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Impact of Depth of Processing on Memory


Researchers conducted a study to identify whether the items in deep processing conditions are more remembered than those in the shallow processing conditions. One hundred fifty-three participants were involved in the study, and the gender distribution was 84 males and 69 females with different ethnical backgrounds. The research study was conducted on 21st June 2021 at the University of California. The participants were subjected to controlled and experimental conditions. The experiment was conducted in two phases, and in the first phase, the participants were shown objects to identify whether they are ‘manmade’ or ‘natural,’ ’tilted’ or ‘straight.’ In the second phase, the participants were given a memory score sheet and were instructed to label ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ depending on whether the object was present on phase one or not. The researchers found out that deep processing conditions have a higher mean than shallow processing conditions. This implied that it is easy to remember items at a deep processing level than those in a shallow level of processing. However, the research study has weaknesses, such as the conditions under which the participants are subjected may result in stress, thereby altering the results of the study.

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Olson (1977) discussed the potential of the level of processing memory theory (Craik & Lockhart, 1972) for understanding the processes that underlie advertising remembrance. This theory hypothesizes that memory is a function of cognitive processes that occur during exposure to a recalled stimulus. It has common elements with several recent advertising effects theories (Hughes & Ray, 1974; Wright, 1974). Memory is a function of the level to which the item is processed and that it is independent of the amount of rehearsal practice or repetition of the stimulus (Bradshaw & Anderson, 1982; Craik, 2002). Whereas a specific definition of level has not been specified, the variable of the degree to which a learner subjects material to elaboration in terms of relating it to his past knowledge and experience (Baddeley, Eysenck & Anderson, 2015; Glover et al., 1985; Lockhart & Craik, 1990). Materials subjected to greater elaboration or processed to a deeper level are hypothesized to be more readily remembered (Craik and Lockhart, 1972).

Hyde and Jenkin’s (1973) experiment illustrated the concept of a typical level of processing. In the experiment, the researchers manipulated several tasks on the experimental groups. All the groups were presented with a list of words that were to be processed in many ways. For example, the test subjects were provided with a word list and asked to rate them on a five-point Likert scale. Another set was instructed to count and write down the number of times the letter E appeared in every word they were shown. Following this, the subjects in the two groups were given an impromptu recall task where they were to write down every word they could recall. This procedure resembles the usual incidental paradigm used in many experiments of memory.

In the past several years, the level of processing theory has been subjected to a great deal of empirical and theoretical elaboration. For instance, according to Craik and Tulving (1975), the effects are more accurately characterized as a spread of processing instead of depth. The successful remembrance of a material depends on its encoding in additional contexts, such as phonemic, semantic, or structural of the existing individual’s cognitive makeup (Nickerson & Adams, 1979; Peretz et al., 1998).

In experiments done by Craik and Tulving (1972), subjects were instructed to respond to queries about words displayed to them. Again, no mention was made that the words were to be remembered. Questions such as “Is the word a part of the body?” are examples of a deep processing question; in this case, attention is directed towards the word’s meaning. An example of a shallow processing question would be “Is the word in upper case letters?” whereas a question of intermediate processing was “Does the word rhyme with weight?”. A sequence of ten experiments consistently showed better memory for deeper levels of processing.

The experiments also pointed out that a long time of processing for deep questions could account for higher performance; this was done by asking questions that took a long time to answer but still required only shallow processing. Lastly, Craik and Tulving’s experiment involved the variation of the degree of elaboration needed to answer questions, and findings were better remembrance for more elaborate processing (Baddeley & Woodhead, 1982; Konkle et al., 2010 Baddeley & Hitch, 2017).

The memory maintenance concept as a function of the quality instead of processing quantity would seem to be of profound importance for theories of information processing of consumer behavior. Another experiment was designed to extend Craik and Tulving’s theory on the definition of the level and depth of processing in an advertising context. This task was carried out in such a way that the participants were required to attend to brand names in a given advert. The ads were divided into two, and a half was given attention to the physical features while the other half was given to the semantic features. The researchers later attempted to manipulate the levels at which the ads were processed.

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Many studies have been conducted to test the level of processing. Other researchers like Nickerson and Adams (1979) demonstrated that many people have a poor visual memory when it comes to detail features. They utilized a coin to test this theory as detailed features are quite incidental to the coin functionality. These showed the coin received shallow processing, and therefore, the details are poorly remembered. This showed that sometimes it is normal to remember all the things around us (Intraub & Nicklos, 1985). The authors relate the coin to the everyday life conditions where the coin details are less important than the functionality of the coin. One does not require to know the detail of the coin to use it. The most significant aspect of the theory is that learning is a by-product of comprehension (Jacoby & Dallas, 1981). They portray that the academic analyst needs to consider comprehension in active and passive learners using the levels of processing. Using the theories above, the paper focuses on identifying whether the item conditions determine the levels of processing.



As an ethical requirement, the experiment was approved by the psychology class review board on 19th June 2021. The experiment utilized a repeated measures method where all the participants were exposed to every test condition. The method was selected because it allows other researchers to replicate the experiment. The advantage of this research method is that the number of people required to experiment is less, and they are all exposed to the experimental conditions. Its drawback is that the order of activities tends to impact the behaviour of the participants. The controlled variable is the shallow conditions, and the experimental variable is the deep condition in which the objects are shown in the experiment. The independent variable is the level of processing of a given material, and the dependent variable is the accuracy in the memory cells. The uncontrolled variables are the external interference that impacts the performance of the brain, such as weather conditions. The experiment was designed in such a way that factors that impact the memory performance, such as stress, would not be experienced at the time of the experiment. The participants were reminded that any personal data collected is not to be disclosed to anyone and all the data collected is confidential. They were informed that the experiment is not compulsory and whenever anyone wants to leave is allowed at any time.


