Depth of processing and memory organization

Asher Koriat, Rachel Melkman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study examined the idea that the organization of information in memory varies depending on the depth of processing during input, as well as on the conditions for retrieval. Two types of memory organization are distinguished: Conceptual organization implies a hierarchical structure in which items are grouped according to a principled taxonomic system (e.g., cow - horse). Associative organization, in contrast, is based on direct links among the members of a group (e.g., cow - milk). Two experiments examined the propositions that conceptual relations require more effort to be encoded during learning and more effort to be utilized during remenbering than associative relations. In Experiment 1 a list of 28 words was used, which could be grouped into 14 conceptual categories or, alternatively, into 14 associative categories of two words each. The words were presented under either shallow or deep encoding conditions. Increased depth of encoding resulted in increased conceptual clustering but had little effect on amount of associative clustering. Similar amounts of associative and conceptual clustering were observed during early output positions, but conceptual clustering tended to increase with recall trials, suggesting that it might depend on the establishment of a retrieval schema. In Experiment 2, after memorizing a list of words, subjects recalled the words either with or without the requirement to perform a secondary task while recalling. Relative to the undisturbed recall condition, the secondary task condition indicated stronger associative than conceptual clustering. The results were seen to support the idea that different types of memory organization may become salient under different attentional conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-181
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Research
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Aug 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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