Human Memory And Websites Computer Science Essay

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Human memory and website is fundamental part of visual design of website in an attempt to try to understand and memorize it. It may vary from individual to individual, culture to culture, situation to situation, child to adult, male to female.

This project aims to investigate human factors that affect memory when a person is visiting website and trying to remember the contents of a website. This project will try to assess working memory of the visitor on different designed websites in order to calculate important and common factors so that the web designer can import all the factors while designing website for its higher usability. There is a lot of research has been done in the past about the usability of website, but the key point of this project is to identify the key factors on web design that affects human short term memory in order to remember website contents and to decrease cognitive load. It is therefore truly essential to make users somehow to remember and understand information on website.

The outcome of this project will attempt to address the following key objectives:

Investigate does back ground music affects working memory on web page.

Investigate what different music types are which relaxes mind and enhance short-term memory.

Investigate gender differences might exist in order to remember contents of website.

Investigate cultural difference might exist in liking or disliking web design.

Investigate what other factor are there which can enhance memory.

Literature Review

Introduction to Memory

In physiology memory is an organism's ability to acquire, store, retain and later retrieve information [1].There are three major processes involved in memory: encoding, storage and retrieval.

According to Kendra Cherry web designers adopt a process known as encoding to change information to make the website more usable [2]. When encoding done by the reader, it must be stored in memory which can be retrieved later on into conscious awareness.

Figure 1: Overview of the forms and functions of memory in the sciences [3]

Types of Memory

Many different models of memory have been proposed; the stage model of memory is the one which is often used to explain its basic structure. Stage model was initially proposed in 1968 by Atkinson and Shiffrin [4] [5] which outlined three separate stages of memory:

Sensory memory

Short-term (working) memory

Long-term memory

Figure 2: Atkinson-Shiffrin Memory Model [6]

Sensory Memory

The earliest stage of memory is sensory memory in which sensory information from environment is stored for very short period of time. It lasts 3 or 4 seconds for auditory information and half-second for visual information. When we look at an item and remember what it looked like with just a second of observation is sensory memory. If a line of a text is flashed at you very quickly, for very brief moment you will be able to visualize the letters [7] [8].

The first experiment which was done in order to explore sensory memory was conducted by George Sperling (1960). Subjects were presented with a grid of 12 letters, arranged into three rows of four [9].




"Sperling was able to show that the capacity of sensory memory was approximately 12 items, but that it degraded very quickly (within a few hundred milliseconds). Because this form of memory degrades so quickly, participants would see the display, but be unable to report all of the items (12 in the "whole report" procedure) before they decayed. This type of memory cannot be prolonged via rehearsal" [9] [10] .This proves that there is an upper limit for visual memory that website design must account for.

Short-Term Memory

"Short-term memory (or "primary" or "active memory") is the capacity for holding a small amount of information in mind in an active, readily available state for a short period of time. The duration of short-term memory (when rehearsal or active maintenance is prevented) is believed to be in the order of seconds. "[7]

"According to George A. Miller (1956) experiment the store of short-term memory was 7±2 items but modern estimation says the capacity of short-term memory is lower, typically on the order of 4-5 items; however, memory capacity can be increased through a process called chunking. For example, in recalling a ten-digit telephone number, a person could chunk the digits into three groups: first, the area code (such as 215), then a three-digit chunk (123) and lastly a four-digit chunk (4567). This method of remembering telephone numbers is far more effective than attempting to remember a string of 10 digits; this is because we are able to chunk the information into meaningful groups of numbers [9]."

Long-Term Memory

Long-term memory is the continuous storage of information in memory. Information stored in sensory memory and short term memory remains available only for a short period of time. But if we compare with long term memory, it stores a much larger amount of information for a much longer period of time, even for a whole lifetime. Capacity and duration of long term memory is very large, so it is not possible measure it in the same way as short term memory and sensory memory [11] [12].

If we are given a seven-digit number to remember in short term memory, we may remember it for only few seconds, but if we perform repetitions we can store it in long term memory and remember for many years. According to Baddeley(1966), people can not remember collection of words that has similar meaning e.g. big, large, huge. They face difficulty just after 20 minutes in recalling a collection of words with similar meaning [13].

Level of Processing

Craik and Lockhart (1972) suggested that information can be processed at different levels, and chances of retrieving information in the future can be affected by the way in which memory is being processed. They argued that memory can be retrieved after long periods by using deeper levels of processing, whereas shallow levels of processing makes memory less long-lasting and harder to retrieve [14].

There are three tasks required for level of processing: structural, phonological, and semantic. For phonological processing it is important to process the given information based on sound. For semantic processing it is important to first think about the meaning of the word and relate the word to the rest of its sentence [14].

