Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Examining Competing Hypotheses for the Effects of Diagrams on Recall for Text

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Examining Competing Hypotheses for the Effects of Diagrams on Recall for Text

Article excerpt

Published online: 30 May 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Supplementing text-based learning materials with diagrams typically increases students' free recall and cued recall of the presented information. In the present experiments, we examined competing hypotheses for why this occurs. More specifically, although diagrams are visual, they also serve to repeat information from the text they accompany. Both visual presentation and repetition are known to aid students' recall of information. To examine to what extent diagrams aid recall because they are visual or repetitive (or both), we had college students in two experiments (n = 320) read a science text about how lightning storms develop before completing free-recall and cued-recall tests over the presented information. Between groups, we manipulated the format and repetition of target pieces of information in the study materials using a 2 (visual presentation of target information: diagrams present vs. diagrams absent) × 2 (repetition of target information: present vs. absent) between-participants factorial design. Repetition increased both the free recall and cued recall of target information, and this occurred regardless of whether that repetition was in the form of text or a diagram. In contrast, the visual presentation of information never aided free recall. Furthermore, visual presentation alone did not significantly aid cued recall when participants studied the materials once before the test (Experiment 1) but did when they studied the materials twice (Experiment 2). Taken together, the results of the present experiments demonstrate the important role of repetition (i.e., that diagrams repeat information from the text) over the visual nature of diagrams in producing the benefits of diagrams for recall.

Keywords Recall . Diagrams . Repetition effect . Dual-coding

It is well-established that visual information aids many forms of student learning when used instead of or in combination with verbal information. For example, much research has examined the effects of encoding information both verbally and visually on measures of recall (i.e., dual-coding effects; see Paivio, 1986) and understanding (i.e., multimedialearning effects; see Mayer, 2009). Although both of these domains include multiple explanatory theories and a wealth of empirical data, few studies to date have specifically examined why diagrams typically aid recall when added to text-based learning materials. Toward this end, in the present experiments, we proposed and examined competing hypotheses for these effects.

Diagrams and text

The fact that images can aid recall is hardly a new topic of study; the effects of images on recall were a major topic of study during the "cognitive revolution" of the 1960s. Most notably, Paivio and colleagues performed extensive research comparing people's recall for words and images both separately and combined (for a review, see Paivio, 1986). This research demonstrated that people typically remember images (i.e., an image of a rooster) better than they remember words (i.e., the word "rooster") but that their recall is usually best when they study the two together (i.e., the word "rooster" paired with an image of a rooster). Such findings became the basis for dualcoding theory (e.g., Paivio, 1965), which postulates that people process and store information in separate visual and verbal systems (or channels; cf. Baddeley & Hitch, 1974). This helps to explain why images best aid recall when they are paired with the verbal word that they depict: people can recall either a visual or a verbal representation of the information, making them more likely to recall either at a later time than if they only encountered one representation earlier (i.e., only the image or only the word).

Of course, students in modern educational settings are rarely tasked with memorizing single words (with or without images). Rather, students are more likely to encounter complex, nonfiction, expository texts that explain how some process occurs or why some historical event occurred. …

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