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First Year Psychology Students’ Memory for The News as a Function of Media of Presentation

7O psychology students were presented with a selection of four news stories in three different media; print form, audio form and audio visual form.Participants were tested immediately after exposure to the news to measure retention of story details, via a questionnaire.Subsequent results showed significant differences in information recall between the medium of presentation.

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Recall of detail was greatest from print, and worst from audio mode. It was made clear that when in print form, information is better absorbed, processed and retained than when in audio-visual mode and audio form.

INTRODUCTION

As the world’s technology grows, and the public’s demand for information is ever increasing, the news is presented in increasingly varied media. The news is a key factor in modern day society, with the vast majority of the U.K population being exposed to it at least once every day.

Despite the various forms in which news can be accessed, for example radio, print and even music, it can be gathered from public opinion surveys that the vast majority of individuals endorse television as their most important source of news information. Subjective views of audiences indicate that television is an important news source, from which they learn a lot. Yet, research in the past has shown that on the whole, individuals frequently fail to remember very much from television broadcasts. One survey of people living in the San Francisco area, where respondents were telephoned shortly after the evening’s main broadcast and asked, “What do you recall from tonight’s broadcast?”, showed 51% could not recall any stories.

On average subjects remembered just 6% of bulletin’s stories.(Stern 1971) These losses of information recalled can be due to various factors concerning the viewer’s motivation, attention, interest in the story and relationship with the story (Gantz 1979, Neuman 1976). For example, British research indicated that gender differences in the recall of TV news is linked to content factors. Interestingly, males recalled information from news narratives about violent incidents accompanied by violent images better than females did. Yet when these same stories were presented in sound only and print form, these gender differences disappeared(Gunter,Furnham and Gietson 1984). Also, research has questioned a variety of news presentation factors as having significant effects on learning(Berry, Gunter and Clifford 1981). It must therefore be questioned whether television is in fact the most memorable form of presentation of information, when compared with audio-only or print form.

Printed media convey greater quantities of information, and also allow readers to process the news at their own pace, whereas in both visual and audio-visual modes, the pace of information presentation is set by the producer. It is also argued that people are able to process information more deeply when reading or listening to the source. This is due to the fact that when watching the news item, the viewer is given all the information at once; visual and audio.

This can not only be somewhat confusing(especially if the visual information does not correlate to the audio or narrative, often due to quick cutting of visual scenes), but also means the individual does not need to pay attention as much, as no extra thinking must be done. When reading and to some extent listening to an article, the individual must think of the visual ingredient themselves, as this is not given. This additional processing of the material can result in better retention. This has been supported by various researchers(Greenfield 1982, Meringoff 1980).

It should be noted that this theory is argued in research, it has been found that recollection of the same story in print and audio-visual modes is better from print(Beighley 1952; Browne 1978). On the other hand, a study using television, radio and print to present information, it was reported that retention of abstract information is far superior when from television, in turn with better memory performance from radio than print(Williams,Paul and Ogilvie 1957). Yet more recent research by Wilson (1974), which involved all three media, found that retention was better from print than audio and audio visual. It is possible that these differences in findings is because Williams tested recognition, whereas Wilson tested free re-call(Gunter,Furnham and Gietson 1984). This therefore could help argue that printed presentation of information produces better free recall performance as reading requires more cognitive effort and requires deeper information processing than television.

Millions of pounds are spent on advertising and sponsorship on television, as it is presumed that information that people see on TV will be remembered and hence may lead to buying a certain product. This, therefore is an important and interesting area of research, not only due to the controversy of previous results, but due to the present day necessity for effective advertising and could also lead to future improvements in education and teaching methods.

In this experiment, it is Hypothesised that- scores regarding information retention would be higher from groups who receive written material than audio, which would be higher than audio-visual material.

In order to carry out this study, a similar study’s framework was used as a template for the design. In this case, the study- “Memory for the news as a function of the channel of communication” (Gunter, Furnham and Gietson 1984) was replicated.

METHOD

Design and Materials-

Random assignation of participants (a control) produced three groups (see participants subsection later) with no limitation on sex ratio in each group. These three groups were the independent variable. The groups were presented with varying media all of which gave the same narrative script (a constant throughout each item), in different forms. Group A(n=25) were presented with news in audio form. Group B(n=22) received the information in print form and Group C(n=23) received the news in audio-visual form. The news items were originally recorded from TV news bulletins transmitted by an experimental TV service, and had not been aired on mainstream networks throughout the U.K. The bulletins were originally broadcast separately over 18 years ago, therefore further reducing the likelihood of a participant having previously seen said items.

