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Varying Depth Levels of Processing Information and the Effect on Memory Retention

2228 words (9 pages) Essay in Psychology

08/02/20 Psychology Reference this

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  This research will attempt to determine if college students who process words at a deeper level remember more words, then participants who process words at a shallow level. This topic is theoretically important because the more we understand how the level at which we process information has an effect on our retention of that information, we can change the way we process information depending on the type of retention we may need for certain information. Therefore, in different situations we may need to process information differently, so we can recall it correctly; and when we need this information we can retrieve it without problem.

 The theory in which we will be basing much of our work off of is the depth of processing theory, Craik and Lockhart (1972). Depth of processing theory states that a greater level of processing information, for example shallow or in-depth processing; has an effect on how we intake and retrieve this information. The greater the depth of processing that goes on when we are examining information, the longer the information stays within reach, and the faster we are able to retrieve this information. The original study of Craik and Lockhart (1972) was focused on the use of different stimuli and schemas to process information at a deeper level. According to the theory, there are two different types of mental processing that occur; one of them being shallow processing, and the other being in-depth processing. The results of this study exemplified that for the best retention, and less decay of information; in depth processing is more effective when it comes to retrieval of the information and the storage of that information as well.

Within the same area of study, is the research that was conducted by Rose and Craik (2012). Within this study (Rose et al. 2012) Conducted two experiments both examining the effect of length of processing on the working memory, and long-term memory. They conducted the first experiment by making participants analyze a group of word pairs using visual, or other processing tools. The participants would then be asked to immediately recall the information they processed after viewing three to eight different word pairs. After participants were done completing the word pair associations they were asked to take a 10 min arithmetic test, and then complete a recognition test to see if they remembered words pairs from their session. The results of (Rose et al. 2012) Exemplified that immediate recall did not show the levels of processing effect; but that the long-term memory test (arithmetic test) did show that a deeper level of processing was beneficial in being able to recall more of the word pairs. Experiment number two was conducted in almost the same manner as experiment number one, but instead of the immediate recall a surprise recall was used after reviewing and eight item list.

The results from experiment number two exemplified that a surprise recall did show a levels of processing effect, but that shallow processing was found to have the best recall of the words pairs. This was explained by (Rose et al. 2012) due to the effort that would have been necessary to deeply process the information, and that people were intentionally focusing on the information that had to be retained to keep it fresh in their mind. Overall it was still found that the best method for having information stored in the long-term memory, and retrieval of that information came from a deeper level of processing. (Rose et al. 2012).

Very similar to the Research by Rose and Craik (2012) about depth of processing and how it relates to schemas and other predetermined mental structures, is the work of (Ramponi, Richardson- Klavehn, & Gardiner, 2007). These researchers Conducted three experiments that were examining whether depth of processing effects cognitive priming. The experiment was conducted by using implicit and explicit examinations of various word associations, many of these words were studied by the participants before the experiments. Word pairs were categorized by phonemic, graphemic, semantic, and self-related study tasks. Three different association strengths were accounted for within the word associations of which were, (weak, medium, strong) which exemplified how well the priming of the participant and the word associated. Within the first experiment participants would go through four different conditions in the study all of which contained 36-word pairs, and they were asked to associate the word with what they knew, or the first thing that came to their mind.

 Within the second experiment instead of word pairs, word associations were used and only the phonemic and semantic study tasks were used. Participants would then have to complete either a phonemic or semantic study task, which consisted of the participant continuing a certain task with a pair of 30 words; then the instructions would change and a different task and pair of 30 words would appear. The participants would then take part in a distraction task and the test would begin, very similar to experiment 1 except only have 2 different groups phonemic, and semantic. During experiment 3 the same usage of study tasks and tests were used from experiment 1, and 2; but instead there was and audio and visual addition. This time participants would visually see the words on a computer and decide about the associations they could make from the word selections on the screen. The results of experiment number one exemplified that depth of processing had a week relationship between priming and association of words. The results of experiment number two and three were very similar although the only difference was that it was found that priming was contextual and not perceptual. Overall it was exemplified in all experiments that depth of processing had an effect on all of the various associations and methods used within the experiment. (Ramponi et al. 2007).

Continuing on with the theme of memory and the effects of depth of processing, is the work of (Segalowitz, Cohen, Chan, & Prieur, 2001). These researchers examined the part depths of processing plays in the recall of learned musical passages that were obtained through various readings. Within this study pianists were asked to play a certain work four different times with the instructions to deeply process, shallowly process, have high elaboration, and to have low elaboration. The researcher would then administer a surprise-free recall task and cued recall task, the pianists would then be asked to perform as much of the piece as they could recall. (Segalowitz et al. 2001) found that the cued recall method with a high level of deep processing of the musical work; was more favorable then cued recall with a shallow level of processing. It Is important to note that within this study there were no results found for the free recall method, and no conclusions were able to be drawn. Pertaining to the low elaboration and high elaboration (paying attention to different aesthetics of the music), there was found in the cued recall condition, that there was no exemplary effect for low elaboration; although for high elaboration the results were slightly better in terms of recall but were not marginally different compared to the low elaboration group. Overall it can be said that the depth of processing does have an effect on, in the case musical recall. (Segalowitz et al. 2001).

