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Psychology: Depth Of Processing And The Self Reference Effect Essay, Research Paper


There have been many experiments done on depth of processing and the self reference effect. The Depth of Processing model of memory maintains that how deep something is encoded into a person’s memory depends on using certain types of processing. This relates to the self reference effect because it is believed that people have the tendency to remember something better when they can relate it to themselves. People who can personally relate to something have the tendency to embed it deeper into their memory.

Craik and Tulving did a series of experiments on the depth of processing model. They had participants use a series of processing methods to encode words at different levels; shallow, moderate, and deep. The subjects were shown a series of words and ask questions about the words that would provide a “yes” or “no” response. At the shallow level they were asked questions about whether or not the word was written in capital letters. At the moderate level of processing, the subject was asked questions as to whether or not two words rhymed. Finally, the subjects were asked about words in sentences and whether or not they fit. This was the deep level of processing. After participants had completed the task they were then given a surprise recognition test with the words that they were just asked questions on (target words) and then words that they have never seen before (distraction words). The results of the experiment showed that people remembered the words better that were at deeper level of processing (Craik and Tulving 1975).

Although there was some criticisms about the above experiment, Craik and Tulving performed more experiments each time refining the D.O.P. model. There were thoughts that the structural tasks were easier and not as much time had to be spent on them therefore people did not have as long to look at those words and could not study them like the other tasks. Craik and Tulving then made the structural task take equally as long as the other tasks. The results remand the same as the previous experiments. Craik and Tulving also originally started with five tasks, but then narrowed it down to three to avoid a ceiling effect. The self-referent task was later added to model by Rogers.

Palmere, Benton, Glover, and Ronning (1983) did a series of experiments continuing the research on the depth of processing model. They used paragraphs and within the paragraph there were sentences that were supported and then ones that were not. After the subjects were through reading all the paragraphs, they were then given a recognition test on the information in the paragraph. The results of this experiment showed that the subjects remember more information about the sentences which were supported with other information rather the ones that stand alone. This supports to the depth of processing because according to this experiment people remember information that had more detail which would require more thinking which would in turn encode the information at a much deeper level. The deeper information is encode people are more likely able to recall the information.

Another experiment was done by Bower and Karlin (1974) which tested the depth of processing model on memory fue faces. They used college student pictures out yearbooks that were put onto slides. They then showed the slide to the subjects who were asked questions. The subjects were then ask to look at a serious of slides and asked whether or not that person had appeared in the original group of slides shown. The results of this experiment showed that when a person had a more detailed response about a person, the subject was more inclined to remember that person from the original group. This relates back to the Depth of Processing model because it showing by using more detail, information can be processed more deeply.

This experiment as well supports the depth of processing model because it shows that when a person has to think more and respond to a much deeper question, they are more likely to remember. The shallower the depth at which the information is processed the more likely a person is to forget the information. When information is processed at a deeper level it requires more thought, therefore it is embedded into the memory.

Research on the D.O.P. model led to the investigation of the self-referent effect, which focuses on people remembering information when they can relate the information to themselves. It is thought that information that can be encoded in relation to the self is the deepest form of processing. Rodgers, Kuiper, and Kirker (1977) define the self as being a lifetime of experiences and that there are schemas created for all that one has done to help keep information organized. When new information is experienced a person is more likely to remember it if the person has a similar schema already created because they can make associations.

There is a problem with self-referent because the are people who have extreme schemas. There are people who will resist information that goes against their self only relating to things that really describes then or really does not. Then there are people out there that have no real opinion about themselves and they are just in the middle. For the most part people are more likely to remember words that relate to them and their schema.

Rogers, Kuiper and Kirker (1977) explored the idea of the self-referent effect. The participants were given a series of adjectives and asked questions about the given adjective. There were four different tasks used: structural, phonemic, semantic, and self-referent. The structural, phonemic, and semantic were used by Craik and Tulving (1975), while self-referent test as led “Does the word describe you?” The results of this experiment showed that people were more likely to remember the adjectives that they related to themselves rather than those related to any of the other forms of processing. This supports the idea that self-referent is related to the depth of processing model as representations of the deepest form of processing.

The purpose of this experiment was to explore further the self-referent effect and its relation to the depth of processing model. Using the Rogers, Kuiper, and Kiker experiment the same general method was used. The participants were shown adjectives and asked a question, either structural, phonemic, semantic, or self-referent. A recall test was then given about the adjectives that had been presented. When the participant is given the recall test it is more likely they will recall phonemic information more than structural, the semantic information better than the phonemic, but the self-referent will be recall even greater than semantic.



There were twenty college students selected from general psychology courses at a small mid western religious affiliated university. The people selected were both male and females around the same general age, college students. This experiment was completely voluntary, but the participants were offered extra credit if they participated. They were read on informed consent and were asked to sign it before participating in the actual experiment (appendix A informed consent form).


The hard machinary used in the experiment was very limited. There was a t-scope used to present the slides. The experiment used was modeled after Rogers experiment, so the information in this experiment is similar. The stimuli used were adjectives used from Meyers Briggs typed inventory. There were twenty positive adjective chosen and twenty negative adjectives (appendix B master list). The task adjectives were chosen from Webster’s Theasourous, Webster’s Rhyming Dictionary. They were then presented and agreed upon by a consensous. The attempt was made as well to have all the task words be adjectives. The adjectives were then used in various tasks. The complete wording on the tasks can be found in appendix C and the complete task can be found in Table 1.


The particapants lead into the room by an experimentor and tested independently. The subjects were sat at a table in the middle of the room. The particapant was greeted and thanked for their particapation. First they were ask and sign the informed consent form and sign it. They were then explained the procedure of the experiment. They were asked to view a word and then asked to read a question pertaining to the word they just viewed on the screen. Then they were asked to respond to the word either yes or no only. The answer was recorded by another experimentor. The particapant was then flased


The experiment had two (response type) x four (task type) anova with repeated measures. The numbers are in proportion form because of the self referent effect. For the other three tasks, the yes and no responses were set prior to carrying out the experiment, whereas with self referent the yes or no outcome could not be set before hand because it was unknown how the particapant was going to respond. Therefore the reponses were converted into proportions to be able recognize main effect differences. The main effect differences were recognized if p was less .05. There was a significant main effect of response type on recall. F(1,19)=33.28: p=.0001. Items that received a yes response were remembered significantly better than items that received a no response. (Ms=.26 and .143 respectively). The least significant difference (LSD) test was used to find the differences between the means. Since the design was a within subject design the formula that was used was as follows:

LSD= Tcrit Msw (2/n)

Tcrit= T critical

Msw= Means within

N= number of particapates

There is a significant main effect of task type on recall. F(3,57): p=.0001. Adjectives rated with self referent task were remembered significantly better than those rated with somantic task (Ms=.465 and .209 respectively). Further adjectives rated semantic task were significantly betterthan those rated with phonetic task (M= .087) or the structural task (M= .047). There was a significant response type by task type interaction F(3,57): p=.0001. For both yes and no response items adjectives rated with self referent task were remembered significantly better than items at a semantic task. Further, for both yes and no response items, semantic task adjectives were remebered better than phoneic and structural task. Differences were largfer for response items (see table 2).



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