Research Previous research has been done by other psychologists into the affect of organisation on memory. In 1953 Bousfield asked participants to try and learn 60 words
consisting of 4 categories, (animals, peoples names, professions and
vegetables) with 15 examples of each all mixed up. Bousfield found
that when participants free recalled (recalled in any order) they
tended to cluster similar items, Eg; if someone recalled ‘onion’ it
was very likely that other vegetables followed. Although participants
had not been told of the categories, the fact they recalled in
clusters suggested that they had tried to organise the data. Bousfield
called this trend ‘categorical clustering’.
Another study took place in 1967 by Mandler, where subjects were given
lists of random words and asked to sort them into a given number of
categories (between 2 and 7). Once sorted the participants were asked
to recall as many of the words as possible. The results showed that
recall was poorest for those who used 2 categories and increased
steadily by about 4 words per extra category. Those with 7 categories
recalled approximately 20 more words than those who used 2. Mandler
argued that the great number of categories used, the greater amount of
organisation was imposed on the list.
However my particular study is inspired and based on a later one by
Bowers et al in 1969, in which data wads organised by conceptual
hierarchy. In this study participants were required to learn a list of
words which were arranged in a hierarchical structure. See appendix 1.
The participants studied were split into 2 groups, on group were given
the list in the correct hierarchical form, the other group were given
the same words in a similar structure however the words were mixed up.
Short-term memory is believed to have a capacity of 7±2 ‘chunks’ of
information, which can remain there for approximately 20 seconds
Chunking is a process that apparently increases the capacity of
short-term memory by relating and combining the incoming information
to knowledge that we already possess in long term memory. In chunking
we organise information giving it a structure and meaning tit did not
already have, so although we can only recall around 7 chunks a
meaningful chunk can be very large
The results of Bower’s study showed that the list organised by
conceptual hierarchical order did indeed promote a higher recall of
words than the list arranged in a random order. The organised list
proved to have an average of 65% words recalled correctly whereas the
disorganised list only recalled an average of 19% correctly.
My study is based on the above ‘conceptual hierarchy’ model. My model
will mimic Bowers by having a main heading which splits into several
subheadings in a hierarchical form, these headings will then have a
list of appropriate words underneath.
However, as Bower used the theme of minerals, splitting into
categories such as alloys and metals etc. I am going to use the
general theme of food splitting in fruits, salads and vegetables.
The aim is to investigate the affect of organisation on memory by
finding out if people remember more words from an organised list than
they do from a disorganised list of words.
As there has been previous research into the affects of organisation
on memory I will do a 1 tailed hypothesis.
¨ People will remember more words from an organised list of words than
from a disorganised,
¨ There will be no difference between the number of words recalled
from the organised list compared with the disorganised list. Any
difference will be due to chance.
For this type of study into memory I will use an experimental method
in the style of a laboratory experiment because I feel it is the most
suitable method. It allows the precise control of variables and
enables it to be replicated easily.
It is the aim of this study to find out which variables are
responsible for affecting memory. Its is only by the experimental
method we can alter and control these variables.
The design will be independent measures, which means that it consists
of 2 groups of different individuals
Therefore it is an independent measures design because we will
obviously need 2 separate groups of individuals – those who do the
organised list and those who do the disorganised.
The task takes place in the recreational centre in the college. This
is in the participants own settings rather than in a laboratory. This
should reduce the stress and pressure of the situation and promote
The variables are controlled – whether the participant is given the
organised list or the disorganised list to memorize.
¨ Independent variable
The independent variable is the factor which I have manipulated and
controlled. In this case it is whether the list of words is organized
into categories or whether it is disorganized.
¨ Dependant variable
The dependant variable is what is affected by the independent
variable, it is also measurable. This is how successfully people
remember. I can measure the dependent variable by recording how many
words are recalled.
*The two lists contain the same words, Universal words were chosen for
the lists so that no one would have any expertise or advantage
over anyone else. The theme of food is a universal topic that
everyone has certain degree of knowledge about, less obvious
‘everyday’ foods were also used to prevent people simply guessing at
Sample and Participants
In order to conduct my research I will need some people to study. The
participants used are called a sample. The type of sample I have
chosen to use is called an opportunity sample. This means that I will
use anyone that is available at the time the experiment is conducted
providing they are over the age of 16.
I chose this method because it is the most convenient; I will study a
total of 40 people. 20 will do the organised list (consisting of 10
male and 10 female) and the other 20 will do the disorgansied list
(also consisting of 10 male and 10 female). The participants will all
be students of Stafford College, therefore should be of similar ages
and social background.
