The Effect Of Concreteness and Frequency On Free Recall Test

Category: Psychology
Author: Bendis

 This study investigated that whether the frequency effect, concreteness effect or interaction between them signifies in free recall. Subjects were 39 undergraduate psychology students from Boğaziçi University with the average age of 22.11 years. The words were selected from the book of Tekcan and Goz (2005), Turkish Words Norms in which the words are classified in terms of norms. As stated in the book, concreteness means perceived level of abstractness of words by people, and the frequency refers to the frequency of occurrence of words in printed media. The mixed lists were prepared with equal number of each type of words and were presented as a slide show to the subjects. Immediately after the presentation, they were asked to write down the words they remember. We hypothesize that concrete words and frequent words are better recalled then abstract words and non-frequent words, and there is a interaction between two variables. Also, we expected to see the serial position effect. We conducted 2 x 2 repeated measure ANOVA. Our data suggested the significant effect of concreteness but other results of the test are not significant. In other words, we did not find significant main effect of frequency and the significant interaction. But our study is important since there is no other study about the interaction of frequency effect and concreteness effect in free recall tests. Also, it is meaningful since the language of the experiment was Turkish.

Keywords: Free Recall, Concreteness Effect, Frequency Effect, Serial Position Effect, Dual Coding Theory, Context-Availability Model, Retrieval of the Words

 Every time you try to log in to your bank account via your computer, they send a security code to your phone as a text message. You have to read the code and to keep it in mind until you write down to the computer. When it comes to understand how we solve this type of problems, working memory is the main system to examine. This is because working memory, namely short-time memory, is the mechanism that is responsible for temporary storage (Baddeley, 1992). In the case above, the characteristics of the code, your mood and general ability, and many environmental distractions might change your retrieval performance in such daily tasks. When we address the characteristics of the code, immediate verbal recall tests provide a significant insight to the field since we can work on them in terms of mean, sound, frequency or length.

 In terms of mean, there are many studies investigating whether concreteness of word increases the probability to be remember. In 1999, Walker and Hulme have claimed that abstract words are more difficult to recollected. Similarly, many studies demonstrated similar results about the existence of concreteness effect in memory retrieval (Weber et al, 2006; West et al, 1999; Allen & Hulme, 2006; Romani & McAlpine & Martin, 2008; Walker & Hulme, 1999). There are some theories established about the concreteness effect. One of them is the dual-coding theory. As Paivio (1991) claimed, concrete words are also represented and encoded as images in the brain in addition to their verbal operation. Due to this, they are easier to code and recall. Another one is the context-availability model of learning and memory. According to the model, both abstract and concrete words are coded semantically, but abstract words are harder to process (Schwanenflugel, 1991). Indeed, developmental evidences suggested that abstract words are understood later in the childhood then concrete words. In adition, in their first experiment, Doest and Semin (2005), after having found the concreteness effect with free recall test. (In free recall test, which we used in this study, after units such as words, images and numbers are presented, the subjects are asked to report the units that they remember not caring about the order.) In their second experiment, they have examined the concreteness effect and relatedness effect together to demonstrated that concreteness effect might be derived from relational processing at coding. So, it can be claimed that there is a concreteness effect but the mechanism underlies it cannot be fully understood (Schwanenflugel, 1991)

 Another crucial factor is the frequency of the words in immediate word recall. In 1960, the study of Deese suggested that high-frequency units are easy to be remembered. Also, Stuart and Hulme (2000) supported the hypothesis with their findings and explanation. According to them, the long-term memory has a role in frequency effect. Since frequent words are happened upon more often, they have stronger associative links and contextual information (Guo et al, 2012). So, they are advanced by long term memory. In other words, the more one encounters a word, the better retrieves it from the memory.

 In their two detailed experiments (verbal and written), Miller and Roodenrys (2000) have found the main effects of frequency effect and concreteness effect. In addition, they examine the interaction between these two variables, which is significant. For abstract words, the frequency effect was stronger while the concreteness effect was stronger for non-frequency words. The study was conducted with serial recall. In the field, there is no study of this interaction with the test of free recall. In order to fill the gap, we designed an experiment investigating concreteness effect, frequency effect and interaction between them at the same time with free recall. We expected to see the main effects of concreteness and frequency, and the interaction between these two variables. In addition, we predicted there is a serial position effect in immediate free recall. By serial position effect, we mean the effect of the order of the words on retrieval.

