An investigation into the Affect of Organisation on memory

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An investigation into the Affect of Organisation on memory


Previous research has been done by other psychologists into the affect of organisation on memory.

In 1953 Bousfield asked participants to try and learn 60 words consisting of 4 categories, (animals, peoples names, professions and vegetables) with 15 examples of each all mixed up. Bousfield found that when participants free recalled (recalled in any order) they tended to cluster similar items, Eg; if someone recalled ‘onion’ it was very likely that other vegetables followed. Although participants had not been told of the categories, the fact they recalled in clusters suggested that they had tried to organise the data. Bousfield called this trend ‘categorical clustering’.

Another study took place in 1967 by Mandler, where subjects were given lists of random words and asked to sort them into a given number of categories (between 2 and 7). Once sorted the participants were asked to recall as many of the words as possible. The results showed that recall was poorest for those who used 2 categories and increased steadily by about 4 words per extra category. Those with 7 categories recalled approximately 20 more words than those who used 2. Mandler argued that the great number of categories used, the greater amount of organisation was imposed on the list.

However my particular study is inspired and based on a later one by Bowers et al in 1969, in which data wads organised by conceptual hierarchy. In this study participants were required to learn a list of words which were arranged in a hierarchical structure. See appendix 1.

The participants studied were split into 2 groups, on group were given the list in the correct hierarchical form, the other group were given the same words in a similar structure however the words were mixed up.

Short-term memory is believed to have a capacity of 7±2 ‘chunks’ of information, which can remain there for approximately 20 seconds without rehearsal.

Chunking is a process that apparently increases the capacity of short-term memory by relating and combining the incoming information to knowledge that we already possess in long term memory. In chunking we organise information giving it a structure and meaning tit did not already have, so although we can only recall around 7 chunks a meaningful chunk can be very large


The results of Bower’s study showed that the list organised by conceptual hierarchical order did indeed promote a higher recall of words than the list arranged in a random order. The organised list proved to have an average of 65% words recalled correctly whereas the disorganised list only recalled an average of 19% correctly.

My study is based on the above ‘conceptual hierarchy’ model. My model will mimic Bowers by having a main heading which splits into several subheadings in a hierarchical form, these headings will then have a list of appropriate words underneath.

However, as Bower used the theme of minerals, splitting into categories such as alloys and metals etc. I am going to use the general theme of food splitting in fruits, salads and vegetables.


The aim is to investigate the affect of organisation on memory by finding out if people remember more words from an organised list than they do from a disorganised list of words.


As there has been previous research into the affects of organisation on memory I will do a 1 tailed hypothesis.

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  • People will remember more words from an organised list of words than from a disorganised,

Null hypothesis

  • There will be no difference between the number of words recalled from the organised list compared with the disorganised list. Any difference will be due to chance.



For this type of study into memory I will use an experimental method in the style of a laboratory experiment because I feel it is the most suitable method. It allows the precise control of variables and enables it to be replicated easily.

It is the aim of ...

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