Memory Research

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Alan Baddeley (1982, 11) states “Memory is the capacity for storing and retrieving information. Without it we would be unable to see, hear or think. ” Memory is a fundamental component of daily life. We rely on it so heavily, that it is not a stretch to say that life without memory would be close to impossible. Baddeley explains that with no memory we as individuals would be vegetables, and classifies this as being intellectually dead. Baddeley (1982, 11) states that individuals do not have a memory but have many memories.

Therefore someone who has lost their memory is in fact someone who has a malfunction in one or more of these complex memory systems. Baddeley (1982) explains that had all of these systems been lost the outcome of the person could result in unconsciousness or possible death. Memory is not a single, simple function. As Baddely explains it is an extraordinarily complex system of diverse components and processes. There are at least three, and very likely more, memory processes.

The most important and best documented by scientific research are sensory information storage (SIS), short-term memory (STM), and long-term memory (LTM). Each differs with respect to function, the form of information held, the length of time information is retained, and the amount of information-handling capacity. This study will examine memory, specifically comparing the recall of a narrative and a descriptive passage. There is a long tradition of research into the differences between descriptive and narrative texts.

Generally, it has been suggested that descriptive texts are harder to process than narrative texts, perhaps because of the greater variety of relationships among text units, or possibly due to greater variety of content types (Alderson, 2000). The most familiar and most studied (Graesser et al. , 1991) text structure is narrative text or stories. “Although there is no prevailing consensus on the definition of narrative text and some debate over the features of a story, narrative text depicts events, actions, emotions, or situations that people in a culture experience” (Graesser et al. 1991).

A story is written to excite, inform, or entertain readers (Pearson & Fielding, 1991) and may report actual or fictitious experiences (Graesser et al. , 1991). While there are no clear boundaries between categories, narratives include myths, epics, fables, folktales, short stories, novels, tragedy, and comedy. The depictions of events are organized so that the audience can eventually anticipate them (Dennis, 1982). That is, readers must be able to infer motives of characters and the causal relations among events.

A large number of empirical studies have demonstrated that narratives typically have a hierarchical structure that readers are sensitive to such structure, and when the structure is used to guide comprehension and recall, both are facilitated (Glenn, 1978; Mandler, 1978; Carroll, 1985). In addition, narrative texts are more likely to induce visualization in the reader as part of the reading process than descriptive texts (Dennis, 1982). Just as there is no consensus on the definition of narrative text, there is no consensus on how stories are constructed (Graesser et al. 1991).

There are various theories about the components, levels, dimensions, and perspectives of narrative text; however each theory falls short of capturing all of the potential intricacies of stories or the ways in which stories involve the reader’s emotions (Pearson & Fielding, 1991, p. 821). One theory, story grammar, is the oldest theory of narrative structure and the one most used in research during the last 10 years. Just as there are many theories of narrative text structure, there are many story grammars (Graesser et al. , 1991) .

A story grammar refers to “abstract linguistic representation of the idea, events, and personal motivations that comprise the flow of a story” (Pearson & Fielding, 1991, p. 821). A story grammar captures the important properties of a story and guides comprehension of stories that have “a single main protagonist who encounters a problem-solving situation, a goal that the protagonist attempts to achieve, a plot that unravels how the protagonist attempts to achieve the goal, and an outcome regarding whether the goal was achieved” (Graesser et al. 1991, p. 179).

Further, story grammars specify the major components of a story (Graesser et al. , 1991); hierarchical relations between story grammar components; and rules that govern what information is included or deleted within the story, order of information, relations between story components, and embedding of episodes within story components such as the beginning, outcome, or ending. More complex stories normally have multiple episodes and follow rules that allow changes and deletions of story grammar components (Graesser et al. , 1991).

The assumption behind story grammar theory is that story grammar components and their hierarchical relations represent frames or patterns that readers can use to store information in long-term memory. Pearson and Fielding (1991) cited five references that support the validity of story grammars as models of comprehension by providing evidence that adults’ and children’s story retellings matched the sequential order of story grammar components and that the frequency of recalled information correlated with the hierarchical position of the information in the story grammar framework.

Story grammars generate predictions about patterns of passage recall, passage summarization, importance ratings of statement, passage statement clusters, and reading time, but there has been controversy over whether story grammars or other representations of knowledge (e. g. , knowledge about planning, social action, and motives) can explain these predictions (Graesser et al. , 1991). Despite these controversies, Graesser et al. (1991) concluded that story grammars unite dozens of empirical trends into one theory of story construction.

While narrative text structure primarily entertains, expository (descriptive) text primarily communicates information (Weaver & Kintsch, 1991). Textbooks, essays, and most magazine articles are examples of expository text (Pearson & Fielding, 1991). While narrative text structures have largely focused on story grammars, research on expository text has spanned a much broader range of organizational patterns. Common expository text structures include compare/contrast, classification, illustration, procedural description (Weaver & Kintsch, 1991), sequence, enumeration or collection, problem-solution, and description (Meyer & Rice, 1984).

Each type of expository text structure is represented by an organizational pattern that includes differing types of relations between important information in the text. Kintsch (cited in Weaver & Kintsch, 1991) described three types of relationships between ideas in expository text: general-to-particular, as in identification, definition, classification, or illustration; object-to-object, as in comparison/contrast; and object-to-part, as in structural analysis to tell how to put something together, functional analysis to tell how something works, or causal analysis to tell a cause or consequence.

Research evidence suggests that well-structured expository text facilitates comprehension of main ideas or topics, rather than facts. For example, Kintsch and Yarbrough (cited in Weaver & Kintsch, 1991) found that students who read well-structured essays that showed clear relations between ideas, performed better on a measure of global comprehension (macroprocesses; e. g. , topic and main-point questions) than did students who read essays on the same content in which the order of paragraphs did not follow principles of organization and in which cues to text structure were deleted.

Performance was equal on a measure of local comprehension (microprocesses), measured using cloze procedures (i. e. , a measure in which students fill in the missing words deleted from a passage they have read). Narrative and descriptive texts have been found to have differential effects upon readers, with narrative appearing easier to comprehend and monitor than expository text. Zabrucky and Ratner (1992) examined the effects of eight narrative and eight expository passages on the comprehension monitoring and recall of 16 good and 16 poor sixth-grade readers.

Some passages contained a sentence that was inconsistent with the rest of the passage, while other passages did not. Text was presented on a computer screen, one sentence at a time. Reading times and students’ verbal reports were used to examine students’ evaluation of their comprehension and look-backs to inconsistencies during reading. For both good and poor readers, text type affected recall and comprehension monitoring. Students recalled significantly more idea units from narrative than expository passages.

When comparing texts with inconsistencies to texts without inconsistencies, students looked back more frequently for inconsistent narrative than inconsistent expository text, suggesting that inconsistencies were more apparent in narrative than in expository text. Students were also better able to verbally report on passage consistency after reading narrative than expository passages. Students reread expository passages more frequently than narrative passages when the passages did not contain inconsistent information, indicating that students found expository text more problematic than narrative text.

Additionally, students reread more frequently when inconsistent text was adjacent to the correct sentence than when it was far from the correct sentence. Taking into account previous research on recalling narrative and descriptive passages the following hypothesis was constructed: – An individual will recall a narrative passage with more accuracy and consistency compared to recalling a descriptive (expository) passage of the same length.

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