This experiment investigated the effects of free and forced retrieval instructions on false recall. It was hypothesised that false recall will be higher under the forced retrieval condition than under the free retrieval condition and correct recall will be unaffected. Thirty-two participants were instructed to remember 4 lists of 12 words. They were randomly assigned to either the free retrieval condition or to the forced retrieval condition. It was found that the mean number of false recalls under the forced retrieval condition was higher than under the free retrieval condition.
As well, the mean number of correct recalls was even for both conditions.
We often take our memory for granted, except when it malfunctions. But it is our memory that enables us to sing, find our way home, locate the food and water we need for survival and recognize acquaintances. Memory refers to the capacity of learning over time through the storage and retrieval of information. Furthermore, recall is a measure of memory in which one must retrieve the information previously learned.
Unlike videotapes or photocopies, memories are reconstructive as well as reproductive and hence, fallible. In an experiment by Stuart (2001) investigating false recall, a hundred students of two psychology research methods classes were asked to recall and recognize 6 lists of 14 words. They were randomly assigned to the free retrieval instructions or to the forced retrieval instructions. Stuart found that intrusions and false recall were higher with forced than with free retrieval instructions, whereas correct recall was unaffected. Stuart’s study also tested recognition and investigated confidence judgements.
The present experiment however, will only investigate further the effects of free and forced recall instructions on false recall, replicating partially Stuart’s study. It is hypothesized that participants under the forced recall instructions will contribute a higher number of false recalls than those under the free retrieval instructions and correct recall will be similar for both conditions.
Thirty-two naive participants, sixteen males and sixteen females, from 17 to 25 years old were chosen conveniently to participate voluntary in this experiment. They formed a diverse multiethnic group and were randomly assigned to the free retrieval or forced retrieval condition, with an equal number of females and males in each group. They had a fair level of English to understand and have general conversations in daily life situations, write personal letters, or read the newspaper. All participants signed a consent form (see Appendix A) in which they were informed that the research investigated memory and assured confidentiality. Signed parental consent was also sought for minor participants (under 18 years old).
All 4 lists consisted of 12 commonly used words in the English language, each list having its common concept (see Appendix B). A stopwatch was used to time the 3 seconds intervals between the presentations of each word and to allow 2 minutes for the recall of each list. A pen or pencil and 4 answer sheets (see Appendix C) were also provided to each participant.
This experiment was an independent design experiment with equal number of men and women exposed to the two levels of the independent variable (forced recall instructions and free recall instructions). Counterbalancing against the order effect was also involved since each experimenter presented the 4 lists in different orders for the participants in each of the two experimental groups. The independent variable was the free recall or forced recall instructions given to the participants and the dependent variable was the number of false recalls and correct recalls obtained.
All participants were tested individually. The following was said to each participant exposed to the free recall condition: “I will read 4 lists of 12 words each to you. After each list, you will be given 2 minutes to write down as many words as you can remember. There will be a 3 seconds interval following the presentations of each word.” Similarly, the following was said to the participants in the forced retrieval condition: “I will read 4 lists of 12 words each to you.
After each list, you will be given 2 minutes to fill in all the spaces on the answer sheet. There will be a 3 seconds interval following the presentations of each word.” Each group followed their respective instructions as mentioned. A stopwatch was used to measure the 3 seconds interval between the presentations of each word and to make sure the participant was allowed 2 minutes to recall each list.
The numbers of intrusions, central concept false recalls as well as correct recalls were calculated for each participants. Of a total of 4 lists of 12 words, the mean numbers of intrusions and central concept false recalls are 2.2 and 0.75 respectively for the free recall condition. For the forced recall condition, the mean number of intrusions is 9.2 and of central concept intrusions is 1.5. These results clearly show that there is more total false recalls for participants who were given the forced recall instructions than for those who were given the free recall instructions (10.7 > 2.8).
Furthermore, the mean number of correct recalls for the free retrieval condition and the forced retrieval condition are 34.6 and 37.3 respectively. This illustrates a slightly higher correct recall for forced recall condition than for the free recall condition. From a more general conclusion however, correct recall is relatively constant for both conditions.
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