An Investigation into the Effect of Organisation on Memory

Research Previous research has been done by other

The following study was based on the “levels of processing theory” put forward by Craick and Lochart (Craick & Lockhart, 1972), which states that we are more likely to recall information when deeper levels of processing are used.

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The purpose of the study was to investigate the relationship between levels of processing and the relative recall rates. The study examined three levels of processing words; phonemic, graphemic and semantic. The phonemic words were represented by rhyme, graphemic words were represented by capital letters and semantic were represented by adjectives. The study was conducted on n= 77, Thames Valley University Undergraduate Psychology students.

The first part of the study involved the display, with the aid of a projector, of a list of words to the participants. The words displayed were changed every 5 seconds, and each represented their respective categories; grapehmic, phonemic and semantic. For the autographic category, all the participants were asked to decide whether the words were written in capital letters and to either write yes or no. For the phonemic category, the participants were given a word and asked to write down another word that rhymed with the given word. Lastly, for the semantic category, the participants were asked to use adjectives to describe the given words. For the second part of the study, the participants were given a new blank piece of paper and asked to recall the original words that were presented to them without looking at the original words. The words from each category were calculated respectively in order to see which category scored the highest recall of words.

The results obtained from the experiment were significant with at P<0.001 level. A Bonferroni test was conducted, since a directional hypothesis was predicted. Additionally, a one way Anova test showed that the participants had better recall with semantic processing, where M=4.65) than with phonemic processing (M=2.88) and graphemic processing (M=1.43). Additionally, M=4.65) than with phonological processing (M=2.88) and graphemic processing (M=1.43), as shown in Figure 1; the F ratio = (2, 152) = 75.11, p<0.001.


It was first suggested in 1890 by William James, an American psychologist, that memory could be divided into two categories; Short Term Memory (STM) and Long Term Memory (LTM). In simplified terms, short-term memory was primary memory according to James, and was limited to more immediate memory and is therefore fragile. Secondary memory was more refined and therefore long-lasting (Eysenck, 2005 p.191).

Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) later suggested three categories of memory storage being sensory store, short-term store and long-term store (Eysenck, 2005 p.189). The sensory store is based on stimulation of the senses, and was theorised to be the ‘entry point’ of information storage. Most of these recollections in sensory store were believed to last only for the duration of that stimulation. Subsequently, short-term memory, according to Broadbent (1958), arises when further concentration or attention was given to a particular stimulus, while in long-term memory information is ingrained and can be better recalled (Eysenck, 2005 p.191). These three stages were collectively known as the multi-store model.

In 1972, Craik and Lockhart developed the concept of levels of processing. This theory came about after the criticism of the aforementioned multi-store model, which focused on the structures involved in the STM and the LTM. What had been put forward was that these two categories of memory were stored separately in the mind, as they did not have the same fixedness or stability. Instead, the level of processing theory focuses on the processes which are involved in memory. At the core of Craik and Lockhart’s theory was the notion that it is the level or degree of processing that determines memory rather than the time elapsed, which minimised the distinction between STM and LTM. In place of time, memory, according to Craig and Lockhart, could be distinguished by infinite levels – from shallow to complex – by which the brain processes information (Craik and Lockhart, 1972). It is the depth of the processing that regulates memory, and processing is based on rehearsal.

They argued that rehearsal could be divided into maintenance rehearsal and elaborative rehearsal. Basically, maintenance rehearsal is the repetition of a stimulant such as a word to be stored in short-term memory. This does not automatically bring about long-term memory. However, in elaborative rehearsal, unlike the shallow processing in maintenance rehearsal, the brain processes the information on a deeper level. This form of rehearsal is semantic and requires more extensive thought and analysis as to the meaning. This increases long-term memory (Martin, G. et al., 2007 p.313)

