Intentional and Unintentional Learning Effect on Word Recall

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An Investigation into Intentional and Incidental Learning and their Effectiveness when Recalling Words and the Effectiveness of Recalling Abstract and Concrete Words

  • Nicole Canning

 

Abstract

This study was based on memory and the most effective ways to recall words, with the aim being to investigate whether intentional or incidental learning is most effective when recalling words and whether concrete or abstract words are easier to recall. A lab experiment was used and 9 students, studying Research Methods for Psychology, were used as participants and asked to carry out a simple task on a list of 30 words. The control group were given instructions to memorize the words, while the experimental group weren’t, before, being asked to write down as many words as they could remember. The results found that intentional learning is more effective than incidental learning at recalling words, supporting the experimental hypothesis, and supporting the researcher’s hypothesis that concrete words are easier than abstract words to recall.

Introduction

Both intentional and incidental learning are incorporated into everyday life as a technique of the brain acquiring and storing information, with intentional learning being when the individual intends to learn and decides on what to learn (American Accounting Association, 2014) whereas, incidental learning is learning which takes place purely by chance, with no intent to learn. (Psychology Wiki, 2014) Research, such as Eagle and Leiter (1964) found that intentional learning is the most effective way of recalling information and it has been a question of interest for many years whether incidental learning is as effective as intentional learning, when memorising information and recalling words. Masson and McDaniel’s (1976) study aimed to investigate whether incidental or intentional learning was most effective in recalling a list of words, including after the imposition of a time factor, by asking some groups of participants to recall the words immediately after reading the list and another set, 24 hours after reading the list. It was found that participants who had intentionally memorised the list of words recalled the most amounts of words 24 hours after reading the list, suggesting that intentional learning is required for the most effective recall of information; however, it is important to consider whether the type of information being recalled can have an effect on the most effective way of recalling. Walker and Hulme’s (1999) study found that when asking participants to recall words, first by spoken recall and then by writing the recalled words down, concrete words were easier to recall than abstract words, no matter what way it is recalled. This study aims to combine both intentional and incidental learning and concrete and abstract words in order to investigate what type of learning is most effective at recalling words. Also, whether abstract or concrete words are easier to recall, with directional hypotheses that intentional learning is more effective than incidental learning at recalling information and concrete words are easier than abstract words at recalling. Also considering the null hypotheses that there is no relationship between intentional and incidental learning and recalling information, other than by chance and there is no relationship between effective word recalling and type of word, other than by chance.

Method

Design

A lab experimental method was used for this study with a mixed design being used. A between subjects design was used for the type of learning aspect of the study – as participants only took part in one of the two conditions – with the independent variable (I.V) being the type of learning taking place and the dependent variable (D.V) , the total amount of word recalled. There were two conditions in the study, the control condition being where participants learned the words intentionally and were asked to memorize them beforehand, whereas, the experimental condition, participants were not asked to memorize them beforehand. On the other hand, a within subjects design was used for the effectiveness of recalling abstract and concrete words, with the I.V being the list of abstract and concrete words and the D.V being the total number of abstract and concrete words recalled.

Participants

9 Glasgow Caledonian University students, who are studying the Research Methods for Psychology module, were conveniently selected to participate in the study. 89% of the participants were female, while 11% were male, their ages ranging from 19 to 27.

Materials

Materials used in the study included 4 pieces of paper; two which contained a list of 15 abstract and 15 concrete words; one where extra instructions were given on it, telling the participant to try and memorise as many words as they could, (Appendix 1) while the other didn’t. (Appendix 2) Another piece of paper where participants would write the words they could recall from the list (Appendix 3) while the last piece was a ‘Class Data Record Sheet’, (Appendix 4) which let you record participants results and other personal information. A writing implement, such as a pen, was also required for participants to be able to write down the words they recalled and a timer was used to time participants as they carried out the task of reading/memorising

Procedure

First, each participant was given a piece of paper, faced down and were told when to turn it over. When turned around, the piece of paper had a set of instructions on it and a list of 30 words. Participants were given 2 minutes to carry out the task in the instructions, the participants taking part in the control condition were also asked to memorise as many words as possible. Participants were asked to turn their piece of paper back over and given another piece of paper. The piece of paper asked participants to write down as many words as they could remember from the previous list and were given another 2 minutes to do so. Participants then recorded how many words they had recalled, categorised into abstract and concrete words, and each participants result was recorded onto the class data record sheet.

Results

The studies’ findings showed evidence that intentional learning is more effective at recalling information than incidental learning. it was found that a total of 32 words were recalled when intentional learning occurred, however, a total of 23 words were recalled when incidental learning occurred. Results also showed evidence that concrete words are easier than abstract words to recall, as a total of 35 concrete words were recalled, whereas, a total of 20 abstract words were recalled. The following table also shows the results of words recalled when learned intentionally and incidentally and the total number of concrete and abstract words recalled.

