Research in the relationship of verbal learning and memory involves the understanding of how people retain and use information concerning symbolically representable objects and events, and the information about their interconnection.
Tulving and Madigan described the concept of verbal learning in 1970 and according to the authors, symbolically representable items and events include letters, letters grouping, sentences, words, numbers, digits, and so forth; verbal items (p.438). The perceived connections are spatial-temporal, that is, an event (a verbal item for recall), which is followed or proceeded by, or appears next to, or occurs simultaneously with certain discretely specifiable perspective of the perceived environment.
Verbal learning students speak the stimulus-response language. With respect to this target group, verbal learning involves acquisition and withholding of verbal responses pertaining to stimuli. Acquisition often relates to “attachment of response to stimuli…forgetting denotes the loss of response availability” (Tulving & Madigan, 1970, p.439).
Acquisition of responses signifies the strengthening of connection between the responses and the stimuli to which the students attach the responses. Learners can develop response during acquisition or in the subsequent retention test, as far as the strength of the connection surpasses an imaginary evocation threshold.
Psychologists conceptualize forgetting as the product of weakening of connections, although recall failure can as well reveal competition of responses involved with the same stimulus. Tulving and Madigan (1970) posit that, researchers can induce this process, commonly known as “extinction” or “unlearning” using different empirical manipulation, or may happen naturally outside the laboratory (p.439). Psychologist use experimental paradigms to simulate spontaneous occurrence of this process.
The stress on stimulus-response association in verbal learning determines a concern with specification of stimuli. Tulving and Madigan (1970, p.439) assert that the use of empirical models by which the specification of the stimuli is technically possible using serial anticipation and paired associates procedures.
More recently, the identification of functional stimuli in models of serial learning and free recall highlights this concern. The proceeding paragraph will compare and contrast the models psychology researchers use to relate the specification of stimuli to response in verbal learning, such as free recall, serial learning, and paired associate learning.
Free recall is the simplest task that involves the use of verbal units, normally words that a researcher presents by reading or visually to a subject. After completion of the presentation, the subject recites or writes as many words as s/he can recall. The subject is free to give the items in any order and the facilitator credits him or her for recalling the listed items without regard of their order.
In addition, the verbal items may be necessarily unrelated or closely connected (Mahmud, 2004, p.123). This procedure does not permit the researcher to know what stimulus induced a response, although it gives insight on the patterns of learned responses.
Serial learning, on the other hand, differs from free recall in two significant aspects; first, the experimenter maintains the sequence of the items from trial to trial, and items are credited on condition that the subject recalls them in the same order they were presented. Second, an anticipation method is used, where the subject is required to recite the following items when the researcher presents a specific item.
Mahmud posits that the need for a correct order creates “serial position effect” (2004, p.124). In addition, serial learning, unlike the free recall, involves the use of memory drum. The item is listed severally and a trial-wise record of subject’s right and wrong anticipation is preserved until the subject recites all the items correctly on two successive trials, or s/he recites 80 percent of the items correctly.
In contrast, paired associated learning method needs the subject to produce a response term (verbal unit) upon the presentation of stimulus term (another verbal unit) that the experimenter had associated it with previously.
Like serial learning method, the anticipation technique used in paired associated learning requires the subject to anticipate and cite the correct response when the experimenter presents the stimulus prior to both items. The researchers maintain a constant anticipation and study intervals in each experiment with standardized duration of 2 seconds for each experiment.
The aforementioned experimental models are just a few of the existing models for studying verbal learning. The target group and the objective of the study may dictate the choice of experimental model.
Mahmud, S. J. (2004). Introduction to Psychology. New Delhi: A.P.H. Publishing Corporation.
Tulving, E., & Madigan, S. A. (1970). Memory and verbal learning. Annual Review of Psychology, 21, 437-484.