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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: Maths
  • Word count: 3100

Investigating the Levels of Processing Theory

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AS – Level Psychology Coursework

Investigating the Levels of Processing Theory:

Examining the relationship between how deeply words are processed and how well they can later be recalled.

AS-Level Psychology Coursework


For my Psychology AS Level coursework I will be investigating the Levels of Processing model of memory. This model looks at how we process information – unlike other models such as (Atkinson and Shiffrin’s) which focus on the storage systems of memory. The theory was put forward by Craik and Lockhart, who suggested that the deeper we process information, the better it is remembered. How deep we process information depends on the way we rehearse it before being stored.

A study by Craik and Tulving (1975) was conducted to provide evidence for this theory. They selected a random group of participants and gave each the same set of 60 words, each with a question. The question referring to each word was of one of three categories:

Shallow physical processing - The case of the word e.g.

Does this word appear in capitals?                                        DOOR

Moderate acoustic processing - The sound of the word e.g.

Does this word rhyme with cat?                                                Cheese

Or Deep semantic processing - The meaning of the word e.g.

Can you cook with _____?                                                        Leaves

After the participants had answered the questions they were surprised with a list of 180 words, and were asked to tick those they’d seen in the previous set.  The results were as follows.

Physical processing: 17% of target words remembered

Acoustic processing: 37% of target words remembered

Semantic processing: 65% of target words remembered

This research clearly showed that the encoding of the question affected how well the words were recalled.

...read more.


Subjects and Participants

My target population was the students at Exeter College. I decided only to use teenage students, as mature students may have a different memory capacity. The age range of the target population was therefore 16 – 19. I also checked before the experiment with those I asked that they were not psychology students, in case they know what is involved in the study.

From this I used opportunity sampling to find 20 participants – 10 for either condition. For this I stood in the main college building and found people available and willing to partake at the time. Opportunity sampling is quick and easy, although can be seen to be biased as participants often have the same sort of qualities. However, as I was testing memory I did not need a vast range of personal qualities, and therefore my sampling method did not greatly limit my research. I did not ask for any personal information e.g. name as I didn’t think this was relevant to my research. Therefore my participants will be anonymous.

Ethical Considerations

It was important to make sure I had consent for ethical reasons. Although I gained their consent, it wasn’t possible to gain their fully informed consent, because of the nature of the task and the element of surprise. If I was to reveal all the details of the experiment beforehand, there would be a possibility of demand characteristics. Before each person takes part in the experiment I will explain to them the basics of what is involved in my research, before getting their consent to participate. To overcome the problem of the consent being fully informed, I will have to debrief the participants after the experiment.

...read more.


Further Research

One way I could expand on this research is to repeat the study but using a third condition, acoustic processing, which was used in Craik and Tulving’s study. For example, I could use the question ‘how many syllables are there in this word?’ and use the same format of procedure and answer sheets. This would provide a third results to compare with the experimental hypothesis.


From my results, and comparisons to the previous theory and study, I believe the Level of Processing theory can be supported enough to be assumed true. This has implications for the real world, not just in psychology,

For example, anyone trying to remember things, such as students revising, could take the Levels of Processing theory to adapt their revision programme to remember more, using semantic processing of information instead of perhaps just reading information.

Reference: Craik, F. & Tulving, E. (1975) Depth of processing and the retention of words in episodic memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 104, 268-94.


  • Brief – this was used to prepare participants for the experiment.
  • Consent Forms – these were an ethical consideration.
  • Word list, raw data, calculations for means
  • Answer Sheets – these are a sample of the data collected from the participants.
  • Debrief – this was used to inform participants after the experiment the full purpose of it.

Word list

1. Coffee

2. Lipstick

3. Sofa

4. Cabbage

5. Sunglasses

6. Bottle

7. Telephone

8. Cow

9. Bicycle

10. Tent

11. Mountain

12. Purse


14. Magazine

15. Ball

16. Matches

17. Stadium

18. Education

19. Fence

20. Flag

Raw Data – Words remembered in each condition

Amount of Words Remembered (Out of 20)

Condition a (Semantic processing)

Condition b (Physical Processing)





















Calculating mean results (Numbers in brackets represent individual results, as shown in table above. These were divided by 10 as this was the number of participants for each condition.)

Condition A

(13+15+12+10+11+13+7+16+13+11) / 10 = 12.1 (Mean number of words recalled out of 20 in the deeper processing condition)

Condition B

(5+7+9+8+10+6+7+7+11+8) / 10 = 7.8 (Mean number of words recalled out of 20 in the shallower processing condition)

...read more.

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