Craik and Lockhart's theory would predict that "words which are processed for meaning (deep processing) will be remembered better than words processed for sound (intermediate processing) which in turn will be recalled better than words which are processed for superficial characteristics such as shape, size or colour (shallow processing)" [14].

Cognitive Load

"Cognitive load is a term that refers to the load on working memory during instruction. As a user's cognitive load increases, their ability to perform effectively slowly decreases until they reach a point of cognitive overload. Since a person starts with a very limited pool of cognitive resources, a poor design can easily exhaust it. At that point, performance drops sharply and frustration and error rates sky rocket." [15][16]

If we want to consider cognitive load while using website then we must consider web design first. It is very common if web design is complex then user get confuse and as the confusion increases it forces cognitive overload (Reeves).

According to Balogh successful user interface must respect the limits of human cognitive processing. Measuring cognitive load is very important for measuring usability [17]. As we design basic prototypes of web designs, it becomes compulsory to measure cognitive load to maximize usability (Mowat) [17].Usability can flush out areas of high cognitive load and help obtain the goal of creating a web site that is as useful for the user as possible.

"Cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental activity on working memory at an instance in time "(Cooper). If a design requires the user to hold too many items in short term memory, it will fail (Balogh) [17].

An effective web design is very important in order to decrease cognitive overload. Effective design encourages the user to focus on information and enhances their working memory.

There are also some external factors like stress, workload, and lack of sleep that may push the user into cognitive overload. As the cognitive load increases the ability to perform some task slowly decreases and the performance drops quickly. Sometimes a design with high usability may fail because of these external factors [16].

But it is very important to have proper and usable web design for effective working memory. People can not control external factors but a good web design can affect short term memory. If a web design is very complex and usability is very low then there are chances of increase in confusion, which leads to cognitive overload [16].

For example if a user is trying to book a ticket online that is (his primary task) but he is also doing some other task (as a secondary task), he will forget the secondary task if primary task is very complex and website is not very usable, as the cognitive load will become high. That's why usability is very important for web design. If cognitive load is not high then user can perform primary and secondary task but if it's too high then he will not be able to do both [16].

Web design Principles and Usability

Achieving usability and creating a pleasing web design is difficult but very important. According to Jakob Nielsen "Usability rules the Web. In product design and software design, customers pay and experience usability later but on the web; users experience usability first and pay later"[18]. Usually people visit websites when they have some goal in there mind and only good design can allow users to reach their goal.

According to the Puerto Rico [19] web usability is not a single property of Web pages, it has many components which are important to consider while implementing websites.

Website navigation should be easy for users to learn, otherwise they may not be able to find the information they are looking for. If system is easy to use it means that users can be more productive. If the system is not efficient enough for casual users, they may lose patience and not use the system again. Users should be subjectively satisfied with the user interface [19].

According to Puerto Rico One way to measure memory is to perform a standard user test with casual users who have been away from the system for a specified amount of time, and measure the time it takes them to perform some typical tasks. It is also possible to conduct a memory test with users after they finish a test session with the system and ask them to explain the effect of various commands or to name the command (draw the icon) that does a certain thing [19].

There are some other components that we should keep in mind while designing web site.

Precedence (Guiding the Eye)

Visual weight of different parts of web design is known as precedence, it is very important to decide the precedence while designing the web site that how to direct user's eyes through sequences of steps. We should be considering proper position, subtle colour, contrast, size and design elements to achieve precedence. Using bold and subtle colours is important for good web design. Contrast makes things standout as the same things doesn't make an affective web design. Proper font size and using pointing arrows to let user know where they should look is also important [20].


Clear things are always understandable, and the spacing makes things clearer. There are three important aspects of space that we should be considering while making web design.

Line Spacing

Text should be readable and appropriate spacing between the lines makes it more readable. If you use too much space or too little space your eye can get lost or can spill over from one line to the next which is not suitable for good web design [20].


"Padding is space between elements and text". In your web design the text should not touch text, images, borders or tables. We should always use padding between different elements and text [20].

White Space

"White space is used to give balance, proportion and contrast to a page." If you want things more clear and elegant your must use a lot of white spaces between things [20].


When visitors don't find proper navigation on web site they get confused. It is most frustrating experience for user when he is unable to figure out things because of bad navigation [20].Two important aspects of navigations to keep in mind are:

Navigation - where can you go?

The navigation buttons should be well described and easy to find. They should be descriptive enough that let you know where they are taking you. Once you click button it should change its colour to tell user that this button has been visited [20].

Orientation - Where are you now?

It depends on websites. If your web site is very small you can just use heading to tell user where they are, but in case of big websites its important to provide users with proper site map [20].


