The Effect of Imagery on Recall

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The Effect of Imagery on Recall


In cognitive psychology there are many ways in which people can
enhance memory - mnemonics. This study is based on how imagery helps
memory. Imagery is the use of mental representations of real life
objects and action. This only takes place in the mind and is not
physically present.

There are examples of tests that have taken place to see how effective
mnemonics using imagery are:

Wollen et al. in 1972 carried out an experiment using paired images
and manipulating them to be interacting or not interacting e.g. a
cigar on a piano. The images were also presented as bizarre e.g. a
cigar smoking from both ends. The independent variables of this
experiment were the conditions that the images were in. They were: i)
interacting and bizarre ii) interacting but not bizarre iii) not
interacting but bizarre, and finally iv) not interacting and not
bizarre. The results of the study were that the interacting pairs were
recalled more often than the non-interacting pairs. However,
bizarreness did not affect the results of recall.

Besides being used for recollection, the use of imagery for teaching
languages is significantly effective, as shown by Atkinson & Raugh
(1975). The technique used is the key-word method where an image is
used to help recall another word. When teaching the foreign language
to the participants in the experiment, the participants were told to
find a part of the foreign word which sounds like an English word. For
example: in Spanish, the word lagartija means lizard. In English, the
word would be broken down and read as "log-ar -tee-ja". The high
imagery word would be 'log' and so it would be used as the key to
recall the definition. Participants of this experiment would then have
been told to imagine a lizard lying on top of a log. Like this, the
stored image would help retrieve the actual meaning of the word*.

The method of Loci is useful for recalling objects by visualizing a

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MLA Citation:
"The Effect of Imagery on Recall." 26 Jun 2017
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Bower summarized this technique as: firstly memorizing a
list of locations in a follow-through order, then assigning an image,
representing the word to be memorized, to each location. To recall the
words you will need to mentally walk through the locations mapped out
and recall the items in order. Groninger (1971) proved the usefulness
of this technique by using two groups of participants under different
conditions. The participants in one condition were told to memorize a
list of 25 words using the method of loci, and the control group
participants were told to memorize 25 words using any method they
wanted. Being told not to rehearse the words any further, the
participants were called back 5 weeks later to recall the words and,
according to results, participants using the method of Loci recalled
twice as many words as the control group.

Bower and Winzenz (1970) carried out a study concerned with memory
improvement, where participants were told to memorize a list of paired
concrete nouns. The participants were put under four different
conditions to memorize the words: rehearse the words by repeating the
pairs over and over in their head, ii) to rehearse sentences provided
by the experimenters, that included the both words from the pair, iii)
creating sentences that included the words from the pair, and iv)
using imagery, where participants were instructed to construct mental
images of the paired words interacting in some way. From the results,
the group using the rehearsal technique was only able to recall half
as many words as the imagery conditioned group.

(* Examples taken from "Cognition" - Margaret W. Matlin Holt Rinehart


As shown in Bower's experiment of interacting images, the use of
imagery is significantly more effective than merely rehearsing words.
By forming a mental picture of objects interacting, we are able to
create a meaningful connection between them. The current study will be
a replication of Bower's experiment.

From the research shown above, it is clear that bizarreness of the
images does not affect the number of words recalled and so, my
hypothesis is that as long as participants construct images as
interacting with each other, recall will be much greater than
participants instructed to rehearse.


The aim of this study is to reinvestigate whether or not imagery is
more effective than using rehearsal techniques.


The hypothesis for this experiment is that the results for the imagery
condition will be significantly higher than those of the rehearsal
condition. This is a one-tailed hypothesis and the variables
operationtionalised are the categorised list of paired words and the
number of words participants recall.



Using the experimental method, the study was carried out under two
conditions: 1) one groups used rehearsal (repetition) to learn the
words, and 2) the other group used imagery to learn the words,
therefore, creating an independent measures design. The experimental
method was chosen because it is easy to replicate and allows for
control over extraneous variables. The independent measures design was
chosen because order effects do not affect learning in the conditions.


The independent variable was the condition they were in (rehearsal or

The dependant variable was the correct number of words recalled and
according to the hypothesis; the results should have been higher for
the imagery test.


Subjects were chosen using random sampling from a target population of
ages ranged between 14 - 16 years from Shatin College. There were 20
participants that took part in this experiment and out of the 20
participants; there were 10 girls and 10 boys. The 20 participants
were then split into 2 independent groups of 10 - 5 girls and 5 boys.
Because were no culture effects in the sample group, the results have
higher ecological validity.


- Stop watch

- 10 copies of both word lists (see appendix I)

- 10 copies of both answer sheets (see appendix II)

- Name checklists


All participants were told to sit at separate desks and were told to
read the instruction.

For both conditions:

Participants were given 2 minutes to learn the words. Instructions
were written on the top of the sheet. When time was up, participants
were given the first word of every pair and in the space of 2 minutes,
they needed to recall the matching words. Both tests took place at the
same time but were separated so that there were no obvious demand
characteristics. (Copy of instructions shown on pages 5 & 6)


- To ensure that participants worked alone, they were told to sit at
separate desks and not talk.

- Participants in the same group were all given the standardised
instructions and the same word lists.

- Timing was accurate and all participants were given the same amount
of time to learn and complete the test.

Ethical concerns:

- To submit to ethical concerns, Participants were debriefed at the
end of the test, stating that they had participated in a psychology

- Names were not used whilst recording results so privacy was not

- Participants were informed in advance that the experiment was to be
used for an A level coursework assignment and that they were allowed
to withdraw if they were unable to attend the session or for
acceptable reasons.


