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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: Maths
  • Word count: 2359

An experiment to look at the primacy and recency effect on recalling a word list Introduction: Background

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Alex Parry


An experiment to look at the primacy and recency effect on recalling a word list



Atkinson and Shiffrin suggested the multi-store model of memory; it consisted of 3 main stores; the sensory store, short term store, and long term store. Information which we obtain from our senses is kept in our sensory store, if enough attention is paid to it, the information will enter our short term memory, and then if the information is rehearsed then it will cross the threshold into the long term memory.

Murdock (1962) presented participants with a list of words, they were required to recall as many of the words as possible. Murdock found that the words at the end of the list (recency effect) and the beginning of the list (primary effect) that were more likely to be remembered than those in the middle of the list.

Murdock found that the longer information is held in Short Term Memory (STM) and rehearsed, the greater the likelihood of it passing into Long Term Memory (LTM). Information from the middle of the list perished as there is little time to rehearse it. In conclusion Murdock came to the assumption that information that was remembered came from two separate stores, the STM and the LTM.

Glanzer and Cunitz (1966) used free recall (where the participants can remember the words in any order)

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Firstly I would ask a teacher politely if myself and the other two experimenters could use their class for 10-15 minuets to conduct a psychological test on memory, I concisely briefed the teacher what I was planning to do.
The words that had been generated were saved onto a disk, and then I would load this disk into the teacher’s laptop, enabling me to present the words under precise control. Before the presentation was started another experimenter handed out pieces of paper, then the standardised instructions were read out, and a verbal consent form was also read. Then the participants were asked not to write down any of the words as the slideshow was presented, as this would lead to inaccurate results. The other two experimenters and I always made sure we each played the same role, during the experiment, in case bias was introduced.
Once the PowerPoint had begun, the participants were not allowed to talk in anyway, in case the participants cheated.
Once the PowerPoint had been run, the group who were in condition 1 were presented with maths problems for 2 minutes, which they were to answer on the opposite side of the paper provided. Condition 2 was told to start recalling straight after the PowerPoint had ended.
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Implications of the study
The results of my experiment don’t correspond with those that Glanzer and Cunitz found. As the recency effect was not destroyed by an interference task, which is what they found. The results do however coincide with Murdock’s experiment, when he found that the words in the middle of the list are perished, as there is not enough time to rehearse them, nor is there enough space for them in the STM.
Generalising the findings.
As the participants were only a small sample of the population, the findings cannot be generalised, also because the sample was so small, and anomalous results were found, make the results impossible to generalise. Also in the second condition only male samples were used, this was not my choice in sampling, but it was the opportunity that arouse, this factor means that the results cannot even be generalised across genders.
Applications to real life
The results from my experiment can be used in different types of teaching methods, also when it comes to revision; it is best for a student not to watch television, after revising and before an exam, as it will destroy the most recently revised information.  
Journal of verbal learning and verbal behaviour 5, p351-60
Angles on psychology, p73-4

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