Table showing the effect Intentional and Incidental Learning had on total of abstract and concrete words recalled

When the median was calculated for concrete and abstract words recalled, results showed that the midpoint of the numbers of concrete words recalled was 4, the midpoint of the numbers of abstract words recalled was 2 and, for the total numbers of words recalled, 6, which is also shown in the following frequency distribution chart.

Frequency Distribution for total number of concrete, abstract and total number of words recalled

The frequency distribution chart above also shows that the results of the total number of concrete and abstract word recalled are skewed to the right, therefore, have a positive skewness for the total amount of concrete and abstract words recalled. The total numbers of words recalled have a normal distribution, meaning each set of results for each type of word recalled must balance each other out.

Inferential statistics are used in order to test the hypotheses and investigate whether differences were due to the study. Using the Mann-Whitney test for the results found that for the amount of words recalled when intentional learning occurred and when incidental learning occurred, a ‘U’ value of -2 was calculated. This is lower than the critical value of 1 for 5 participants in one group and 4 in the other, (Billiet, P, 2013) used in the between – subjects design. Consequently, the difference found between results for the total number of words recalled when intentional learning and incidental learning occurred is unlikely to have occurred by chance, therefore, supporting the one- tailed hypothesis that intentional learning is more effective than incidental learning in recalling information. When looking at the within subjects condition results, the Wilcoxon test was used, a ‘W’ value of 3.5 was calculated, which is lower than the critical value of total number of 8 participants (n-1), therefore, showing that the difference between the results found for the results of how many words recalled when intentional or incidental learning occurred was unlikely to occur by chance (Hole, G, 2014) and supports the one – tailed hypothesis that intentional learning is more effective than incidental learning in recalling information.

Discussion

According to results, participants who had intentionally learned the list of words recalled more, than participants who had learned them incidentally, therefore, supporting the researcher’s hypothesis that intentional learning is more effective than incidental learning when recalling information and rejecting the null hypothesis for the between–subjects aspect of the experiment. It was also found that more concrete words were recalled than abstract words in the within-subjects part of the experiment, therefore, also supporting the hypothesis that concrete words are easier than abstract words to recall, rejecting the null hypothesis. When looking at previous studies, the results of this current study also support the findings of Eagle and Leiter, (1964) who found that intentional learning was most effective when recalling words, whereas, incidental learning is most effective when recognising words, therefore, both Eagle and Leiter’s (1964) study and the current study showed evidence that intentional learning is more effective than incidental learning when recalling information. While Eagle and Leiter’s (1964) study asked participants to complete a recognition task and recall task, this study incorporated both intentional and incidental learning and concrete and abstract in terms of their effect on recalling words, in order to investigate whether both aspects studied together would have an effect on results.

A critique of the study was that the study had a small sample size, therefore, was not representative of the population and findings could have could have differed if a sample size was used that would have been more representative of the population.

The findings of the study imply that in order to effectively recall or remember information or words, intentional learning is most likely to have taken place and it is best to memorize concrete words, compared to abstract words. These findings would be useful to teachers or education systems, when setting out recall or recognition tests in regards to words.

Further possible research on incidental and intentional learning and effectiveness when recalling could be carried out in a real life environment, such as when learning to drive, asking drivers whether they found it easier to recall roads signs if they continued to study them intentionally or just by seeing them when out driving.

In conclusion, the experimental hypotheses were supported, as results showed evidence that intentional learning is most effective in recalling information and concrete words are easier to recall than abstract words, suggesting that there are specific techniques in order to effectively recall words and information.

References:

  • American Accounting Association (2014) Glossary (online) http://aaahq.org/aecc/intent/glossary.htm (accessed 17th February 2014)
  • Eagle, M. & Leiter, E. (1964) Recall and recognition in intentional and incidental learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 68(1), 58-63
  • Masson, E. & McDaniel, M.(1976) Effectiveness of Intentional and Incidental Rehearsal Processes on Immediate and Delayed Recall (online) http://www.colorado.edu/ics/sites/default/files/attached-files/76-51.pdf (accessed 17th February 2014)
  • Psychology Wiki (2014) Incidental Learning (online) http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Incidental_learning (accessed 17th February 2014)
  • Walker, I. & Hulme, C (1999) “Concrete words are easier to recall than abstract words: Evidence for a semantic contribution to short-term serial recall”,Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition,vol. 25, no. 5, pp. 1256-1271.

Nicole Canning Research Methods Lab ReportPage 1

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