Craik & Tulving wanted to test whether the level of processing
affected how well we remember information. By "depth of processing",
we mean, the way in which a person thinks about a piece of information, for
example, a shallow level of processing of a word would be to skim over a sentence
and to understand the sentence without dwelling on the individual word. In this
way, we have processed the meaning of the word, but only in order to understand
the sentence. A deeper level of processing, on the other hand, would be to look
at the word by itself, outside of a sentence, and to think of what the word
means; maybe even what other words rhyme with it. This way, we are also more
likely to remember it.
How Craik & Tulving set out to test level of processing
In 1975, the researchers conducted an experiment in which participants were
shown a list of 60 words.
They were then asked to recall certain words by being shown one of three questions,
each testing a different level of processing, similar to:
Was the word in capital letters or lower case? (Tests structural processing
Does the word rhyme with (another word)? (Tests phonemic/auditory
processing, as the participant has to listen to the word judge whether it
rhymes with another word)
Does the word fit in the following sentence...? (Tests semantic
processing; understanding the meaning of the word DEEP PROCESSING/
Out of another larger list, the participants were asked to pick out the appropriate
word, as the original words had been mixed into this list.
Craik & Tulving found that participants were better able to recall words
which had been processed more deeply - that is, processed semantically, supporting
level of processing theory.
Evaluation of this experiment
Craik and Tulving's research supports their level of processing theory.
As deeper processing would logically take more time to execute than shallow
processing (e.g. thinking of words that rhyme with a word vs. noticing
whether a word is capitalized), it is unclear whether time taken
to process, or level of processing is the actual
cause of recall.
Craik & Tulving's experiment lacks a degree of ecological validity
in that only word recall is tested. In reality whereas structural and
visual processing might be expected to higher if a person had been asked
to recall a picture they had seen, for example.