Nevertheless, there have been criticisms of Craik and Lockhart’s theory on levels of processing. One of the main arguments criticising this theory is the fact that the degree of processing being used by a subject in an experiment cannot be determined. ( Eysenck, 2005 p. 208) Others such as Roediger and Gallo (2002) have argued that there is no distinction between intentional and incidental memory which is not addressed by levels of processing (Eysenck, 2005 p. 208). In addition, transfer-appropriate processing, suggested by Morris et al. (1977), asserted that processing based on relevance may produce different kinds of recall. (Eysenck, 2005 p. 209) Craik and Lockhart (2002) also later refined their theory and stated that shallow processing is not necessarily limited to short-term memory, nor is does deep processing automatically result in long-term memory (Eysenck, 2005 p. 210).


Experimental Hypothesis (H1): There will be a significant positive relationship between levels of deeper processing and the recall of words.

Null Hypothesis (H0): There will NOT be a significant positive relationship between levels of deeper processing and the recall of words.



The study consisted of a repeat measure ANOVA test which was not counter-balanced. All the participants took part in each of the conditions.

The study consisted of a singular Independent Variable (IV), which was an incidental learning task, and was divided into 3 levels of independent variables; semantic, graphemic and phonemic. The Dependent Variable (DV) was the number of words recalled.


The total number of participants was n=77. The participants were all undergraduate psychology students at Thames Valley University. This was a mixed gender group, though a predominantly female, opportunist sample. All the participants were between the ages of 18 -50, with the majority being mature students. The participants were not requested to give personal information and participated as a partial fulfilment of the course requirement, however, they could pull out of the experiment at any time.

Material/ App:

The following items were used during this experiment:

A hand held stop watch which was used to time how long each the word was displayed.

Blank sheets of paper, used as an answer sheet.


Standardised instructions and briefing.

Stimulus Word list displayed on projector. There were a total of 30 randomly selected words displayed, with 10 words presenting each category.(Appendix 1) Each of the words were coupled with a question, which required either semantic, phonemic or autographic processing.


The participants were read out the standardised instructions, then were given a briefing. The participants were then given a blank sheet of paper to use as an answer sheet. The examiner then began the experiment. The first part of the study involved the examiner displaying a list of words to the participants. The words displayed were changed every 5 seconds and each represented their respective categories; phonemic, graphemic and semantic. For the graphemic category, the participants were asked to decide whether the words was written in capital letters, writing either yes or no. For the phonemic category the participants were given a word and asked to write down a rhyming word, e.g.: cart = mart. Lastly, for the semantic category, the participants were asked to use adjectives to describe the given words, e.g.: honey = sweet. All the results were to be compiled on one sheet of paper. For the second part of the study, the participants were given a new blank piece of paper and asked to recall the original words that were presented to them without looking at the original words. The results were then added up. The words from each category were calculated respectively in order to see which category scored the highest.


Due to the experiment being a repeat measure experiment, an ANOVA was performed to obtain results. The data was parametric and there were three conditions present. Furthermore, since a directional hypotheses was predicted, a Bonferroni post hoc test was used. The results are displayed in the following tables and figures.

Table 1: Descriptive Statistics for the recollection of words from all three conditions.



Standard Deviation


Capital (Graphemic)




Rhyme (Phonemic)




Adjective (Semantic)




Table 1 demonstrates that, according to the mean results, there is a significantly high difference between the graphemic and semantic words. This is in line with the predicted direction of the hypothesis.

A one way ANOVA test showed that the students had better recall with semantic processing (M=4.65) than with phonemic processing (M=2.88) and graphemic processing (M=1.43), The F ratio = (2, 152) = 75.11, p<0.001. Therefore, the ANOVA revealed there were significant differences between the levels of processing, however, it did not clearly indicate where these differences lay. To test the validity of the hypothesis, a post hoc test was used in order to see where the differences were, as the ANOVA test was unable to show this.

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Figure 1: A line graph demonstrating the results of the study conducted, showing the relationship between deeper levels of processing and word recall.

