Levels of processing and recall performance

23 Mar 2015

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Levels of processing and recall performance


Previous studies had tested the use of different rehearsal strategies on recall. There are conflicting theories as to which strategy is most effective. This experiment was an attempt to explore the effects of memory processing using definition strategy and first letter strategy. The report analyzes the strongest recall procedure in remembering wordlists. A total of 80 Psychology students of Canterbury Christ Church University completed a word recall experiment. The experiment tested whether definition strategy or first letter strategy was more effective in recall. The results were analysed using a t-test and the end result showed that a large amount of participants recalled the most words using definition strategy.


Recall can be defined as “the revival of memory to recollect and remember the past (Carlson & Martin, 2007).

The level of processing theory is based on a subject's attention and perceptual processes taking place when absorbing data. What is stored in their long term memory will be due to influences upon them at the time of learning (Craik & Lockhart 1972).

An important factor of the levels of processing theory is based on the stability of the memory trace and whether it is affected by the depth of the information being processed. The depth of the process indicates the significance of processing, the more significant the extent of semantic or cognitive processing (Banyard & Grayson, 2008). (Craik & Lockhart, 1972) believe people take part in two different rehearsal strategies; these include maintenance rehearsal and elaborative rehearsal. Maintenance rehearsal can be described as verbal information being continually repeated (semantically associated words). This process is said to store verbal information into short term memory. Elaborative rehearsal is a deeper process that can relate new information with existing information from long term memory. The new information is remembered due to the link you create with an existing memory (Carlson & Martin, 2007). Maintenance rehearsal is described as a form of shallow processing. Elaborative rehearsal is a form of deep processing. Deep processing is more in depth and is retained better than surface processing (Craik & Lockhart, 1972). It was believed the depth of processing will outcome in the amount of information a person can remember. Deep levels of processing will outcome in stronger memory recall when compared to shallow processing (Craik & Lockhart, 1972).

The type of processing you part take in will depend on what your memory retrieves. Long term memory is determined by the distinct way in which you process unique memory traces, unlike memory traces that are not linked with something distinctive to you (Eysenck & Keane, (2005).

Not all evidence supports the levels of processing theory. Information that has been stored is remembered depending on what is of relevance based on the memory test. In an experiment participants had to remember words through meanings and sounds. Participants were tested using a rhyming recognition test. This test was based on participants rhyming words to remember the word list, for instance “Ship” was on the rhyming test and “Whip” was on the word list (Morris, Bransford & Franks, 1977). If the participant fully understood the concept of the rhyming recognition test than they would have recognised it rhymed with the word on the wordlist.

(Craik & Lockhart, 1972) believed that deep processing facilitates long term memory unlike shallow processing. However recall may not be due to the depth of processing but the quantity of your processing effort (Banyard & Grayson, 2008).

(Morris et al, 1977) believed recognition memory was better with words that were associated with the use of sound than those using meaning techniques.

The level of depth in processing memory has been effective in defining how we learn and remember. There has been arguments made because there is not a clear distinction between the rigorously of shallow and deep processing (Martin & Carlson, 2007).

My Hypothesis:

The definition strategy will outcome in higher recall.

Alternative Hypothesis:

Recall will be superior using the same first letter strategy.

Null Hypothesis:

There will be no significance in strategies concerning recall.


The Word memory experiment was conducted during seminar groups, 80 participants took part in this experiment. The class was then put into pairs of two; one was the experimenter and the other the participant. It did not matter who chose to be the experimenter or the participant first because after you have completed the experiment you would than switch roles and copy the same procedure. The examiner would issue the participant with 10 words to recall using the word definition rehearsal strategy than after the ‘same first letter' rehearsal strategy. The experimenter would allow the participant 6 minutes to rehearse the word list using the methods. The experimenter would than ask the participant to count back from 161 steps of 7. By the participant counting backwards from 161 this should clear their short-term memory to compose a long-term memory test. When the time is up the experimenter than collects paper notes they had used. While participant is relaxing the experimenter is scoring the total recall. When the score was achieved the experimenter than compared the words they recalled correctly with the original word list. Next to the score the experimenter than asked the participant to write their Date of birth, gender and version of word list.

When this experiment was finished the experimenter and the participant would change roles. They would repeat the same procedure. Slight differences were that the new participant (first experimenter) had to recall different words so they were not able to use the past word list. Another difference was that instead of counting back from 161 in steps of 7 they was asked to count backwards from 168 in 8 steps.

