An Investigation into the Effect of Organisation on Memory

23 Mar 2015

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Research Previous research has been done by other psychologists into the affect of organisation on memory. In 1953 Bousfield asked participants to try and learn 60 words

consisting of 4 categories, (animals, peoples names, professions and

vegetables) with 15 examples of each all mixed up. Bousfield found

that when participants free recalled (recalled in any order) they

tended to cluster similar items, Eg; if someone recalled 'onion' it

was very likely that other vegetables followed. Although participants

had not been told of the categories, the fact they recalled in

clusters suggested that they had tried to organise the data. Bousfield

called this trend 'categorical clustering'.

Another study took place in 1967 by Mandler, where subjects were given

lists of random words and asked to sort them into a given number of

categories (between 2 and 7). Once sorted the participants were asked

to recall as many of the words as possible. The results showed that

recall was poorest for those who used 2 categories and increased

steadily by about 4 words per extra category. Those with 7 categories

recalled approximately 20 more words than those who used 2. Mandler

argued that the great number of categories used, the greater amount of

organisation was imposed on the list.

However my particular study is inspired and based on a later one by

Bowers et al in 1969, in which data wads organised by conceptual

hierarchy. In this study participants were required to learn a list of

words which were arranged in a hierarchical structure. See appendix 1.

The participants studied were split into 2 groups, on group were given

the list in the correct hierarchical form, the other group were given

the same words in a similar structure however the words were mixed up.

Short-term memory is believed to have a capacity of 7±2 'chunks' of

information, which can remain there for approximately 20 seconds

without rehearsal.

Chunking is a process that apparently increases the capacity of

short-term memory by relating and combining the incoming information

to knowledge that we already possess in long term memory. In chunking

we organise information giving it a structure and meaning tit did not

already have, so although we can only recall around 7 chunks a

meaningful chunk can be very large



The results of Bower's study showed that the list organised by

conceptual hierarchical order did indeed promote a higher recall of

words than the list arranged in a random order. The organised list

proved to have an average of 65% words recalled correctly whereas the

disorganised list only recalled an average of 19% correctly.

My study is based on the above 'conceptual hierarchy' model. My model

will mimic Bowers by having a main heading which splits into several

subheadings in a hierarchical form, these headings will then have a

list of appropriate words underneath.

However, as Bower used the theme of minerals, splitting into

categories such as alloys and metals etc. I am going to use the

general theme of food splitting in fruits, salads and vegetables.



The aim is to investigate the affect of organisation on memory by

finding out if people remember more words from an organised list than

they do from a disorganised list of words.



As there has been previous research into the affects of organisation

on memory I will do a 1 tailed hypothesis.

¨ People will remember more words from an organised list of words than

from a disorganised,

Null hypothesis


¨ There will be no difference between the number of words recalled

from the organised list compared with the disorganised list. Any

difference will be due to chance.





For this type of study into memory I will use an experimental method

in the style of a laboratory experiment because I feel it is the most

suitable method. It allows the precise control of variables and

enables it to be replicated easily.

It is the aim of this study to find out which variables are

responsible for affecting memory. Its is only by the experimental

method we can alter and control these variables.

The design will be independent measures, which means that it consists

of 2 groups of different individuals

Therefore it is an independent measures design because we will

obviously need 2 separate groups of individuals - those who do the

organised list and those who do the disorganised.

The task takes place in the recreational centre in the college. This

is in the participants own settings rather than in a laboratory. This

should reduce the stress and pressure of the situation and promote

natural behaviour.



The variables are controlled - whether the participant is given the

organised list or the disorganised list to memorize.

¨ Independent variable

The independent variable is the factor which I have manipulated and

controlled. In this case it is whether the list of words is organized

into categories or whether it is disorganized.

¨ Dependant variable

The dependant variable is what is affected by the independent

variable, it is also measurable. This is how successfully people

remember. I can measure the dependent variable by recording how many

words are recalled.

*The two lists contain the same words, Universal words were chosen for

the lists so that no one would have any expertise or advantage

over anyone else. The theme of food is a universal topic that

everyone has certain degree of knowledge about, less obvious

'everyday' foods were also used to prevent people simply guessing at

common foods.

