Define semantics in Psychology
AimTo investigate how deep and shallow processing affects memory recall.
MethodParticipants were presented with a series of 60 words about which they had to answer one of three questions. Some questions required the participants to process the word in a deep way (e.g. semantic) and others in a shallow way (e.g. structural and phonemic). For example:
Structural / visual processing: ‘Is the word in capital letters or small letters?
Phonemic / auditory processing: ‘Does the word rhyme with . . .?’
Semantic processing: ‘Does the word go in this sentence . . . . ?
Participants were then given a long list of 180 words into which the original words had been mixed. They were asked to pick out the original words.
ResultsParticipants recalled more words that were semantically processed compared to phonemically and visually processed words.
ConclusionSemantically processed words involve elaboration rehearsal and deep processing which results in more accurate recall. Phonemic and visually processed words involve shallow processing and less accurate recall.
Real Life Applications
This explanation of memory is useful in everyday life because it highlights the way in which elaboration, which requires deeper processing of information, can aid memory. Three examples of this are.
• Reworking – putting information in your own words or talking about it with someone else.
• Method of loci – when trying to remember a list of items, linking each with a familiar place or route.
• Imagery – by creating an image of something you want to remember, you elaborate on it and encode it visually (i.e. a mind map).
The above examples could all be used to revise psychology using semantic processing (e.g. explaining memory models to your mum, using mind maps etc.) and should result in deeper processing through using elaboration rehearsal. Consequently more information will be remembered (and recalled) and better exam results should be achieved.
The theory is an improvement on Atkinson & Shiffrin’s account of transfer from STM to LTM.
The levels of processing model changed the direction of memory research. It showed that encoding was not a simple, straightforward process. This widened the focus from seeing long-term memory as a simple storage unit to seeing it as a complex processing system.
Craik and Lockhart's ideas led to hundreds of experiments, most of which confirmed the superiority of 'deep' semantic processing for remembering information. It explains why we remember some things much better and for much longer than others. This explanation of memory is useful in everyday life because it highlights the way in which elaboration, which requires deeper processing of information, can aid memory.
Despite these strengths, there are a number of criticisms of the levels of processing theory:
• It does not explain how the deeper processing results in better memories.
• Deeper processing takes more effort than shallow processing and it could be this, rather than the depth of processing that makes it more likely people will remember something.
• The concept of depth is vague and cannot be observed. Therefore, it cannot be objectively measured.
Eysenck (1990) claims that the levels of processing theory describes rather than explains. Craik and Lockhart (1972) argued that deep processing leads to better long-term memory than shallow processing. However, they failed to provide a detailed account of why deep processing is so effective.
However, recent studies have clarified this point - it appears that deeper coding produces better retention because it is more elaborate. Elaborative encoding enriches the memory representation of an item by activating many aspects of its meaning and linking it into the pre-existing network of semantic associations.
Later research indicated that processing is more complex and varied than the levels of processing theory suggests. In other words, there is more to processing than depth and elaboration.