The experiment was conducted at the University of California. Participant’s ages ranged from 17 to 50 years, and all had received a minimum of 4 months of high school education. The ethnic background of the participant involved whites, Asians, and blacks. The gender composition was 69 females and 84 males totaling 153 participants. As part of the requirement to participate in the experiment, every participant was required to sign a consent paper before participating in the experiment. The selected individuals were part of the California community because it allowed the experiment to be conducted on time due to availability and time constraints. The advantages are easy access to the study participants hence allowing quick and accurate research. All the participants were exposed to the controlled and the experimental conditions.


  • Informed consent.
  • Picture objects.
  • Memory test phase.
  • Standardized instructions.
  • Debriefing letter.


Object test phase

The participants were shown 30 picture objects at different memory processing conditions. 15 objects are displayed in shallow processing conditions, and 15 objects are also displayed in the deep processing conditions. In the first phase, the participants are shown objects on a screen, and they are asked to evaluate whether the objects are natural or manmade. They were later shown objects that are either tilted or upright, and they were asked to gauge the position of the object.

Memory test phase

In the memory test phase, the participants were provided with a memory score sheet where they were required to circle Y(Yes) for the objects displayed to them in the object study phase. They were also instructed to circle N(No) for the objects that were not displayed in the object study phase. This phase was conducted in silence to attain an individual’s memory score and not as a group.


The individual’s deep memory score was calculated by taking the number of correct ‘Yes’ responses for the deep items subtract the number of the false alarms to new items. Similar to the deep memory score, an individual’s shallow memory score was calculated by taking the number of correct ‘yes’ responses for the shallow items subtract the number of false alarms for the new items. The statistical results are shown below.

Descriptive Statistics
N Mean Std. Deviation
MemoryScoreDeep 153 3.1307 4.93869
MemoryScoreShallow 153 .8954 5.07077
Valid N (listwise) 153

Table 1.0: Descriptive for the variables MemoryScoreDeep and MemoryScoreShallow.

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Mean comparison in Shallow and Deep memory score
Graph 1.0: Mean comparison in Shallow and Deep memory score.

The deep memory score has a mean of 3.1307 and a standard deviation of 4.93869. Shallow memory score has a mean of 0.8954 and a standard deviation of 5.07077


A paired sample t-test shows that

t (152) = 11.723, p < 0.05, 95% CIs [1.85858, 2.61201]


From table 1.0, the mean for the deep memory score is 3.1307, and that of the shallow memory score is 0.8954. This shows that the study participants remembered more of the deep items than the shallow items. The standard deviation of the deep memory score is lower than the standard deviation of the shallow memory score. This portrays that the variation in remembering shallow objects is higher among the participants than remembering deep items. The standard deviation for the deep memory score is close to the mean compared to the standard deviation of the shallow items compared to the mean. This implies that the variation of the group memory performance in remembering deep items is close to each other than when remembering shallow items.

The error bar of the deep memory score is lower than that of the shallow memory score. This implies that the variation of shallow memory score is higher than the variation of the deep memory score. The t-test shows a significance value of p <.001, i.e., a statistically significant difference in memory between the conditions. Memory was significantly greater in the deep condition (M = 3.13; SD = 4.94) than the shallow condition (M = 0.90; SD = 5.07), t (152) = 11.723, p < 0.05, 95% CIs [1.85858, 2.61201].

This experiment shows that the items on the deep level of processing are remembered faster than those on the shallow level of processing. The recorded results from the experiments are similar to the previous researches on deep and shallow levels of processing. Deeper levels of analysis are connected with strong and long-lasting memories. It requires real meaning, and the extraction of the meaning is associated with the deep level of processing. It requires a continuum which requires a sound, sight or sensory analysis that led to semantic analysis, and the end product is a permanent memory. The approach level assumes that the meaningful data and information are easily remembered because it is highly familiar and compatible with the prior existing cognitive structures (Hunt & Toth, 1990). These materials are easy to remember because they are quickly processed to deep levels. They are impacted by the amount of attention given to the material, the available time for analysis, and the relationship between the information and the existing cognitive structure (Bower & Karlin, 1974; D’Agostino et al., 1977).

Since the word list and exposure time were identical across conditions, it is presumed that the groups only differed in the material’s level of processing. According to the level of processing theory by Craik and Lockhart, when a person is required to ascertain if a word is pleasant or unpleasant, it must be considered in terms of its available associations and attributes, such as deep processing is adequate to maintain a high level of memorability (Hyde & Jenkins, 1973; Mulligan & Picklesimer, 2012). On the other hand, the letter-counting activity directs the attention to superficial aspects of the item to be recalled resulting in a shallow level of processing (Morris et al., 1977; Beato et al., 2012).

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These results are satisfactory despite the errors that might have resulted from the experiment. However, the research has limitations. The limitation of the study area in the selected sample is that the geographical location and the time limit of the research study made it easy to access the nearby community and involve them in the research study. It is essential to consider different factors that impact the level of processing of the memory, such as the medical background of individuals participating in the research study. Another limitation in the research study is the pressure that the participants may have been subjected to because of time and the study’s restrictions. The researchers were in the same place as the participants, which makes them nervous, resulting in altering the final score. The strength of the research study is that extraneous variables that may alter the outcome of the experiment, such as noise, were controlled.


The overall goal for the study was attained as the results recorded from the research study are similar to the previous researches that were conducted in the same field. The researchers concluded that the participants found it easy to remember the objects in the deep processing condition than those in the shallow processing conditions. The deep processing condition required the participant to think and evaluate the meaning of the item before concluding that the item was ‘manmade’ or ‘natural.’


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