By guest blogger Bradley Busch
Dr. Seuss wrote “the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go”. The trouble is, we forget so much of what we read. Is there a way to read that makes it more likely we’ll remember things?
Keen to answer this question, researchers Noah Farrin and Colin MacLeod, from the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada, ran a study published in Memory. Their results shed new light on how to study more effectively.
It’s already known that reading aloud can aid memory, but it’s not clear why: is it the act of reading, or is it hearing oneself speaking, or both? To tease apart these possibilities, the researchers first invited 75 students to their psych lab and recorded them saying 160 words out loud. At this point, the students knew they’d be returning to the lab in two weeks’ time, but didn’t know why.
When the students returned to the lab, they studied half of the words that they’d encountered earlier, in preparation for an immiment memory test. They revised these words in four different ways: they read 20 of the words to themselves silently; they heard a recording of someone else reading 20 words; they heard the earlier recording of themselves saying 20 more of the words; and they read the last 20 words out loud to themselves (the participants varied in the order they completed these different revision methods).
The memory test that followed was a recognition test, made up of the 80 words they’d just studied and the other 80 words used two weeks’ earlier (it was assumed that these would largely be forgotten). On seeing each word, the students’ had to indicate whether it was one they had just studied or not.
The most effective revision method was reading the words aloud in the study phase. This led to, on average, 77 per cent correct answers (i.e. words correctly categorised as just studied or old). In order of decreasing effectiveness, this was followed by revising by listening to a recording of themselves, hearing a recording of someone else say the words, and then finally by reading in silence.
These results suggest that the reading aloud advantage comes from both the act of reading and the experience of hearing oneself. However, the gap between reading aloud and hearing a recording of oneself was quite small, with only 3 per cent difference in performance. The biggest gap (12 per cent) was between reading the words out loud and reading them in silence.
In discussing these results, the researchers used the term “the production effect”. This describes the memory advantage one obtains if you say things aloud instead of just hearing the information. The production effect is likely caused through the combined advantage of three factors. First, reading things aloud involves motor processing, making it a more active process. Second, when students read words, it requires an element of visual processing, which may lead to deeper learning rather than just listening. Third, reading aloud is self-referential (i.e. “I said it”), which can make the information more salient.
When the students read in silence (the least effective method) they didn’t experience any self-referential or auditory stimulation. These results also confirm previous findings suggesting it is advantageous to learn information using a combination of senses.
A recent review indicated that many students spend time rereading as a form of revision, rather than testing themselves, which would be more effective. If rereading is a strategy that students are going to use, then the current study’s findings are important as they indicate that doing so aloud will likely be more effective than doing so silently.
It would be interesting to see if the current results replicate when using materials that students have to study as part of their course, rather than simple word lists.
This study is a step forward in our understanding of how people can remember more information. Next time you come to read another brilliant BPS Research article, try doing so out loud (although your office or roommates may not thank you for this!).
Post written by Bradley Busch (@Inner_Drive) for the BPS Research Digest. Bradley is a registered psychologist and director of InnerDrive. He has work with Premiership and International footballers and is the author of Release Your InnerDrive