Practical Applications of Levels of Processing

Practical Applications of Levels of Processing

In a study undertaken by Craik and Lockhart (1972) it was concluded that the way we process information determines how well we remember it. The deeper the level of processing the more likely the word is to be remembered. When we process information at a shallow or superficial level, for example, this is known as:

Structural processing: This is to do with appearance. When applied to words we might look at whether the letters are uppercase or lowercase

Phonetic processing: This is to do with the sound. This applies to how a word is pronounced. This requires a deeper level of processing than structural processing.

Semantic processing: This is to do with meaning. This applies to what a word means. This requires the deepest level of processing. Words processed in this way are the ones most likely to be remembered.

Practical applications

Knowing about levels of processing can help us improve the way we learn and teach. We are more likely to remember a theory, for example, by describing it in our own words than by simply reading the theory over and over again in a text book. A teacher can test a pupil’s understanding more accurately by asking students to ‘describe’ or ‘explain’ rather than simply to ‘name’ or ‘list’.



We all forget things, but psychologists now realize that some of this is to do with interference. This happens when information learnt at different times interferes with each other and makes it more difficult to recall. The most noticeable example of this is:

Retroactive interference which occurs when recently acquired information interferes with information held before it. In an experiment carried out by Underwood and Postman (1960) it was found that participants had more trouble recalling pairs of words they learnt at the beginning of the task when another similar learning task followed immediately afterwards. Those set with only the single task of remembering pairs were able to do so more accurately.

Practical application

Learning two separate but similar types of information close together in time is a particularly tricky thing for the brain to handle. Studying or revising two similar subjects one after the other is perhaps not a good idea. If this is unavoidable, scheduling a break between the two subjects will help.

Proactive interference occurs when information already stored in the memory interferes with your ability to remember recently acquired information.


Where you remember is important too!

You will perhaps find it odd to learn that you are more likely to remember information in the same space or context you learnt it in. Godden and Baddeley conducted an experiment in 1975 in which participants were given learning tasks on land and then underwater. In all cases participants were better able to recall information in the same place they had learnt it. This may perhaps explain why you may recognise but not identify an acquaintance when you walk past them in the street.

Practical applications

At school it is likely you will perform better if you are examined in the same space as you learnt your subject content. Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen. Employees may retain more information if they are taught in the same place as they work i.e. on the factory floor or in the office. Revision may be more effective if you do it in an exam style environment.