Do levels of processing affect memory

The issue addressed in this experiment was whether processing information deeply leads to easier recall of that particular information. The hypothesis was ‘deeper processing of information will produce better recall’. 22 participants; 11 male, 11 female, were asked both deep and shallow questions about a word list and were later asked to recall that word list. It was found that more deep words were recalled. In conclusion, the hypothesis was proven; deeper processing of information [does] produce better recall’.

Memory is an incredibly broad subject, there are many questions which can be asked about it; how does it work; how is information retained; how long is information retained; how is information recalled etc. As a result, a great many approaches have been taken towards the topic, several of which will be outlined below.

Atkinson ; Shiffrin (1968) proposed the existence of the multi-store model, that there are three different stores, each of which had very different characteristics. The sensory store is used momentarily with stimuli being separated into different types of material. The short-term store has a very limited capacity and stores information until it is replaced by other material. Material remains in this store through rehearsal. The long-term store has an almost unlimited capacity, and forgetting only occurs because of an inability to retrieve the memory trace from similar existing memories.

Another approach was proposed by Baddeley ; Hitch (1974) in the form of the working memory model. This model also consists of three parts; the central executive, which determines what is and what is not attended to, it has a limited capacity and deals with tasks which are cognitively demanding. It also has an articulatory loop, which, put simply, is a verbal rehearsal system which has a capacity of two seconds of verbal output. Furthermore, there is a visuo-spatial scratch pad which can hold and rehearse visual and spatial information.

The final approach to be outlined is levels of processing, Craik ; Lockhart (1972) proposed that people can analyse stimuli at number of different levels. The shallow levels involve analysis in terms of physical or sensory characteristics, such as brightness or pitch. The deep levels involve analysis in terms of meaning. When you analyse for meaning, you may think of other, related associations, images and past experiences related to the stimulus. The approach suggests that deep, meaningful kinds of information processing lead to more permanent retention than shallow, sensory kinds of processing (Craik, 1979).

The by-product of all this analysis is a memory trace. If the stimulus is analysed at a very shallow level (perhaps in terms of whether it had capital letters or whether it was printed in red), then that memory trace will be fragile and may be quickly forgotten. However, if the stimulus is analysed at a very deep level (perhaps in terms of its semantic appropriateness in a sentence or in terms of the meaning category to which it belongs), then that memory trace will last, or, in other words, it will be remembered.

It is the levels-of-processing theory that the experimenters will be exploring further, basing their experiment on that performed by Craik ; Lockhart (1979). Participants will be presented with 8 deep and 8 shallow tasks alternatively, relating to a word list each time. They will then be ‘surprised’ with a recall test. The experimental hypothesis is that deeper levels of processing will produce better recall.



In total there were 22 participants, there were equal numbers of males and females. These participants were sourced from the University of Wales, Bangor and are all undergraduates in degrees other than any social science related subject.


The stimuli used in the experiment consisted of a word list sheet containing words in upper and lower case, a response sheet for the recall test, a set of standardised instructions and an informed consent form.


The experimenters chose to use a related samples design to combine the advantages of the between-subjects and within-subjects designs. The word list was arranged in such a way that alternative processing questions were asked of the participants so as to avoid carry-over effects. The Independent Variable was the number of words recalled ad the Dependent Variable was that a number of words would be recalled.


The participant was lead into a small plain room where they were asked to seat themselves. They were given an informed consent form to read and sign. The participant was then shown a word on a piece of paper and asked one of two questions; is this word written in upper or lower case, or, name three things you associate with this word. The questions were reversed for each following participant to prevent any extraneous or confounding variables. Upon completion of processing the word list, the participant was then presented with a recall sheet which explained that they had 90 seconds to recall as many words from the word list that they could remember. When the 90 seconds had passed, the recall sheet was retrieved and the experimenter explained the experiment to the participant and gave them a full debriefing.