Text is the most common element of design, it's important to consider things like font style and size. You should user right font as different fonts say different things about a design. The font size should be large enough to read with heading and sub-headings stand out appropriately. There should be small columns of text as people avoid reading if columns are too big and the size of lines of text is too long [20].

Content design

Website content is important, as it is the reason for the user's visit. When a user visits a website they look in the main content area and scan it what the page is about with there headline and other indication, according to Jakob Nielsen the content of the website must be succinct, short paragraphs, hypertext to split up long information into multiple pages, avoiding useless information, correct spelling and grammar, sub-categories, and ordering according to some understandable principle. Users should be able to tell in a glance what the page is about [18].


Usability requires consistent web design; designers should make each and everything on the web consistent. For example heading size, font style, button style, photos, colour, design elements etc. should match each other. Design should be coherent between pages and on the same page [20].

Keys to deeper Processing

Effects of Music on Memory

According to Sara B. Kirkweg the effects of sound enhances short-term memory on reading comprehension and text. One of the major factors that affect memory is music which stimulates different parts of brain in order to aid relaxation and reducing stress and depression [21]s.

There are different types of music and much research has proved that the classical music enhances the storage and recall of memory. William Congreve stated that "Music has the charms to soothe the savage beast". Music can be applied to everyday life to make people relax and for stress free. Elizabeth Valentine (British Psychological Society Conference in December of 2000) reported that music promotes memory better than either silence or background noise [21]. 

Researches have proved that music enhances memory, if we talk about reading text or comprehension passages with back ground music it also helps in enhancing memory rather then silent or noise. In Debbie A. Deems research (THE EFFECTS OF SOUND ON READING COMPREHENSION AND SHORT-TERM MEMORY) students with music did better in comprehension test than the student without music [22].

Sarah E. Roy has proved in her research "THE EFFECTS OF DIFFERENT TYPES OF MUSIC ON COGNITIVE PROCESSES" effects of music on memory. She used different types of music namely moderate, rock and classical on both male and female's ages from 18 to 47. Participants were asked to complete a brief assessment of memory and questionnaires but the research revealed that participants in no music did better than with music.

Photographs and Memory

Eidetic or photographic memory is defined as "The ability to recall images, sounds, or objects in memory with extreme precision and in abundant volume" [24].

Research has shown that some individuals have the ability to study an image for sometime and maintain an almost perfect memory of that image for a short period of time using eidetic memory. People with a generally good memory claim to have this kind of memory but there are different ways in which this information is processed. A person who uses the mnemonic device to aid in their memory will tend to remember information by dividing the idea into enumerable elements whereas a person with eidetic memory will remember very specific details. A few people are also gifted with 'sporadic eidetic memory', where they may describe some number of memories in very close detail. These sporadic occurrences of eidetic memory are not triggered consciously in most cases. [24].

Chunking and Categorisation

Working memory is only capable of retaining five to nine chunks of information (Baddeley) [25]. It has become apparent that this theory is even truer for online documentation since computer screens only provide a limited view of long documentation[25] therefore i will also divide important information specially lengthy numbers into chunks. It makes people to learn and remember some portions of information and then putting them together to make it as whole. It is very difficult to remember phone number or any number without chunking it. Some people remember three chunks or set of numbers e.g. 544-333-2134. It is easy to remember three set of numbers rather than one nine digit number [25].

Even if we see in our daily life when we buy something from grocery store we always prefer to choose things from specific category. We never go around whole store to buy a single thing. On web if user is looking for something he will prefer to choose from category rather than browsing whole website. If we visit some website once we usually remember different categories which make people to visit the website again rather than forgetting.

According to Repetition, Memory, and the trace/decay theory by Bill Henthorn [26] it takes just 2 repetitions for people to actively remember what they've learned before but haven't recalled in a while. This is why advertising practices pulsing and fighting, where you run your ads for a while, then stop them for a period, and then run them again for shorter periods. It's not only a smart way to stretch precious advertising dollars (economics), but it harnesses the fact that once you've created the memory, you need fewer repetitions to help people recall it later (psychology).

Requirements' and Analysis

The following techniques will be implemented in the design for my website, to enhance user memory of its content.

Background Music

Some of the researches have explored the possibility that some types of music may create enriched environment for studies. Now a day all students have access to CD players, free music on internet and mobiles, it is unusual for students not to be surrounded by music.

Students are used to studying with music all the time; it may be more distraction studying with out music or in silence. If we play some nice, slow, and simple music with out lyrics it may facilitates the learning process as it relaxes your mind and enhances memory. I have found some of the student does not like studying in silent rooms in libraries. They usually feel uncomfortable sitting in silence for studies.