Sample and Participants


In order to conduct my research I will need some people to study. The

participants used are called a sample. The type of sample I have

chosen to use is called an opportunity sample. This means that I will

use anyone that is available at the time the experiment is conducted

providing they are over the age of 16.

I chose this method because it is the most convenient; I will study a

total of 40 people. 20 will do the organised list (consisting of 10

male and 10 female) and the other 20 will do the disorgansied list

(also consisting of 10 male and 10 female). The participants will all

be students of Stafford College, therefore should be of similar ages

and social background.



¨ Organized list - Appendix 2

¨ Disorganized list - Appendix 3

¨ Blank paper

¨ Pen

¨ Stopwatch



¨ Participants must be over 16 years of age.

¨ Participants should give informed consent to take part.

¨ Confidentiality is of the utmost importance - no names will be


¨ Subjects are free to withdrawn from the study at any point, even

after it has been completed they can request their results are not


¨ To avoid any psychological harm or damage to self-esteem,

participants should be praised and thanked for taking part.

¨ Subjects will be fully debriefed to the true nature of the study

after completion.



The study is carried out in the recreational area of a college. Myself

and my fellow researcher will approach students and by following the

standard instructions (Appendix 4) will ask them if they would mind

participating in the study. If they agree then they will be provided

with either an organised list or a disorganised list of words to


The participants are given 2 minutes to study the list of words, this

is then taken off them and another 2 minutes is given for them to free

recall and write down as many words as they can remember on a blank

piece of paper.

When this time is up each participant is fully debriefed. Each

potential participant is approached addressed & debriefed the same way

using the prepared standardized instructions (appendix 4)

This is so that what I say to each person doesn't have an influence on

their behaviour or their ability to recall data.


All variables excluding the independent variable must be controlled

and kept consistent for each participant. This will ensure the results

obtained are as accurate and reliable as possible.

¨ Each participant is given the same duration to memorize and recall

the data, namely 2 minutes

¨ The task will be carried out in the recreational area of the college

for each participant.

¨ The researcher will communicate with the participant using the

prepared standardized instructions so all participants are treated the


¨ Each participant will be debriefed and thanked in the same manner

using the standardized instructions.

Table of Results


The tables below show the number of words recalled by each participant

for both the organized and disorganized list.

Organized List

Disorganized List

Participant No.

Words recalled

Participant No.

Words recalled

















































































Measures of Central Tendency


Organized List

Disorganized List














¾¾ = 0.697 * 100 \ 70% is the average number of words recalled from

the organized list.



¾¾ = 0.272 * 100 \ 27% is the average number of words recalled from

the disorganized list.


Results Analysis

The results displayed in the table clearly show that when words are

arranged in an organized structure it does improve memory and the

ability to store and recall information.

The average number of words recalled from the organized list is 15.35,

that's 70% of all the words recalled. Whereas the list arranged in a

random order only recalled an average of 6 words, that's only 27% of

the total words recalled.

These figures show what an obvious effect organization imposes on

memory. It seems to apparently increase memory capacity.

Short-term memory has a limited capacity of approximately 7± 2 slots

of information. This is supported by the fact that an average of 6

words were recalled from the disorganized list.

However an average of 15 words were recalled from the disorganized

list, this is much more data than can be stored in short term memory.

This is evidence that a process called 'chunking' took place. Chunking

is a process which involves relating and combining information to

knowledge already stored in long term memory. This apparently

increases the capacity of short term memory by giving data a structure

and meaning it did not already process therefore increasing the size

of a meaningful chunk. So although we only have the ability to store 7±

2 slots of information in STM, A slot can be very large.

In the case of the organized list, chunking would most likely occur by

relating and combining the information into the already structured

groups of salads, fruits and vegetables.

From the results I have obtained I can confidently conclude that my

hypothesis can be accepted that a greater number of words are indeed

recalled from an organized list compared with the same list of words

in a random order.

I can therefore reject my null hypothesis that the results produced

were not due to chance but due to the structure that organization




¨ Implications of the study

My results support the hypothesis that people do indeed recall more

words from an organized list than from a disorganized list. The

average number of words recalled from the organized list was 15.35

compared to just 6 from the disorganized list, so this is clearly


My study was based on a previous study by Bowers in 1969; The results

I produced are comparable to those obtained by Bowers.

