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Research Methods in Practice

What makes something memorable?

Production Effect


Words that are spoken aloud are better remembered than words read silently. The production effect has to do with the question of what makes something “distinctive” and the role that distinctiveness plays in memorability. When thinking about new questions to explore on this topic, consider Quinlan and Taylor’s suggestion that this form of memory improvement isn’t just about speaking versus reading, it is about producing or processing something in a distinctive way compared to a non-distinctive way. You might come up with creative new ways to test this idea.


MacLeod, C. M. (2011). I said, you said: The production effect gets personal. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18, 1197–1202, DOI:10.3758/s13423-011-0168-8

Quinlan, C. K. & Taylor, T. L. (2013) Enhancing the production effect in memory. Memory, 21, 904-915, DOI:10.1080/09658211.2013.76675

Forrin, N. D., Jonker, T. R., & MacLeod, C. M. (2014). Production improves memory equivalently following elaborative vs. non-elaborative processing. Memory, 22, 509–524. DOI:10.1080/09658211.2013.798417

Adaptive Memory


People have better memory for objects when they think about them in terms of how they will aid survival. Nairne and others propose that this is evidence of an evolutionary adaptation: survival processing has a special status in our memory system. Sceptics have suggested alternative explanations. A common one is that survival processing might just be a form of deep processing where things we think about more deeply and meaningfully are better remembered. Butler et al., who failed to observe a survival processing effect, noted that congruency between objects and the manner of processing might be the key factor. Klein raises the possibility that the details of the survival scenario might be important. You might pursue one of these questions or think of new ones. For example, another factor relevant to evolutionary fitness is mating…


Nairne, J.S., Thompson S.R., Pandeirada, J.N.S. (2007). Adaptive memory: survival processing enhances retention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33(2), 263–273, DOI:10.1037/0278-7393.33.2.263
Note: focus on Experiments 2 and 4.

Butler, A. C., Kang, S. H. K., & Roediger, H. L. (2009). Congruity Effects Between Materials and Processing Tasks in the Survival Processing Paradigm. Journal of experimental psychology. Learning, memory, and cognition, 35, 1477-86. DOI: 10.1037/a0017024

Klein, S. B. (2012). Does optimal recall performance in the adaptive memory paradigm require the encoding context to encourage thoughts about the environment of evolutionary adaptation? Memory & Cognition, 41, 49-59, DOI: 10.1037/0278-7393.33.2.26310.3758/s13421-012-0239-8