Psychology Coursework

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Investigating                 the effects of           Context-dependent                Forgetting

Project brief for psychology coursework

PB1: Identify the aim of the research and state the experimental/alternative

Aim: to investigate recall of words within the same environment, in which they are learnt, and in a different environment. Consequently, we will see if context affects recall.

Alternative hypothesis: Participants who carry out recall within the same room as they are learnt, will be more successful than the contrary group.

Null hypothesis: There will be no difference in word recall between the two groups. Any difference will do due to chance alone.

PB2: Explain why a directional or a non-directional experimental/alternative hypothesis has been selected.  (1 mark)

A directional hypothesis was chosen, as there is previous research to support the idea that context influences recall of information, for example: the work of Abernathy (1940) and Godden and Baddeley (1975).

PB3: Identify the chosen research method (experimental, quasi-experimental, natural experiment, survey, observation, content analysis or correlation research) and, if appropriate, the design used. (1 mark)

The chosen research method is a laboratory experiment, enabling control over confounding variables. Additionally, my chosen research design is an independent groups, which prevents any possibility of the ‘order effect’. Participants were an opportunist sample.

PB4: Identify the advantages and disadvantages of the chosen research method. (2 marks)

Advantages: it is easy to replicate, as potential confounding variables are easier to control, compared to other settings.

Disadvantages: a laboratory experiment is an artificial setting and significantly different to real-life situations, due to the high levels of control. Demand characteristics can also occur, when participants try to act accordingly to the situation. Although independent measures prevents the ‘order effect’, finding twice as many participants can be time consuming.

PB5: Identify potential sources of bias in the investigation and any possible confounding variables. (2 marks)

Potential sources of bias:

  1. Results could be affected by communication between participants.
  2. Results in an independent measures design may vary, due to differences between the people in the two groups.

Possible confounding variables:

  1. Ensure all participants have the same materials to complete their tasks and have the same length of time.
  2. Equal mix of male and female participants in both conditions to prevent obscure results.
  3. Participants may have taken part in the experiment before or may have studied psychology.
  4. Participants may not take the experiment seriously if they know the researcher. They may behave in a way that would please the researcher.

PB6: Explain what procedures will be adopted to deal with these. (2 marks)

  1. All participants will be seated separately, in order to prevent any kind of communication throughout the experiment.
  2. Nothing can be done about this, except appealing to similar sorts of participants, e.g. all participants are in the same field of employment. If the sample is large enough, then risks are reduced.  
  3. Appropriate materials will be distributed to all participants and given out at the same time.
  4. Equal amounts of participants used in each group will be the same, including taking gender into account.
  5. No participants will be used if they have previously studied psychology. They will be asked to indicate this on the consent form.
  6. It is difficult not to use participants that the research knows. However, close friends will not be used and the setting will be formal so participants take the experiment seriously.  

PB7: Select an appropriate level of statistical significance to be reached before the experimental/alternative hypothesis will be retained. (1 mark)

P < 0.05 (5%) The standard cut off on psychology.

PB8: Identify any relevant ethical issues and identify the steps to be taken to deal with these. (3 marks)

  • Informed consent is when a participant has been told all the important details about what they will have to do, what will (or might) happen to them, the aim and purpose of the study and that they have certain rights. All participants will give their informed consent by completing a form
  • Confidentiality will be reinforced to all participants, by informing them that their work and participation is completely confidential. Therefore, names are not required. Information obtained during a study should remain confidential unless the participant agrees for it to be shared with others.
  • Debriefing will take place following the completion of the experiment. Participants will be told the true nature and explained the objective of the experiment.
  • Right to withdraw at any time during the experiment will be expressed, before the experiment begins. This way, any embarrassment will be avoided.
  • Protection of participants will be ensured, avoiding the risk of any physical or psychological harm. Participants will not be affected by this investigation, in any way.  


                                                                                        Page number

Abstract                                                                                        1                        

Introduction                                                                                2

Aim/Hypotheses                                                                                4

Method                                                                                        5

Treatment of results                                                                        7

Discussion                                                                                        8

References                                                                                        11

Bibliography                                                                                 12

Appendix A: Consent form given to participants                                 13

Appendix B: Instructions read out to participants                                14

Appendix C: Wordlist given to participants to learn                                15

Appendix D: Crossword task                                                                16

Appendix E: Results (Bar Chart and table with Standard                        17

     deviation scores for both condition)                 

Appendix F: Findings                                                                        19

Appendix G: Descriptive statistics                                                        20

(Mean, Mode, Median, Range, Standard Deviation)                

Appendix H: Inferential statistics (Mann Whitney U Test)                        22


The aim of this experiment was to investigate if the recall of words would be affected by the absence of initial external cues.

Thirty-two participants were involved in this independent groups design, with an equal number of male and females. Encoding took place in the same room for all participants, in which they were required to learn a list of ten words for 2 minutes. Group A were asked to write as many of the ten words as possible, within the same room as they were learnt. Each group was given 2 minutes to recall as many words as possible from the learnt words. However, those in Group B, carried out their recall in a different room.

The findings represented a significant higher recall rate in Group A, where recall took place within the same room, as opposed to Group B, where recall took place in a different room. Therefore, the absence of retrieval cues within the initial context led to a reduction in word recall. Furthermore, the Mann Whitney U Test was carried out, enabled me to estimate a calculated value for U of 9. This calculated value was below the p≤ 0.05 level and, the critical value of U, of 83 (one tailored). Subsequently, the Mann Whitney U Test identified a significant difference in recall between the two conditions, supporting context-dependent forgetting. As a result, the alternative hypothesis was supported by these findings and the null hypothesis was rejected.    


Forgetting is the inability to recall or recognise something that has previously been learnt. This may be due to a lack of availability, or may be due to a lack of accessibility. Forgetting can occur in both short-term memory (STM) and long-term memory (LTM).

Retrieval failure is the inability to locate a piece of information due to not having sufficient clues or cues. Clues and cues are often needed to help people when attempting to recall information that is stored in the LTM. Clues and cues can come in many different ways such as being in the same place or mood which replicates when the information was first learnt or looking at a visual aid such as a photography or video.    

Retrieval failure suggests that information which is stored in the depths of the LTM is actually there. However, you just don’t have the clues or cues to access it. Brown and McNeil (1966) proposed the idea of the ‘tip of the tongue’ phenomenon in order to explain accessing information problems. They found that people are generally good at recalling the first letter of a target name or word. Also, findings showed that people can be fairly accurate at identifying the correct number of syllables in a word before complete recall takes place. This supports the theory that cues and prompts may therefore be integral when accessing information that has forgotten in the LTM. In support, Tulving and Osler (1968) too found that retrieval cues enhanced recall. They concluded that when people are cued with an association word, when compared to being given no cues, recall performance is consistently better.

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Psychologists have also noted that recall can be improved if identical cues are mirrored during recall and during the process of learning. The two types of cue-dependent forgetting are state-dependent forgetting and context-dependent forgetting. State-dependent forgetting is when a person is not in the same physical, emotional or mental state when asked to recall information, to the one they were in when they first learnt it. A key theory that supports this is Korsakoff’s syndrome which states that if we learn material while in a drunken state, then it will not be accessible when a person is sober. However, ...

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