Figure 1 demonstrates that the results of the study were clearly in line with the experimental hypothesis.

A Bonferroni Post-Hoc Test was conducted since a directional hypothesis was predicted. Furthermore regarding the extent of those differences, the results obtained showed that the significance is less than 0.05. The differences between the means of graphemic and semantic is 3.22, phonemic and semantic is 1.766, and graphemic and phonemic is 1.45. The significance is less than 0.05, which is highly significant showing the P value of P<0.001.

Moreover, the Post Hoc test shows that they are all significantly distinct from each other. These results suggest that the semantic level of processing provides the greater recall.


The purpose of the levels of processing experiment was to determine whether deeper levels of processing result in better recall. The experimental hypothesis (H1) is; There will be a significant positive relationship between levels of deeper processing and the recall of words. This experiment was accepted, thus rejecting the null hypotheses (H0), which stated that; There will NOT be a significant positive relationship between levels of deeper processing and the recall of words. The significance was clearly illustrated in figure 1. Moreover, the results from the one way ANOVA and Post Hoc tests confirmed the significance level at P<0.001. Following the descriptive statistics, the means and the standard deviations illustrated that there was a compelling difference between the graphemic and semantic conditions. Once again, the hypothesis was accepted and the null rejected.

An overview of the experiment indicates that the obtained results support the findings of Elias & Perfetti (1973) (Cox, 2001 ). Notably however, these results do not support Hyde & Jenkin’s (1973) study, which showed that participants of incidental tasks recalled the same as the intentional task participants (Eysenck, 2005). Further, the experiment fails to put into consideration the findings of Tyler, et al (1979), who suggested that retention of information is due to processing effort and not the depth of processing. On average, participants spend a longer time processing more difficult tasks given, which supports Tyler’s study, and it could therefore be assumed that the results obtained from the study are due to more effort being allocated to the given task (Craik & Lockhart, 1972).

Additionally, the study was not of a counter-balanced nature, which may have affected the participants recollection. The type of processing, with regard to effort and time taken to process, may also be influential. These variations could lead to deeper processing as more effort is used recalling, thus creating difficulty in determining which factors influenced the results. It is noteworthy that in level of processing experiments, it is often rather difficult to determine which level of processing is being used. This can be seen in a study by Hyde & Jenkins, 1973 where it was illustrated that the ability to recall a word, involved linking it to its meaning, however it was unclear why this was the case. Another objection was that the task of determining the part of speech to which a word belongs is a shallow processing task. On the contrary, other researchers assert that this involves semantic processing. Lastly, in the levels of processing theory, there is no concise explanation as to why deeper levels of processing results in better recall. According to Eysenck (Eysenck, 2005) the levels of processing theory describes rather than explains this occurrence.

Notably however, a number of improvements could have been made to the experiment. As previously mentioned, there were more female participants than male. The gender distribution should have been more even. Furthermore, the seating environment of the experiment was poorly set up. The participants were seated too closely to each other, creating the possibility to cheat by looking at a neighbour’s sheet. Additionally, the study did not put learning disabilities into consideration. For instance, people with dyslexia have phonological processing impairments with may alter the outcome of such an experiment. An additional improvement could include using a wider population and an independent group design, as the experiment was quite biased – only undergraduate psychology students took part in this repeat measure design. This could have given the subjects the advantage of practice, therefore making it easier for them to recall the words and making the results of the experiment less reliable.

On the whole, the experiment turned out to be an success as the findings were in correlation with Craik and Lockhart’s findings. As the results showed that deep processing, which involves attention to meaning and rehearsal will generally result in better recall.


Cox, E (2001). Psychology for A level. Oxford University Press

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

Davey, G. et al. (2004), Complete Psychology. Hodder Headline: London .

Eysenck, M.W., (2005), Cognitive Psychology: A Student’s handbook. Psychology Press: New York.

Martin, G. et al. (2007), Psychology (3rd edn.) Pearson Education Limited: Essex.



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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