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Participants in were confronted with four separate news stories, which were presented in the same order for each media. In its audio/audio-visual state, each of the four stories lasted approximately one minute, with a total time of 4 minutes, 33seconds from beginning of story 1 to the end of story 4. Two items were scenes of street fighting between protesters/demonstrators and police in El Salvador and South Korea. The two other news items depicted non-violent events – Japan lifting trade restrictions and A Greek Prime Minister’s visit to Yugoslavia. Each story had a common narrative voiced over by an unseen narrator, and it was this common narrative which was transcribed in the print form given to Group B.

Footage presented to Group C depicted the following scenes- the El Salvador footage showed gun-fighting between individuals in the streets, with commentary from the narrator. Footage from South Korea showed rioters throwing stones at police and rioters reprimanded being clubbed and beaten by officers. The story told gave reasons for these disturbances, which were varying social groups’ dissatisfaction with each Government. Japan’s reduction on tariffs on certain goods due to disapproval from the U.S.A and the E.E.C was accompanied by footage of delegates at a summit meeting in Versailles concerning various matters including those mentioned previously. The last story concerning the Greek Prime Minister’s visit to Yugoslavia depicted images of the visit and documented reasons for the visit.

Group C were presented the stories via a colour screen with sound capability. Group A were presented with only the sound stream from the audio-visual medium. Group B were given transcripts of the narrative from the broadcasts. A questionnaire was then given to the groups, which contained twenty questions, five from each story, which questioned the groups about certain facts from the news items, hence testing the content retention of each group. The questions tested remembrance of where and why certain events occurred. The participants then were awarded two points for each correct answer, one point for a partially correct answer and zero for an incorrect answer, giving a maximum score of forty points.

Participants-

A total of 70 subjects were used in the experiment, all of whom were University of Bath first year psychology students, with ages ranging from 18 to 40. Group A,B and C each had three males in them, and subsequently contained 22, 19 and 20 females respectively.

Procedure-

Once seated, participants were given a letter which referred to their group- A,B or C. Group B were then removed from the room, and given scripts which they had four minutes to read. They remained in the building’s foyer until time was up. Groups A and C were presented with a video with sound on a projected colour screen in the main room. Group A (audio only) were then instructed to cover their eyes as to only listen to the audio from the video, whilst Group C were allowed to watch the video and listen. The exposure times for each group were equated across each media. Once all groups were re-assembled, they were handed with a questionnaire which they had twenty minutes to complete. Subjects then were told the correct answers and marked their own tests. They then handed in the scripts with their group letter and total score on, from which the results were calculated.

RESULTS

Table 1 (shown below) shows the processed data gained from the experiment. The table presents the means from each group’s results on the questionnaire, and the standard deviation of each group.

Table 1

Group

Number of subjects

Mean Score

Standard Deviation

A- audio

25

7.9

4.6

B- print

22

12.0

5.1

C- audio-visual

23

8.9

4.9

The mean scores of each group are a point of interest in this study as they illustrate the extent to which each medium was recollected, as an average for each group. Group B gained the highest mean score on the questionnaire with an average of 12. Group C gained the next highest average, with a mean score of 8.9, and Group A had the lowest score with 7.9. This indicates that those who received information via print recalled the greatest level of detail, as they scored highest (on average) in the questionnaire. The comparison of mean scores also indicates the superiority of audio-visual medium over audio in terms of detail recollection.

It was also necessary to include standard deviation in the data as this shows the dispersion of individual results around the mean for each group. As can be seen from Table 1, the standard deviation for each group was relatively similar; 4.6, 5.1 and 4.9 respectively for groups A, B and C. The standard deviation scores were also relatively low in each group, with group B having the most dispersed results around the mean with the highest standard deviation (5.1). Group A had the lowest standard deviation with 4.6, with group C in between with 4.9. The standard deviation indicates that scores were more agglomerated in group A than groups C and B. As the dispersal around the mean for each group were rather similar, it is indicated that the memory performance of participants in all three groups varied to a certain extent, even though averages were different.