I will create a website with classical music in background. I am assuming students would perform better in classical music condition rather than being silence or rock condition. The volume of the music may affect this research; I would prefer to use constant volume throughout the test, as so loud music may be distracting.


It is easier to remember things if we attach some significant pictures. According to photographic memory research it is obvious that people remember more if data is attached with pictures. If our website is very colourful with lots of pictures and colours then people tend to memorize the information better.

For example, there are two history websites with the same contents. The first site is very simple and contains only text on the whole website. Visitors will not get attracted by the website and they will feel bored and will not bother to read. The second website has the same text but has some pictures related to that specific history. People will prefer to read the website with the pictures and will memorise the second website better.

We should use variety of media types like, videos, audio, images, slideshow presentations etc. The more ways we can communicate our ideas, the more ways our visitors will think about those ideas and more they will memorize it.

"The more you can bring attention to important ideas and concepts, the more easily you can make it for people to process those concepts, and the more you get your audience to analyze those concepts at a deeper level, the more you will communicate to them and the more they'll remember your message later" [27].

Chunking and Categorization

As I already discussed about the importance of categorization. I will implement this rule on my website to enhance visitor's memory while reading the contents of website. I will divide contents in categories with proper heading and title it properly to make it easier to remember.

I will use several shorter paragraphs (chunks) instead of longer paragraph with clearly labelled hierarchy. By breaking down information into chunks increases the accuracy of the information which also enhances memory [28] [29].

Stand Out

It is very common practice that people remember more if things are noticeably different and stand out.

Example: Take few seconds and try to remember this list and then look away.









It is also important to use important information in the beginning of a conversation. It will help to stand out in person's mind.

I will make noticeably different style for the information which will be more important for the reader to answer questions. In one of my website I will use different techniques to make important information stand out. I will keep keywords, phrases and important information bold. I will use different colours, font size and style for important information.


Repetition is a good memory aid. If we repeat the message consecutively several times it embeds information in our minds. Repetition makes things easier to remember and it also reinforces the learned material [30].

If we apply the concept of repetition in the website we can enhance people's ability to remember anything. We can repeat important information, words, dates, and keywords in our website.


It is very important to organize the information properly in order to remember. Being organised enhances our memory and also decreases our stress. Well organised contents of our website will enhance the memory therefore in my website I will organise all given information properly so that visitors never get stressed and read through all information happily.

First and Last

According to the physiological studies the messages given first and the last are recalled the best. Therefore it's important to emphasize important messages at the start or ending of passages. An average film can be remembered as being great if it's beginning and ending is good. The state of being first often creates a strong impression nearly impossible to erase. Therefore we should communicate core messages early in each page and then add further detail after. If we try to answer quiz question, the first idea gets in the way to find correct answer even though your first idea is not correct [31].

Features and Design

This is initial stage of my project I didn't decide the contents and topic of the website. I will create three website with different design principles. One website will be with soft music and pictures, one without music and pictures and one good website which will have all usability rules, pictures and music afterwards I will take memory test from different male and female student in order to find out which are the factors that enhances memory on website.

Possible Techniques and Tools

For this project I will develop three versions of websites using ASP.Net which is Microsoft .net framework and very powerful tool for creating dynamic and interactive web pages. I will also use CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), MySQL and JavaScript. MySQL is very fast and reliable open source database system which will be used to store questions answers in order to calculate the result to measure user's memory on website. I will also use java scripting language which can be embedded into HTML and it is more interactive and a better experience. Java script will be use to develop pop-ups as reminder for the users when they will be answering questions.


Different researches has proved that music enhances memory, my research will be mostly based on whether music enhances memory on web while reading the contents of website and also which music is the best source in relaxation in order to enhance memory. I found in my research that most f the people study while listening to music or watching television, therefore I wanted to explore what happens when people read text on website with soft back ground music.

In my background research I also concluded that generally pictures enhances memory, I would also implement this rule on my website to see whether it enhances on web or is it only true in general. I will implement different site with same contents but with different music, with pictures, without pictures and some other techniques to calculate memory of the testers to find out best factors that truly enhances memory.

Project Plan

Task Name


Start Date

End Date

Revising requirements and contents

2 Days

13 June 2011

15 June 2011

Website Designs and Questionnaire

1 Week

16 June 2011

23 June 2011

Developing Website1

1 Week

24 June 2011

1 July 2011

Developing Website2

3 Days

2 July 2011

5 July 2011

Developing Website3

3 Days

6 July 2011

9 July 2011

Testing Websites

1 Week

10 July 2011

17 July 2011


1 Week

18 July 2011

25 July 2011

Evaluating Result

1 Week

26 July 2011

3 August 2011



3 August 2011

25 August 2011