Table comparing the result of my study and Bowers study

My Study

Bowers Study

Average words recalled

% of Words

Average words recalled

% of Words











The results are quite similar although my results have a higher

percentage of words recalled for both the organized and disorganized

list compared to Bowers results, however it must be taken into account

that more words were involved in Bowers list: - 26 compared to the 22

words used on my list. This will have an affect on memory as the

participant is challenged to remember more words. Also different

themes were used, Bower used that of minerals

Whereas mine involved food. This could affect the ability to recall

especially if some of Bowers' participants had more specialized

knowledge then others, the same can be said for the theme of food.

With these factors in mind, on the whole my results are similar to

those obtained by Bowers.

¨ Validity

The study does show that organisation can aid how effectively we

remember data and can be regarded as accurate and reliable. However

the experimental method that was used lacks in ecological validity.

Although the study took place in a recreational area, so therefore in

the participants own settings, it is not however a natural everyday

scenario to need to remember words in this manner, it is an artificial

situation. Apart from these factors I did attempt to make the test as

valid as possible. For example I tried to use everyday universal words

that people would be familiar with and no one would have any

particular advantage or knowledge over anyone else. Also I tried to

make the variables as clear as possible because variables can affect

peoples memory ie. - Whether they are given the organised or

disorganised list, However it is crucial that they weren't told what

the list is as it'd give the participant some insight into the true

nature of the experiment and give them an advantage. Overall, I think

that my study is a good representation of the affect organisation has

on memory.

¨ Improving Validity

To improve the validity of this research it needs to be performed in a

more realistic scenario, an idea f this would be to change the method

to make it more valid. I could do this by doing my research in the

form of exam revision so it would be more like a field experiment. I

could do this by creating a situation in which 2 groups are given one

week to study for a small test. One group is encouraged to revise

using an organised method, structured into categories and subheadings,

whereas the other group are left to their own methods.

Another idea is to use the same method used by Rubin and Olsen. They

tried to create a valid test by asking university students to recall

professor and they subjects they taught by giving one group an

organised list to study and the other a list in random order.

¨ Reliability

I used the experimental method in the style of a laboratory

experiment. This method is usually very reliable and accurate as it

allows manipulation and full control over the variables (i.e. Whether

the participant is given the organized or disorganized list) I can be

fairly sure that if I repeated my research I would get very similar

results to what I have obtained.

I had strict controls and kept factors constant, such as time to

memorize and recall, this should ensure that results recorded are

accurate. I also used a set of standardized instructions and procedure

which I followed when asking a student to participate, this was to

make sure that what I said to each person didn't have any effect on

their ability to recall words. However, the sampling method used

called opportunity sampling can be seen as biased because the

researcher chooses who to take part and who doesn't.

¨ Improving Reliability

To improve reliability I could have used the sampling technique of

'matched groups'. This consists of 2 groups of people which are

matched by age gender background etc. i.e. - for every person there is

someone to match them in the opposite group,

Also I could use a wider range of participants of different ages and

people from different parts of the country (they would still need to

be matched for the other group)

Also I could test a larger number of people than 20 per list.

¨ Generalization of Findings

A generalization could be made from my results that organization does

indeed prove to increase the capacity of memory and the ability to

recall. However it needs to be taken into account that the study was

conducted in one small area and participants were all students of

similar age and social background, so it can be argued that it is

unreasonable and inaccurate to generalize and apply the results to

everyone. For example, it would not be reasonable to apply the results

of a small select group of young adults to the older generation.

The study on the whole was not a natural scenario so it isn't

reasonable to conclude that it is how people would behave in real


¨ Application to Everyday Life

This study could be applied to help people in everyday life. Some

ideas of how it could be used is to aid in exam revision for example,

by revising from notes arranged in an organised manner should organize

the date in the brain and promote better recall in exams and therefore

better exam results.

Another idea is that it could help people with learning difficulties,

if they learn from material arranged in an organized and structured

format using subheadings etc it will give it a structure and meaning

it did not already have and it should be easier to learn and store the



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