DISCUSSION

The extent to which the news was recalled by participants was highly dependant upon the mode of presentation. As hypothesised, the results show that the level of detail recalled was greatest following pint presentation of the news. This was the expected outcome, and has been confirmed in previous research, for example Beighley(1952) and Browne(1976), who both found that print in the most memorable medium of presentation. There are a number of theories as to why print is the superior format for news recollection, firstly it is argued that in print form, there is a greater quantity of information offered to the reader. Although the print format was purely a transcript of the narrative of the audio/audio-visual media, the amount of information that can be absorbed and processed by the reader is greater. This can be due to the fact that when in print format, information can be processed at a self-paced speed( Gunter, Furnham and Gietson 1984), whereas in audio and audio visual formats, information is presented at the set pace decided upon by the producer.

This leads to a greater absorption of information from print format and hence a greater level of detail recall (as shown in the results of this report; the mean score for subjects given the print format was 12, compared to 7.9 and 8.9 for audio and audio-visual formats respectively),indeed imagery is known to act as a strong mnemonic device(Paivio and Csapo, 1973; Kosslyn and Pomerantz 1977). Printed news also necessitates the reader to conjure up his/her own images whilst reading the script, in order to get a mental picture of the scenes documented. It is this process which also may lead to greater remembrance of detail, as the reader must process the information further than participants who received the audio-visual format( Greenfield 1982 and Meringoff 1980). To some extent, this is prevalent with audio only subjects, as images are not given, so must be imagined.

The experiment showed that, contrary to the hypothesis, Group C(audio-visual) scored a higher average than Group A(audio),as can be seen from the results; Group C’s average on the questionnaire was 8.9 whilst Group A’s average was 7.9. This determination was also made by Williams, Paul and Ogilvie (1957) in a similar study. The findings in their study showed that audio-visual media led to greater information retention than audio only. This result was unexpected, yet there are a number of reasons as to why news presented in audio-visual format was better recalled than in audio. Firstly, the structure of the audio feed was not purposefully made for audio presentation – subjects in Group A(audio) simply covered their eyes and listened to the video’s audio stream.

Therefore it could be argued that if the audio format was structured for audio presentation, then absorption of information would be greater, as the audio-visual format would rely somewhat on its visual imagery to present its information, therefore Group A(audio) would miss out on this extra source. Another bias in performance could be due to Group A simply having to cover their eyes so as to prevent them from watching the video. This could prove to be distracting, as the subject would to some degree focus on not watching the video footage and therefore lose slight interest in listening to the information. It could also be argued that the act of shielding the information source from oneself has subconscious implications, in that the listener subconsciously feels removed and distanced from news source due to covering his/her eyes. This would limit the amount of information processed and therefore retained.

Listeners may also get bored of the blank visual stimuli, therefore making it harder to focus and retain information. There is also the possibility that those who watched the news scored more highly on average than those who listened to the news due to the violent images displayed. It is said that many individuals(especially male) recall images in the video which aid them in retaining information(Gunter, Furnham and Gietson). This is especially prevalent when concerning images of a violent nature- for example scenes from El Salvador of gun fighting. Emotionally charged images, such as war and fighting are proven to be better recalled than neutral images(i.e those with no emotional connotations)(Cohen, Wigand and Harrison, 1976). Therefore video footage may in fact aid the retention of detail. A theory put forward by A. Paivio is that of Dual Coding Theory(Paivio and Csapio 1973), which helps to explain why the hypothesis in this report was partially disproved(in that audio-visual average was higher than audio).

Dual Coding theory suggest two cognitive sub-systems, one which deals imagery and the other specializes in language. In this case, Dual Coding theory would assume that due to two sources of information(audio and visual) a were presented to group C, the group members had more information to gather, and furthermore, each source re-enforces the other. This means that the visual imagery would be re-enforced by the audio source, but would itself re-enforce the audio, therefore creating a circumstance in which information is easily absorbed and processed and consequently retained.

The investigation could have been hindered and distorted by certain factors encountered. Firstly, Group B were kept in a seating area in a building’s foyer whilst reading the transcript. This could have proved to be distracting due to events outside of the building visible through the windows and the coming and going of unrelated individuals through the foyer. Perhaps a closed room would have been more suitable to use for the reading group.

The audio feed was not perfect either, as subjects had to sit with other group members and cover their eyes whilst listening to the video, this could result in distancing from the source and loss of focus hence distorting the results. The questionnaires were also marked by the subjects themselves, once told the correct answers. Therefore there was the possibility for cheating, and so the results themselves may be incorrect. This could be improved by using external markers to score the questionnaires, as they have no bias towards the result. Future research could focus on whether Dual Coding theory is a valid argument, and the extent to which it operates.

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