Electronics and Short Term Memory
Playing video games immediately following a memorization task will have a negative effect on short term memory.
This is because playing video games requires active participation, which will make it more difficult to accurately imprint short term memory.
On the other hand, I predict that reading and TV will have a neutral effect on short term memory. This is because they are both more passive activities than video games.
I hypothesize that shorter words will be recalled better than longer words. This is because they are shorter, and simpler.
I also predict that words located sooner on the list will be remembered better. This is because the participants will be exposed to them sooner, therefore they will have the most time to memorize the initial few words, and they will imprint more clearly into short-term memory
Prior research has investigated the link between video games and short term memory.
Blacker and Curby (2013): Action video game players had a visual short-term memory advantage over non-gamers, regardless of whether limited or ample time was given to memorize content.
Pavan et al. (2019): Video game players (whether they played action or non-action video games) had a improved visual short-term memory and were less easily distracted.
Murphy et al. (2012): Assessment of verbal and visual short-term memory in regular video game players. Video game players had fewer errors and shorter response times for the visual memory tasks.
Players of the action video game Medal of Honor - better verbal memory performance.
Players of the non-action video game Tetris - better performance in high complexity visual memory tasks.
Liu et al. (2019): Working memory performance with subjects playing video games during breaks.
They scanned subjects with an MRI machine to assess which areas of the brain were being used during memory activity, resting, listening to music, and playing the video game Angry Birds.
Playing video games led to a poorer performance on the subsequent working memory task.
Improved performance with relaxation and listening to music.
- Activity Performed following memorization task
- Playing video games
- Watching TV
- The same four participants for memorization tasks
- Time taken to memorize words
- Time taken for each task (Video games, TV, Reading)
- Time taken to recall words
- Amount of words on the paper (10)
- Words recalled by the four participants
- 42 year old male with 12 years of post-secondary education (Phil)
- 40 year old female with 12 years of post-secondary education (Sabrina)
- 11 year old boy in Grade 6 (Justin)
- 9 year old girl in Grade 4 (Sasha)
A list of 10 random words was generated. I used a combination of looking around the house for inspiration and also used a random word generator (https://randomwordgenerator.com). The list of 10 words was different for each trial.
10 words listed vertically on paper, with 1 minute to memorize the words.
Following the one minute of word memorization, the test subjects participated in one activity for 30 minutes.
The optional activities were:
- Quiet reading
- Watching TV
- Playing video games
Looking at individual results, there is no clear trend to which activity results in the best short term memory performance.
When results are aggregated, however, you begin to see a trend.
When you combine the results, reading gave the best recall, followed closely by TV, and then video games.
Reading results in the best short term memory with an average of 7.8 words recalled per trial.
This is followed by watching TV with 7.5 words and video games, with 5.6 words.
Following the data gathering, we analyzed whether word length had any effect on recall. We saw that short (3-4 letter words) and long words (7-10 letter words) were recalled with higher accuracy than medium length words (5-6 letter words).
Individual results varied but barring one anomalous result, everyone had better recall at short and long words.
At 5 letters, they recalled 63% of the words, whereas with 8, 9, and 10 letter words they recalled 100%.
Generally, the very short words (3 letters) and the long words (8 and 9 letters) were best recalled.
We also assessed whether certain words in our 10 word memorization list were more commonly recalled. For example, in the 10 word list, were the 1st and 2nd words more commonly remembered than the last word?
It seemed that the recall rate is compared to the word order. Notice that the first word is recalled more often than the rest.
There was a very slightly higher rate of recall of the first word compared to the remainder of the nine words.
But overall, there did not appear to be a significant trend between word order and the likelihood of recall.
Recall rate of first word = 0.85
Average rate of recall = 0.71
Finally, we inspected how people did with repeat attempts. This resulted in a “U” shaped curve for ¾ of our participants.
- Accuracy was high for the first attempt (8 words/trial average)
- Lower results for the second and third attempts
- Gradually started increasing again at attempts 4, 5, and 6.
There seems to be a gradual increase in recall with repeat attempts, with the exception of the first attempt, which is high.
My hypothesis was correct.
- Playing video games following a memorization task had a negative impact on short term memory. Video gaming requires focus, as well as a combination of motor and visual concentration.
