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 SHALLOW 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/ ELABORATE REHEARSAL)
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.
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Method is a powerful method.