¨ Organized list – Appendix 2
¨ Disorganized list – Appendix 3
¨ Blank paper
¨ Participants must be over 16 years of age.
¨ Participants should give informed consent to take part.
¨ Confidentiality is of the utmost importance – no names will be
¨ Subjects are free to withdrawn from the study at any point, even
after it has been completed they can request their results are not
¨ To avoid any psychological harm or damage to self-esteem,
participants should be praised and thanked for taking part.
¨ Subjects will be fully debriefed to the true nature of the study
The study is carried out in the recreational area of a college. Myself
and my fellow researcher will approach students and by following the
standard instructions (Appendix 4) will ask them if they would mind
participating in the study. If they agree then they will be provided
with either an organised list or a disorganised list of words to
The participants are given 2 minutes to study the list of words, this
is then taken off them and another 2 minutes is given for them to free
recall and write down as many words as they can remember on a blank
piece of paper.
When this time is up each participant is fully debriefed. Each
potential participant is approached addressed & debriefed the same way
using the prepared standardized instructions (appendix 4)
This is so that what I say to each person doesn’t have an influence on
their behaviour or their ability to recall data.
All variables excluding the independent variable must be controlled
and kept consistent for each participant. This will ensure the results
obtained are as accurate and reliable as possible.
¨ Each participant is given the same duration to memorize and recall
the data, namely 2 minutes
¨ The task will be carried out in the recreational area of the college
for each participant.
¨ The researcher will communicate with the participant using the
prepared standardized instructions so all participants are treated the
¨ Each participant will be debriefed and thanked in the same manner
using the standardized instructions.
Table of Results
The tables below show the number of words recalled by each participant
for both the organized and disorganized list.
Measures of Central Tendency
¾¾ = 0.697 * 100 70% is the average number of words recalled from
the organized list.
¾¾ = 0.272 * 100 27% is the average number of words recalled from
the disorganized list.
The results displayed in the table clearly show that when words are
arranged in an organized structure it does improve memory and the
ability to store and recall information.
The average number of words recalled from the organized list is 15.35,
that’s 70% of all the words recalled. Whereas the list arranged in a
random order only recalled an average of 6 words, that’s only 27% of
the total words recalled.
These figures show what an obvious effect organization imposes on
memory. It seems to apparently increase memory capacity.
Short-term memory has a limited capacity of approximately 7± 2 slots
of information. This is supported by the fact that an average of 6
words were recalled from the disorganized list.
However an average of 15 words were recalled from the disorganized
list, this is much more data than can be stored in short term memory.
This is evidence that a process called ‘chunking’ took place. Chunking
is a process which involves relating and combining information to
knowledge already stored in long term memory. This apparently
increases the capacity of short term memory by giving data a structure
and meaning it did not already process therefore increasing the size
of a meaningful chunk. So although we only have the ability to store 7±
2 slots of information in STM, A slot can be very large.
In the case of the organized list, chunking would most likely occur by
relating and combining the information into the already structured
groups of salads, fruits and vegetables.
From the results I have obtained I can confidently conclude that my
hypothesis can be accepted that a greater number of words are indeed
recalled from an organized list compared with the same list of words
in a random order.
I can therefore reject my null hypothesis that the results produced
were not due to chance but due to the structure that organization
¨ Implications of the study
My results support the hypothesis that people do indeed recall more
words from an organized list than from a disorganized list. The
average number of words recalled from the organized list was 15.35
compared to just 6 from the disorganized list, so this is clearly
My study was based on a previous study by Bowers in 1969; The results
I produced are comparable to those obtained by Bowers.
Table comparing the result of my study and Bowers study
Average words recalled
% of Words
Average words recalled
% of Words
The results are quite similar although my results have a higher
percentage of words recalled for both the organized and disorganized
list compared to Bowers results, however it must be taken into account
that more words were involved in Bowers list: – 26 compared to the 22
words used on my list. This will have an affect on memory as the
participant is challenged to remember more words. Also different
themes were used, Bower used that of minerals
Whereas mine involved food. This could affect the ability to recall
especially if some of Bowers’ participants had more specialized
knowledge then others, the same can be said for the theme of food.
With these factors in mind, on the whole my results are similar to
those obtained by Bowers.
The study does show that organisation can aid how effectively we
remember data and can be regarded as accurate and reliable. However
the experimental method that was used lacks in ecological validity.