Chapter 6
Verbal Learning


A. Verbal Learning is typically associated with the memorization and retention of lists of words, in order to describe basic elements of associative learning.

B. Verbal learning tends to involve more than just the memorization of words.

1. Many stimuli such as pictures, odors, locations, etc. can be studied

2. The types of mental events that occur in verbal learning studies go beyond passive memorization, as learners can play a very active role in manipulating experimental stimuli.


A. Early work on verbal learning--Herman Ebbinghaus.

B. Ebbinghaus served as his own subject, and his procedure involved the serial learning of nonsense syllables.

1. Ebbinghaus would memorize lists of these syllables until he could recall them perfectly, setting different accuracy criteria for different experiments.

C. Savings-- comparing the number of trials required to learn a list during an initial session to the number of trials required during a second session.

D. Forgetting curve--the amount of forgetting that occurs immediately after learning is substantial, but after that initial drop in performance, memory loss is very gradual.


A. Serial Learning involves having subjects learn a list of items according to the order in which the items appear in the list.

B. Serial Position Effect-- lower recall error rates for the first (primacy effect) and last few (recency effect) items on the list, with higher recall error rates for items appearing in the middle of the list.

1. Starting and ending points may possess some type of distinctiveness to set them apart from the rest of the list.

2. Early and late items may not have to compete as much for rehearsal resources as the middle items.

3. Middle items have more of a likelihood of being interfered with from earlier and later items, while the initial and terminal items do not have to face as much interference.

4. Some have argued that the serial position effect is due to the working of different memory systems.


A. Paired Associate (PA) learning involves having 2 items (a Stimulus and Response item) paired as stimuli (e.g., BOAT-CHAIR)

B. When the items pairs are committed to memory, the presentation of the first word (the stimulus word) should evoke the second word (the response word). So presenting BOAT should elicit a response of CHAIR.

C. Certain difficulties can arise in PA learning.

1. If the items used as Stimulus words in a PA task are too similar, discrimination ability decreases, leading to errors in recall.     boat-dog, barge- table , canoe-light       

2. Learning of Response items--Meaningful responses are learned easier than non-meaningful responses.
verde- ____  is easier than  green- _____

3. The connections between individual stimulus and response items is also mediated by certain factors.

a. Preexisting associations between the stimulus and response items can either help or hinder the association process.  pre-existing table-kitchen, whistle-train make it more difficult to learn table-train, whistle-kitchen

b. Cognitive Elaboration can aid in the association process.  The Relationship Construction Hypothesis suggests that increasing the number of connections between items to be remembered can also aid recall; (e.g., pictorial and verbal representation of a stimulus is better than either of these alone.  table-aardvark

c. Associations between stimulus and response items also tend to move only in the forward direction
if learn baby-boy, may not get boy-_____

D. An important application of paired-associate learning involves language acquisition—in particular, learning foreign languages.


A. Free Recall is very unstructured; one can recall words in any order they’d like.

B. Although different from serial learning, free recall tasks will also show a serial position effect similar to that obtained with serial learning.

C. In addition, recall is mediated by several factors.

1. The more an item is rehearsed, the greater the likelihood that the item will be recalled.

2. Organizing to-be-recalled information into some type of meaningful system also enhances recall ability. Some organizational heuristics:

a. Associative Clustering involves putting presented stimuli together in a manner that utilizes preexisting associations. black, table, stop, white, chair, go

b. Categorical Clustering--breaking a large number of specific words down into several smaller groups organized by conceptual similarity, such as COLORS, ANIMALS, PLANTS, etc. 
daisy, red, pansy, black, aqua, rose

c. Subjective Organization involves using idiosyncratic associations that are relevant only to individuals.


A. The evidence that has been collected on the different verbal learning tasks suggests that verbal learning is not a single process--many different strategies result in verbal learning.

B. Research shows that if one wants to obtain a valid representation of one’s memory skills, different tests must be used to tap different memory abilities.


A. Mnemonic devices are different methodologies to aid in the encoding and retrieval of information.

B. Acronym mnemonics--list of initial letters of critical words that allows one to retrieve information (e.g., representing the Great Lakes as HOMES).

C. Another general class of mnemonics are referred to as Keyword Mnemonics.

1. The Keyword Method involves a type of paired-associate learning, where a mediating word is used to associate two to-be-remembered items.

2. The Narrative Story Method involves creating a story that contains all of the words in a to-be-remembered list.

D. Imagery Mnemonics are another way to learn critical information.

1. The Method of Loci

2. The Peg Word Method