Summary Table showing the number of words participants recalled in
each condition

Participant no.

Number of words participants recalled out of 12.

Rehearsal condition

Imagery condition








































Key: Anomaly

Summary table commentary:

All participants turned up to the experiment and were assigned to
their groups.



In the Rehearsal test, 4 participants remembered all the words. There
was only one result that was less than 50 %, however, all other
participants were able to achieve 50% or above.

In the Imagery test, anomalously, 3 participants scored 5 or less
marks out of 12: 3 times more than that of the rehearsal test. 4 of
the participants attained full marks, and 3 were able to score between
7 and 10 marks.


Implications of study:

The results for this test are extremely anomalous and completely
contradict the findings of previous psychologists Bower & Winzenz
(1970). Therefore, the hypothesis - results for the imagery test being
significantly higher than the results of the rehearsal test - can be
rejected, therefore accepting the null hypothesis that imagery does
not have an effect on memory. However, there are reasons why there are
surprising results to this experiment. Under the conditions that the
test was taken place it enables errors such as demand characteristics:
there were obvious implications of what the test was about in the
instructions. There could have been chances that the work done was not
their own: participants sat close enough to see each others work and
this may have induced copying.

It would not be correct to generalise from these findings because they
do not conform to the majority of results found in previous

The people used were only from one area of Hong Kong and so, cannot
represent the society on a whole. The conditions that the test was
taken place under was also an element that could have changed the
results. The fact that it was tested under exam conditions may have
created pressure and affected answers.


The study that took place was valid in relation to what it was set out
for. The test was able to let the researcher know how well mnemonics
using imagery help and, even though results may be anomalous, the test
remains valid. However, the ecological validity of the study is low.
This is because it is highly unlikely that in real life, someone will
be telling you how to remember something, unless you are young. But in
this case, the participants are according to Piaget's cognitive
developmental theory, in the concrete stage and operations such as
abstract thought are capable.

Improving validity:

As mentioned before, to increase ecological validity the test could be
repeated under the same conditions, but instructions provided should
be different, e.g. suggesting ways of revising the paired words,
instead of specifying a certain form.


The instructions that were given out were probably seen as too direct
and may have created demand characteristics where subjects were able
to guess what the experiment was about. To improve this it could have
been possible to indirectly suggest ideas of memorizing the lists
instead of instructing a particular one.

The fact that there were researchers observing the behavior of the
subjects, the test was carried out under a controlled situation.
However, the results of this test are unreliable because it is a
replica of Bower & Winzenz experiment but the results are extremely
anomalous. This shows that if the test were to be repeated, it would
be most likely that the results would be different.

Improving reliability:

By placing the subjects in different rooms and carrying out the two
tests at different times, it may increase the likelihood that the
results would be more reliable.

Application to everyday life:

It is prone to use imagery whilst wanting to remember things and it is
shown in previous experiments to help memory a great deal. At present,
imagery is used to help language learning and for teach young

References & Appendices

Appendix I

Word Lists

Text Box: Under the space of 2 minutes, please learn the list of paired words below. For example: If the pair is CHOCOLATE – FISH, repeat the word over and over in your head, CHOCOLATE – FISH, CHOCOLATE – FISH etc... Try and learn all of them before the researcher tells you to stop. Banana - Chair Pavement - Clouds Candle - Octopus Sushi - Pencil Fingernails - Car Screwdriver - Trousers Telephone - Leaf Envelope - Vase Fog - Hairbrush Elephant - Book Paperweight – Lips Bath - Scissors
Rehearsal Technique

Rehearsal Technique

Under the space of 2 minutes, please learn the list of paired words
below. For example: if the pair is BOTTLE - GUITAR, try and visualize
the two objects interacting with each other, e.g. a GUITAR shaped like
a BOTTLE and filled with water.

Book - Telephone Battery - Photograph

Dandelion - Alligator Cake - Tree

Plug - Sellotape Dancer - Computer

Deodorant - Candlestick Paintbrush - Tissue

Radio - Sausage Grapefruit - Window

Eggcup - Curtains Wardrobe - Kangaroo

Appendix II

Text Box: NAME: ___________ ___________ Now you will be 2 minutes to recall the pairing words to the words below. Elephant ___________ Telephone ___________ Sushi ___________ Envelope ___________ Fingernails ___________ Fog ___________ Pavement ___________ Banana ___________ Candle ___________ Screwdriver ___________ Bath ___________ Paperweight ___________ The experiment is now finished. To ensure privacy and to follow the ethics of psychology, your name will not be used in the write up of this test. However, please put your name at the top of this sheet to allow us to assign you a number. Thank you for your time!
Participants answer sheet

Text Box: NAME: ___________ ___________ Now you will be given 2 minutes to recall the pairing words to the words below. Dancer ___________ Wardrobe ___________ Radio ___________ Deodorant ___________ Grapefruit ___________ Paintbrush ___________ Battery ___________ Cake ___________ Plug ___________ Dandelion ___________ Book ___________ Eggcup ___________ The experiment is now finished. To ensure privacy and to follow the ethics of psychology, your name will not be used in the write up of this test. However, please put your name at the top of this sheet to allow us to assign you a number. Thank you for your time!


· "Cognition" - Margaret W. Matlin Holt Rinehart Winston

Pg 127 - 133

· "Introductory Psychology" - Tony Malim & Ann Birch Macmillan Press

Pg 308 - 309

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