Levels of Processing and Memory

Craik and Lockhart (1972) developed a theory in which

they discussed the levels of processing. The theory states,

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the more a word is processed, due to its meaning, the

better the word is retained. In our experiment we presented

subjects with a yes or no question pertaining to the meaning of a word or the appearance of a word and then measured their reaction time. Subjects were then asked to recall as many words that they could remember, results showed that there was a significant difference in reaction times and the number of words that were recalled.

According to Dewey Rundus (1971) the more an item is rehearsed, the higher the probability the item will be remembered. Herman Ebbinghaus (1885) concluded that in order to remember and learn items we must repeat them. He developed the nonsense syllable, which is a word that is composed of two consonants with a vowel in between. A nonsense syllable could not be a real word (would not be found in the dictionary). Ebbinghaus wanted to minimize the effects of association that have already been made with words that we are familiar with. Using nonsense syllables he determined that frequency of appearance is directly

correlated with the amount one recalls (Lundin 1996). The rehearsal theory states that recall should mimic reaction time in our experiment. The longer a word is kept in mind, the better it will be recalled. Repetition plays an important role in the processes of memory but it is not the only factor that affects how much one can recall.

Craik and Watkins (1973) disputed that repetition improves memory. They performed an experiment to determine that repetition didn’t improve memory but that the speed which the words were presented. Subjects were read a list of words, but before they heard the words they were given a critical letter and were asked to remember the last word from the list that began with that particular letter. Subjects thought that they could ignore the other words on the list that did not pertain to the critical letter. The subjects were then unexpectedly asked to recall as many words from the list that they could remember and not just the ones that contained the critical letter. Craik and Watkins (1973 did not find a relation between the amount of words recalled and rehearsed.

Craik and Lockhart (1972) developed a theory in which they discussed the levels of processing. The theory states, the more a word is processed, due to its meaning, the better

the word is retained. The time that one is exposed to the stimuli is of last importance but the stimulus that is analyzed due to its meaning is more deeply processed and is remembered better.

The level of processing theory differs from Rundus (1971) theory on repetition. Rundus felt that if one were exposed to a word repeatedly then they would be more likely to recall it. Craik and Lockhart (1972), their theory of processing states that it does not matter how many times or how long the word is shown, but if the meaning of the word was thought about the meaning of the word, then the word would be more easily recalled.

Ten random college students participated in this experiment. Each subject was used in both conditions. Each condition contained a question with ten words. Each subject answered two questions, one pertaining to the meaning of ten words and the other pertaining to the appearance of ten words. There was actually twenty answers, each question was asked before each word was given.

To create our experiment my partner and I used the Aldus Superpaint program and the Mindlab program on a Macintosh computer.

First we chose two questions. The question that pertained to the meaning words was “ Is this alive?” The question that pertained to the appearance word was “Are there more consonants than vowels?” Next we needed ten words for each question that subjects could answer with a yes or no response. It was very difficult finding words that would pertain to both questions, but after a lot of thought and searching my partner and I found 10 words for each question that could pertain to one another.

Next my partner and I set up our experiment using Mindlab. Each trial contained one of the two questions, and a word from the corresponding list. There were twenty trials all together, ten appearance and ten meaning words. Each subject participated in this condition. The question appeared on the screen for two seconds, and the suject6 would then answer yes by pressing “y” on the keyboard or no by pressing “n” on the keyboard. The computer randomized these questions so that the subject would not see the

appearance question with ten appearance words or the meaning question with ten meaning words in a row. The computer recorded the subjects’ reaction time to answer each question.

After the first five subjects were tested, my partner and I switched the questions for each trial. The appearance words then matched with the meaning question and the meaning words then matched with the appearance question. My partner and I had to go back into each trial in Mindlab and change the words around. We then proceeded to test the next five subjects.

After the subjects completed the first task, which was to answer the questions accordingly, we then asked them to fill out a ticket for a lottery. Each subject that participated in the experiment was entered into a raffle. After they had finished filling out their ticket, which took approximately 30 seconds we then asked the subject to write down on a sheet of paper how many words they could recall from the experiment.

The mean for the reaction time of meaning words was 1.3 seconds and the mean for the appearance words was 2.2 seconds. The means of the reaction times are significantly

different, t[7]= 3.9, p*. 01. For the number of words recalled the mean of the meaning words was 4.0, and the mean for the appearance words was 0.6. These results were statistically significant, t[7]=6.8, p*. 001.

The mean reaction time was longer for the appearance words than for the meaning words. There were more meaning words recalled than appearance words. The rehearsal theory would say that since the appearance words were looked at longer, they should have been remembered better, but that was not the case. The words that were processed due to their meaning were recalled more frequently. Rundus (1971) would disagree with these findings. He would have said that there should have been more appearance words recalled because the subjects were exposed to them longer.

Levels of Processing and Memory 8


Craik, F. & Lockhart, G. (1972). Levels of processing: A

framework for memory research. Journal of Verbal

Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11, 671-684.

Craik, F. & Watkins, M. (1973). The role of rehearsal in

short term memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and

Verbal Behavior, 12, 599-607.

Linden, R. (1996). Theories and Systems of Psychology.

Lexington: D.C. Heath and Company.

Rundus, D. (1971). Analysis of rehearsal processes in free

recall. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 89, 63-77.

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