Over the past two weeks, I’ve been looking into the multistore model of memory, and different techniques (rehearsal & encoding and chunking & acronyms) which can be used to ensure information makes its way into long term memory so it can be recalled much later in the future. This week, I thought I’d stray from the multistore model a bit and look into some other facts which can influence a person’s ability to recall information. More specifically, I looked at how different contexts or physical states can influence the retrieval of information.
Research suggests that recall will be best when a person tries to recall the information in the same environment that they learned it in (Godden & Baddeley, 1975; Smith, Glenberg & Bjork, 1978). For example, when a student tries to recall information in an exam, they will be able to recall it best if they learned it in an environment which is similar to the exam environment. Generally speaking, this does tend to be the case. Classrooms are set out in quite similar ways to exams; all students are sat facing the front, they can’t just get up and roam about, they can’t just chat away to the person sitting next to them and things like that. Obviously, the classroom and exam room aren’t exactly the same, classrooms aren’t quite as strict (if you talk in class you get told off, if you talk in an exam you get disqualified), but they’re similar enough! This research can be used to the advantage of the teacher and the student; the teacher can try to make their classroom as similar to an exam setting as possible (so not letting students talk all through the lesson and sit on the desks and generally cause mayhem) and the student could make sure that they revise information in a similar setting to an exam (so going to the library or sitting at a desk in a quiet room rather than sitting in bed reading notes with music on). This is all well and good, but what about when the information learned in a strict classroom/environment needs to be recalled in the real world? Lainema and Nurmi (2006) argue that an authentic, realistic computer program is effective when applied to a real world business. These findings are similar in schools, where programmes which are most related to real world contexts prepare students for the real world (Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin & Means, 2000) So it may be beneficial for schools to do a similar thing; when teaching information, make it realistic and as applicable to the real world as possible.
State-dependent memory is where a person’s physical state can influence their ability to recall information; if they are in the same state when they learn and recall information, they will recall more than if they are in a different state for learning and recalling. Miles and Hardman (1998) had participants learn and recall a list of words in one of two states: at rest or during aerobic exercise. Participants who recalled the words in the same state they learned them in recalled significantly more words than participants who recalled the words in the opposite state. This was true for both resting and exercising, so the exercise itself had no impact on memory. Other research has found similar results; Pearce et al (1990) found more words were recalled when participants were exposed to pain right before learning and retrieval (or when they were exposed to a non-painful stimulus for learning and retrieval) than participants who only experienced pain at learning or retrieval. These types of results are repeated in other scenarios such as fear-inducing stimuli (Lang, Craske, Brown & Ghaneian, 2001) and alcohol consumption (Lowe, 1982). As there is research to suggest that state dependent memory can be applied to a lot of different states, it seems reasonable to assume that schools should encourage students to arrive at school in the same state they would take their exam in. The example that springs to mind for me is being hungover, according to this theory, if you turn up for lectures hungover (or still drunk…depends how early the lecture is) because “it’s only a lecture”, but turn up to your exam sober, well rested and ready to take the exam, you’re actually not doing yourself any favours! Obviously, states like this can be controlled by the student (just don’t go to your lecture hungover…or just don’t go to your lecture and make sure you learn the information from the lecture when you’re not hungover!), but there are obvious other states which can’t be controlled. For example, if you’re perfectly healthy all year but you’re ill on the day of your exam, the physical states completely differ so your memory may suffer as a result of this (the illness could obviously have its own effect on your memory…but that’s a different story!). So, in terms of applying this theory to education, it seems there are certain states which can be controlled in order to enhance memory, but some which are out of anyone’s control. This really supports the idea of having several assessments, rather than one exam; it gives students several opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge, so if their memory is affected by the state they are in on a particular day, it will not have a huge effect on the overall grade.
So, overall, I think context and state dependent memory explains certain aspects of the education system such as the similarities between classrooms and exam rooms and why (in some cases) students are assessed at several different times. There is a lot of research to support these theories, and I think that even more could be done to use these theories to the students’ advantage, such as making content of classes more realistic and applicable to real life so that students will be able to apply their knowledge later in life rather than just in an exam. This research could also be used to help students to prepare themselves better for learning and being assessed; they could make sure when they are revising, it’s in a similar environment to the exam and they could make sure that they are in the same physical state for learning and recalling information (whenever possible, obviously they can’t help being ill!).
Godden, D. R., & Baddeley, A. D. (1975). Context‐dependent memory in two natural environments: On land and underwater. British Journal of psychology, 66(3), 325-331
Lainema, T., & Nurmi, S. (2006). Applying an authentic, dynamic learning environment in real world business. Computers & Education, 47(1), 94-115.
Lang, A. J., Craske, M. G., Brown, M., & Ghaneian, A. (2001). Fear-related state dependent memory. Cognition & Emotion, 15(5), 695-703.
Lowe, G. (1982). Alcohol-induced state-dependent learning: Differentiating stimulus and storage hypotheses. Current Psychology, 2(1), 215-222.
Miles, C., & Hardman, E. (1998). State-dependent memory produced by aerobic exercise. Ergonomics, 41(1), 20-28.
Pearce, S. A., Isherwood, S., Hrouda, D., Richardson, P. H., Erskine, A., & Skinner, J. (1990). Memory and pain: tests of mood congruity and state dependent learning in experimentally induced and clinical pain. Pain, 43(2), 187-193.
Roschelle, J. M., Pea, R. D., Hoadley, C. M., Gordin, D. N., & Means, B. M. (2000). Changing how and what children learn in school with computer-based technologies. The future of children, 76-101.
Smith, S. M., Glenberg, A., & Bjork, R. A. (1978). Environmental context and human memory. Memory & Cognition, 6(4), 342-353.