Taking a look at another real-world example of an application of depths of processing is the work done by (Wenzel, Zetocha, Ferraro, 2007). The research conducted by this team is about the biases of fear that people with anxiety struggle with, and how they retrieve these fears; and if the way they are processed has an effect on the way they are outwardly shown in the form of anxiety. This experiment was conducted with participants who were fearful of spiders, blood, and then a control group that had no fear at all. Participants would then be asked to encode words related to spiders, blood, or other neutral words to function as the three levels of processing; which are structural, semantic, and self-referent. Participants would then complete a free recall, or recognition task of the words they just encoded. (Wenzel et al. 2007) found that all of the participants were able to recognize more of the self-referent conditions then the other two conditions that were manipulated. The other two conditions, structural and semantic, were found to have no effect on recognition performance. Lastly, all of the participants were found to have remembered more of the yes answers to the questions that related to words that they had a personal attachment to; then to words that they said no to. The results of this work have exemplified that the self-referent condition increased memory performance, most likely due to the increased amount of processing that occurs when we connect certain things to personal schemas, or ideas that are personal to us in our minds. (Wenzel et al. 2007).

The last work of research I would like to include is continuing on with my real- life application of depths of processing. A study conducted by Wang, Cant, & Cupchick (2016) was examining how people encode, and recognize, different pieces of artwork and design patterns. Depth of processing was manipulated in the sense that participants were asked to take part in an encoding task where they would make both affective, and aesthetic judgments. For the painting stimuli the participants would be asked whether they liked the painting, yes or no; and if they saw food located in the painting which would be qualified with absent or present. Pertaining to the design stimuli, the participants were asked to once again decide if they liked the design and see the relative similarity between the other designs present; such as the similarity in color or texture. The researchers then would transform the designs using color or texture and ask participants to complete a surprise memory test of the original stimuli. (Wang et al. 2016) found that liking the original stimuli lead to a deeper processing of the information but in contrast to the original hypothesis did not improve memory performance. Furthermore, the enhancement of processing was not found in design work that was lacking semantic content, but instead was found in the numerous forms of artwork. As a final thought, phase one of the experiment did show that participants who encoded the information in an aesthetic way did process the information at a deeper level. However, phase 2 in the experiment did not head the results predicted in the sense that there was no real difference exemplified in the results of the surprise recognition test, because there was no enhancement of memory recognition; meaning that the depths of processing hypothesis was not strongly present in the results of this work. (Wang et al. 2007).

The experiment we will be conducting will consist of students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, taking part in an activity where words will show up on a screen for just a couple of seconds; and different groups of students will have different tasks. These students, depending on what type of task, will then be asked to recollect as many words they saw as possible. For example, one student may need to pick out all of the vowels in the words, while another student needs to try and connect those words with something meaningful to them. Students who have the opportunity to attach a meaning to the words they are viewing will be more likely than students who have to count the syllables or vowels of the words, to remember the words that have been presented on the screen. I believe this because when we look at the depth of processing theory (Craik and Lockhart, 1972) when people have a chance to process the information on a deeper level, in this case it would be on a more personal level; they are able to recall the information more correctly and with more ease. Therefore, with the same logic the students who are processing the information on a deeper level should be able to remember more words then those students who did not process on a deeper level.


  • Craik, F. I., & Lockhart, R. S. (1972). Levels of processing: A framework for memory research. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11, 671-684.
  • Ramponi, C., Richardson- Klavehn, A., & Gardiner, J. M. (2007). Component processes of conceptual priming and associative cued recall: The roles of preexisting representation and depth of processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33, 843-862.
  • Rose, N. S., & Craik, F. I. (2012). A processing approach to the working memory/ long term memory distinction: Evidence from the levels of processing span task. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 38, 1019-1029.
  • Segalowitz, N., Cohen, P., Chan, A., & Prieur, T. (2001). Musical recall memory: Contributions of elaboration and depth of processing. Psychology of Music, 29, 139-148.
  • Wang, T., Cant, J. S., & Cupchik, G. (2016). The impact of depth of aesthetic processing and visual-feature transformations on recognition memory for artworks and constructed design patterns. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 34, 193-220.
  • Wenzel, A., Zetocha, K., & Ferraro, R. (2007). Depth of processing and recall of threat material in fearful and nonfearful individuals. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 20, 223-237. 
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