Equipment/ Apparatus

To complete this experiment wordlists were provided as the source of information. Pen and paper was used by both experimenter and participant A watch was used to time the 6 minutes participants had to revise the word list and a further 3 minutes to write down the words they recalled.


To produce a Paired Sample t- test I used computer software SPSS. SPSS software calculates statistical information needed to carry out this experiment. The procedure to create a Paired sample t - test through SPSS is to click on the following tabs:

Analyse | Compare Means | Paired t-test.


At the beginning of the experiment participants had the option of taking part, this experiment was not forced upon them and they had the chance to withdraw at any time. Confidentiality was insured, personal details such as your name were not needed to be given. All personal information given will be used for this experiment and not be distributed to third parties.


Table 1 Paired Samples Statistics



Standard Deviation

Standard error mean

Definition strategy(score out of 10)





First letter strategy (score out of 10)





The definition strategy shows (M= 8.89, SD 1.369).

First letter strategy shows ( M= 841, SD 1.853)

Paired Samples Statistics - definition strategy and first letter strategy (Mean)

Graph (1A)

Graph (1 A) shows that the definition strategy has a score of 8.89 and that first letter strategy has a score of 8.41. This shows that on average more people recalled the words on the wordlist correctly using definition strategy.

Paired Samples Statistics - definition strategy and first letter strategy (Standard Deviation)

Graph (1B) shows us that the first letter strategy score is 1.853 and definition strategy is 1.369. The standard deviation on definition strategy score out of 10 is lower; this shows that the data points are close to the same value. The first letter strategy is much higher because standard deviation points out that the data is spread over a large range of values.

Table 2- Paired Samples - definition strategy and first letter strategy (Correlations)




Pair 1 Definition strategy (score out of 10) & first letter strategy (score out of 10)




Paired Samples correlation and significance of definition strategy and first letter strategy

Graph (2A)

The results show there is a strong Correlation and that the results are significant because the score is lower than p>0.5.

Table 3- Paired samples t-test


Standard Deviation

Standard error mean



Sig. (2-tailed)

Pair 1 Definition strategy (score out of 10) -

first - letter strategy (score out of 10)







The paired sample T- tests show the results of the following: t=2.25, df =79, p= 0.029

The table shows the results from the T- test that compared recall performance with two rehearsal strategies. The T- test shows significant results.


Previous research on levels of processing has become a heated debate that contains many theories about what type of processing is more useful in recall. Maintenance rehearsal is described as a form of shallow processing and Elaborative rehearsal is a form of deep processing. It is believed that elaborative rehearsal is more effective than maintenance rehearsal However recall may not be down to the depth of processing but the quantity of processing effort.

My hypothesis stated that more people will recall words using the definition strategy. My hypothesis is correct, as you can see from the results on average more participants remembered words from the word list using the definition strategy. The definition strategy has a score of 8.89 and the same first letter strategy has a score of 8.41.This clarifies that on average more people recalled the words using the definition strategy. The paired samples t-test show that the results are relevant because the Sig. (2-tailed) is below 0.05 declaring the results significant.

By gathering these results I am able to reject my alternative hypothesis because the results show that recall was improved using the word definition strategy. I am also able to reject my null hypothesis because the results proved significant.

Future improvements to this study could be made. One improvement would be to increase the sample size. I would like to increase the number of participants involved in the experiment. I think due to the experiment consisting of a small sample size each individuals score effects the result. Having a larger sample size should decrease the influence of a participant's score. By introducing a larger sample size the results will be based on a larger population. A total from a larger population could change the outcome results completely.

Reference List

Banyard, P. & Grayson, A (2008) Introducing Psychological Research. Hampshire; Palgrave Macmillan.

Carlson, N.R., Martin, G.N. and Buskist, W. (2007) Psychology (3rd edition).Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.

Craik, F. & Lockhart, R. (1972). Levels of processing: A framework for memory research. Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior, 11, 671-684.

Eysenck, M. W., & Keane, M. T. (2005). Cognitive psychology: A student's handbook. 5th Ed. Hove: Psychology Press.

Morris, C. D., Bransford, J. D., & Franks, J. J. (1977). Levels of processing versus transfer appropriate processing. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour, 16, 519-533.



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