MEANINGFULNESS AND FAMILIARITY
Clyde E. Noble
MONTANA STATE UNIVERSITY
During the past ten years psychologists have discovered more about meaningfulness and familiarity than in the preceding sixty-five. Although scientific recognition of the existence of these attributes dates from Ebbinghaus ( 1885), whose classic monograph on the learning and retention of verbal materials has been the prototype of most subsequent research on human associative processes, present knowledge is largely an achievement of modern laboratory methods. That research in this field is also virtually a United States monopoly should be comforting to those who view space races and missile gaps with alarm. The germinal ideas of multiple associations ( James, 1890), association value ( Glaze, 1928), frequency ( Thorndike, 1932), acquaintance ( Robinson, 1932), and transfer ( McGeoch, 1942) have been elaborated by our younger generation of Functionalists into an impressive body of fact and hypothesis. Elegant theory may not be yet, but systematic empiricism is definitely out of the programmatic stage. Basic concepts of verbal learning and performance are here now, laws of their interaction are emerging, and my guess is that prediction with understanding is not far off.
The publication of Meaningfulness and Verbal Learning by Underwood and Schulz ( 1960) represents the apogee of current development in this area. Their book provides a rich source of new hypotheses for research workers, and careful analysis of it will generate heady reinforcement schedules for professional and novice alike. Assuming that the reader possesses this timely map of the terrain, we may proceed rather selectively toward certain landmarks which seem to have strategic as well as tactical value. In this essay, therefore, I shall examine some of the salient features of meaningfulness and familiarity as concepts, with emphasis upon the roles they play in verbal behavior. The analytic technique will be a combination of the logical and empirical. My aim, in brief, is not a review but a critique--a critique of the manner in which