The research area of the paper focuses on short-term memory. In particular, the influence of associations on short-term memory is studied. The research question asks if students memorize associated words easier than non-related ones. The hypothesis is that the presence of association within a set of words promotes better memory retention. An experiment with 30 participants was conducted to test the hypothesis.
The participants were randomly distributed into two equal groups. The experimental group received a list of 10 related words; the comparison group received a list of 10 unrelated words. The results of the experiments confirmed the hypothesis, as the difference between the two groups was around 21%. The mean score of the experimental group participants was 8/10, while the mean score of the comparison group was 6.33/10. The study results imply that the creation of associations may be helpful for students within the framework of the educational process.
An experiment with a causal claim was conducted to determine whether the associations between words result in better short-term memory recall. The claim was that the participants who received a list of associated words would have better recall results. All thirty of the participants were divided into two equal groups. The participants were randomly assigned into one of two groups to randomize them in terms of age, sex, race, and education level; the age range was between 20 and 45.
Observational research was used for this study. Participants were provided with one of two lists that they were to memorize to the best of their abilities. The lists themselves were the manipulated independent variables of the study. Fifteen participants who were in the experimental group received a list with ten words that were associated together. The associated word lists had words with similarities between them in terms of meaning or associations (example: rock, stone, pebble; tree, shrub, bush; run, walk, jog). The comparison group, consisting of fifteen other participants, received a list of ten words that were not associated in any identifiable way.
The participants were randomly assigned by a researcher who was not collecting the data. The list each participant was provided with was received in an unmarked envelope placed on their desk by another researcher or assistant who was not collecting the data. This was done so that any researcher present to the participant was unaware of which participant was in which group to avoid any impacts on the results. Each of the participants met with a researcher individually for an estimated time period of 5 minutes. The room was void of any possible memory triggers, distractions, or materials that could have been used to enhance memory recall (pens, paper, highlighters, computers, etc.)
The participants had two minutes to try to memorize as many of the words as possible. After the two minutes were up, they were provided with a piece of paper to record all of the words they could recall in two minutes. The results were based on a ratio scale: their score out of 10 was based on 1 point for each correct word they recall with no penalty for incorrect words. They could only write down ten words and either cross out or erase any answers they wanted to change. The dependent variable was their performance on the test – the participant’s score out of 10.
After the test was completed, the participants were debriefed on the study and offered the use of a counselor and contact information for any researcher they met with and one they did not meet with. This was done so the participants could be able to address someone in case they had future questions or concerns. For any individual data recording, the participants were assigned a random number to avoid any identifiable information from them to ensure anonymity.
Each participant’s score was collected, and the mean scores of each of the groups were calculated to determine the experiment results. The comparison of mean scores of participants was identified as the most straightforward way of comparing the groups. The group within which participants received the list of related words – the experimental group – demonstrated better results on average. The group’s mean score is 8 out of 10, meaning that, on average, participants who were given the set of ten related words could remember eight of the words correctly. The mean score of the comparison group – the one within which all of the participants received the list of the unrelated words – was significantly lower. The comparison group’s mean score was 6.33 out of 10. Thus, the difference between the mean scores of the two groups was 20.875%.
Therefore, based on the demonstrated results, it is possible to assume the influence of the independent variable – the lists of words, on the dependent variable – the performance of participants from different words. Other factors that could have influenced the experiment results were neutralized due to the design of the study. Thus, it is possible to draw a conclusion that the experiment results confirm the initial hypothesis that the presence of association within a set of words leads to better memory retention on average.
The experiment results imply that students can increase their memory retention if an educational material they work with has more relatedness and associations within it. Subsequently, this can directly influence students’ performance, as Buckley et al. (2018) state that short-term memory is one of the three main factors that explain 28% to 43% of the variance in fluid intelligence. Moreover, better short-term memory retention also directly affects students’ grades, as some formats of assignments imply the usage of short-term memory. Thus, it is beneficial for both students and teachers to implement the concepts of associations and relatedness into the design of educational material, as this would benefit students’ abilities to reason and solve problems.
While the nature of memory is not explored fully and its mechanisms are not yet clear, a consensus arises about the significant role of the medial temporal lobe (MTL) and hippocampus in the process. According to Sadeh and Pertzov (2019), both imaging and patient studies have confirmed that the hippocampus plays a crucial role in memory retention for relational information within a short period of time. For instance, a study by Hannula examined patients with hippocampal amnesia. It “found that they were impaired in a recognition task for face-scenes relations even when the recognition test immediately followed a presentation of the study trial” (as cited in Sadeh & Pertzov, 2019, p. 388). Therefore, further research on the role of MTL and hippocampus can be helpful in understanding the mechanisms of short-term memory work, especially in the case of association creation.
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