicated which words they had seen before when they were exposed to a subsequent recognition task. This was called the “Letters” condition. Details of the actual instructions that were displayed on the computer screen are shown in Appendix A.

Appendix A:

Pleasantness condition

1) The initial set of instructions said:

This section of the experiment is a practice. Your first task is a judgement task. You will see a series of words. Your task is to judge whether the word is pleasant or unpleasant. If you think the word is pleasant you need to press the right shift key. If you think the word is unpleasant you need to press the left shift key.

Press space bar to begin

After seeing these instructions participants saw 10 individually presented stimuli. As each stimulus was presented a reminder of the response keys was also displayed (e.g. pleasant – press right shift key; unpleasant – press left shift key)

2) After this practice task the next set of instructions said:

The next stage of the practice is a recognition task. You will see pairs of words on the screen, one of which will have appeared in the judgement task. If you recognise the word on the left of the screen from the judgement task you will need to press the left shift key. If you recognise the word on the right of the screen you will need to press the right shift key

Press space bar to begin

After seeing these instructions participants saw 10 pairs of stimuli. Once again a reminder of the response keys was also displayed, though this time it was displayed under the relevant word (e.g. press shift left key under the left word and press shift right key under the right)

3) At this stage the practice had finished and the next set of instructions said:

You have just been exposed to a practice of the experimental task. From now on your responses contribute towards your experimental score. In the next section you will be exposed to a second judgement task. Your task is to judge whether the words are pleasant or unpleasant. You will need to press the appropriate key when you respond

Press space bar to begin

Participants were then exposed to 30 individual stimuli. Once again a reminder of the response keys was also displayed (e.g. pleasant – press right shift key; unpleasant – pres left shift key)

4) The last set of instructions that participants saw in the unpleasantness condition were:

The next stage is recognition task. Please follow the instructions on the screen and indicate (left or right shift key) whether you have seen the word during the judgement task

Press space bar to continue

After seeing these instructions participants saw 30 pairs of stimuli. Once again a reminder of the response keys was also displayed (e.g. press shift left key under the left word and press shift right key under the right).

Letters Condition

1) The initial set of instructions said:

This section of the experiment is a practice. Your first task is a judgement task. You will see a series of words. Your task is to judge whether the words contain an “E” or “G”. If you think the word contains and “E” or a “G” you need to press the right shift key. If not then you need to press the left shift key.

Press space bar to begin practice

After seeing these instructions participants saw 10 individually presented stimuli. As each stimulus was presented a reminder of the response keys was also displayed (e.g. word contains “E” or “G”: YES – press right shift key; NO – press left shift key)

2) The next set of instructions was exactly the same as the second set given to participants in the pleasantness condition (see item 2 in the pleasantness section above for details). The number of stimuli participants were exposed to was the same as well.

3) The next set of instructions said:

You have just been exposed to a practice of experimental task. From now on your response contribute towards your experimental score. In this next section you will be exposed to a second judgement task. As before you will see a series of words. Your task is to judge whether the words contain an “E” or “G”. You will need to press the appropriate key when you respond

Press space bar to begin experiment

Participants were then exposed to 30 individually presented stimuli. Once again a reminder of the response keys was also displayed (e.g. word contains an “E” or “G”: YES – press right shift key; NO – press left shift key)

4) The final sets of instructions were exactly the same as the final set given to participants in the pleasantness condition (see item 4 in the pleasantness section above for details). The number of stimuli participants were exposed to was the same as well.