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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: Maths
  • Word count: 2957

An investigation into whether participants recall more words with a familiar topic than they do with an unfamiliar topic.

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Danielle McCarthy

Candidate number 8106

An investigation into whether participants recall more words with a familiar topic than they do with an unfamiliar topic.


The background theory on which this is based is the study carried out by Brewer and Treyens in 1981 on schemata, they aimed to investigate whether schema consistent information was better recalled than schema inconsistent information. This study was similar in the fact both studies were investigating whether familiarity and unfamiliarity affects recall. The aim of this investigation was to investigate whether memorising words from a familiar topic and an unfamiliar topic affects recall of the selected words, it was predicted that the words that were unfamiliar to the participants were less in recall than the words that were similar and from a topic in which the participants have knowledge.

The research method chosen for this was experimentation other than observation. The design chosen was repeated measures design and the sample size was 10. An opportunity sample was used to select the participants for the experiment.

The results obtained showed that the familiar topic was better in recall   (mean: 14.5) compared with the recall of words from the unfamiliar topic (mean: 8.2).

The hypothesis of the experiment was in this case was accepted and the conclusion this draws is that words from a familiar topic are better recalled than words from an unfamiliar topic, when tested on two word lists.


Memory is a term that can be used in many different ways, it is a mental function by which we are able to retain and retrieve information about events that have happened in the past.

...read more.


Standardised instructions: written instructions for the participants to read before carrying out the procedure.

Debrief: A written explanation of the nature of the investigation and its purpose.

Distracter Task: this was created to prevent the participants rehearsing the words from the list.

(See Appendix for these materials)

To counterbalance order effects the experiment was carried out at the same time in classroom A 17 so each English Language student had an equal chance of being selected to participate, the researcher put an equal amount of both male and female names in a hat and the first 5 males to be drawn and the first 5 females to be drawn were used as participants. They were given a briefing before signing the consent form agreeing to participate. (See Appendix)

After the participants were briefed they were given standardised instructions (See Appendix) as to how the experiment was to be conducted.

Firstly they were asked to remain silent to reduce the chances of conferring between one another. They were then handed out the materials they needed for the experiment (list of words from familiar subject, instructions). The stop clock was started and the participants were given 2 minutes to learn the words, the list of words was taken from them after 2 minutes and they were given a distracter task involving numbers they had a minute to complete this. This was collected in and a pen and response sheet was given out, they then had 2minutes to recall as many words from the familiar topic. After this was collected the 2nd list of words

...read more.


The improvements that could be made to this study are, the length of time the participants have to learn the words could be reduced, as they tended to become bored with rehearsing them for 2 minutes, and this would have been more effective if they only learned the words for a minute. Also the sample size could have been larger, as the results cannot be generalised due to a small sample.

As an extension to this investigation the key variable could be changed from an unfamiliar topic to another topic in which all the participants study along with “English Language” to investigate which words from the topics were recalled more frequently, for example, if each participant studied chemistry and English language and were tested on two word lists from each subject area to see which topic had better recall. This would be interesting because it would distinguish which subject was more popular, which sex recalled words better from which subject, which subject appeared to be taught better due to the amount of recalled words. I would expect to find that the boys would recall words from chemistry better than those from English and vice versa for the girls, (them recalling better in English).

Also as an extension to this experiment the unfamiliar topic words could be categorised under titles, and the familiar words placed in alphabetical order and then recall could be tested to see which topic had better recall.

This experiment supported the aim and hypothesis predicted and also backed up evidence to a similar and previous study.


Brewer, W.F. & Treyens, J.C. (1981), Role of Schemata in memory for places. Cognitive Psychology. In introducing Psychology (2002) Hodder & Stoughton.

...read more.

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