 39 undergraduate psychology students (NFemale = 39, NMale = 9) from Boğaziçi University were recruited though convenience sampling. Subjects were not paid but they used the collected data of the experiment in their obligatory report for the course of PSY 304. The average age of students was 22.11 years (SD = 1.02). Before conducting the experiment, informed consents of all students were taken. Confidentiality was provided by coding the data with the numbers given to the participants instead of their names. The experiment took approximately 20 minutes in a single session with 2 parts and took place at a regular class of the course. The language of the experiment was Turkish. Participants did not report any difficulty in terms of language, memory or vision. There was not any deception or attrition. After the experiment, participants were informed about the content and the aim of the study.

 In the experiment, a 2x2 between-subject design was used. The independent variables were the concreteness of the words and the abstractness of the words. The dependent variable was the number of words recalled.

 In order to prepare the word list and classify the words as concrete, abstract, non-frequent and frequent, we used the Turkish Words Norms (Goz & Tekcan, 2005). These words were presented with Power Point slides. The font of the words was Comic Sans MS. The type size was 40.

 In a regular class our and room, subjects were presented 12 words with 10 trials. Each word was shown 1 second. The blank slides are shown for 0.5 second between the words. After each trial, the subjects were given 45 seconds to write down what they remember. The process lasted approximately 20 minutes. All subjects attended the experiment in the same time. After the experiment, the voluntary verbal feedbacks were received from the subjects and they were informed about the study.

 To begin with, we made a descriptive statistic in terms of word types. The averages of the total correct answers from each word group are calculated. There were four groups of word types: high frequent and abstract words (M = 16.67, SD = 2.63), low frequent and abstract words (M = 16.74, SD = 2.91), low frequent and concrete words (M = 18.05, SD = 3.70), high frequent and concrete words (M = 18.03, SD = 4.80).

 A 2 X 2 (concreteness X frequency) repeated measures ANOVA was conducted on correct answers in recall since the data had provided all assumptions of the test. The dependent variable was on the continuous scale and the independent variables are categorical. Based on Shapiro-Wilk normality test, p < .05, the correct responses among each group were normally distributed. However, we eliminated one outlier (z = 2.49) in terms of abstract-non-frequency group scores. As a result, the main effect of concreteness was significant, F(1, 37) = 6.32, p < .05, η2 = .15. But, there was no significant effect of frequency, F(1, 37) = 0.37, p > .8, η2 = .00 and no significant interaction effect, F(1, 37) = 0.61, p > .8, η2 = .00.

 In addition, we investigated the serial position effect. In each trial, the first four, second four and the last four words were grouped in terms of the presentation order. Means of the number of words remembered at first-4 (M = 23.89, SD = 6.86), middle-4 (M = 17.87, SD = 5.48) and last-4 (M = 27, SD = 4.12) groups were compared. Paired sample t test indicated that there was a significant difference between the first-4 condition and the middle-4 condition, t = 5.52, p < .001. Difference between middle-4 and last-4 groups was also significant, t = 8.51, p < .001.

 As we predicted, there is a serial position effect. It is an indicator of that both long term memory and short-term memory have an influence on immediate word recall (Murdock Jr, 1962).

 In addition, there is a significant concreteness effect. It is not surprising since concreteness is not much relative to person to person. But we cannot find the main effect of frequency. It is maybe because frequency effect is weaker then concreteness effect, and our sample size is not enough or representative to show this effect. Because the lists of words was collected as the book of Turkish Words Norms which is written according to Turkish people in general (Goz & Tekcan, 2005). However, our sample is from very specific group, which is from young, educated, adults. They may encounter more words since they probably read more than the population. Also, they are from one university. In other words, the big part of their social environment is common. So, they might face some non-frequent words frequently such as “tütün”. In addition, it may be since there is almost no effect of frequency, we cannot find an interaction effect.

 Lastly, some of the subjects reported that they made a history or a scene in their mind with the words as they were presented. This strategy was reported useful in retrieval. Some of them used the strategy while some of them did not. This may be a contribution to the Dual Theory. But, somehow, it might affect on the results of the study.



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