- On the other hand, reading and watching TV, require less active participation and allows for improved memory encoding.
Even within our three categories of reading, watching TV, and playing video games, certain types of these activities require more focus and attention.
Sabrina played chess online as her video game,
- Recall result 3.2 words less than her average
Sasha played physics-based games like Crossy Castle and What the Golf?
- Her recall following playing video games improved from her average by 2.2 words.
The TV show watched was ‘Ted Lasso’, which is an inspirational comedy, which was likely quite relaxing for all participants.
- ¾ of participants noted improved recall results between 0.5 - 1.1 words compared to their average (Sasha being the exception, with a minimal decrease of 0.08 words compared to average)
All participants improved with reading
- Exception of Phil, who indicated that the book he was reading was extremely challenging and thought-provoking, which may have contributed to the decline noted there (1.2 words less than average).
Some general trends are noted.
- ¾ participants had better recall than their average with reading.
- ¾ participants had better recall than their average with TV watching.
- ¾ participants had worse recall than their average with playing video games.
My hypothesis regarding word length and recall was erroneous.
- Participants in our study recalled both short and long words well
- Poorer recall of ‘medium’ length words.
Word order did not seem to have a significant impact on recall.
- Slightly improved recall of the very first word of the lists.
Both the short (3 letters) and the long words (7, 8, 9, and 10 letter words) generally resulted in overall excellent recall.
The shorter words are simple and easy to remember.
Also, the longer ones were more complex, or less common in usage, which might make them more unique and easier to remember.
Words of middle length (particularly words with 4, 5, and 6 letters) were relatively poorly recalled.
It also seemed that accuracy improved over time:
- Participants were focused and excited for the first attempt and concentrated more on the memorization task.
- The cohort was less enthused for the subsequent efforts.
Improved recall as subjects repeated the memorization task
- The 2nd and 3rd attempts resulted in the lowest global recall rate of 0.575.
- Consistent increases noted in the 4th, 5th, and 6th attempts.
Improved memorization with repeated attempts
- Likely due to subjects becoming more comfortable with the process
- Developing consistent memorization techniques.
- Memorization techniques began as attempts to organize the words alphabetically, but then evolved into saying the words in a catchy tune or formatting them into a sentence.
For example, with the following ten words, one of the subjects created two sentences:
Suitcase, wedding, key, truth, drink, news, cash, weed, galaxy, summit
News from the galaxy summit: The Suitcase of Truth has been discovered!
The key to a good wedding: drink, weed, and cash.
Finally, we analyzed whether the order of the words had any effect on recall. For example, in the ten word list, were participants more likely to recall the first or the last word?
The first word did have a slightly higher recall rate of about 85% compared to the rest of the words, which averaged around 71%. No significant trend was detected otherwise.
This is reasonable, given that participants presumably scanned the page from top to bottom, and the first word on the page is likely to be most clearly recalled.
Overall, playing a video game immediately following a memorization task results in detrimental effect on recall 30 minutes later. Generally, watching TV and reading are preferable activities to promote accurate recall.
Word length for optimal recall appears to be either very short or very long, while the order of the word in the list does not have a significant impact on recall.
In the real-world setting, these results might be useful for students studying for school or extra-curricular examinations. Following a study session, it might be better to promote recall by engaging in a passive activity such as reading or watching TV rather than playing a video game.
Sources Of Error
If this experiment were repeated, it would be important to have more unbiased parties.
- The kids may have tried extra hard to remember on the video games section
- The same might apply for parents and reading - they likely tried extra hard to recall following reading to show it is a preferable activity over video gaming.
For the reading sections, Phil was reading a very complex novel, and Sabrina was reading legal textbooks. Both require much thought and focus, which may have influenced the results, possibly resulting in a detriment to short-term memory.
Both adults admitted to some fatigue prior to the memorization task.
Blacker, K., & Curby K. (2013). Enhanced visual short-term memory in action video game players. Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics, 75(6): 1128-36. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23709068/
Pavan, A., Hobaek, M, Blurton, S, Contillo, A., Ghin, F., & Greenlee, M. (2019) Visual short-term memory for coherent motion in video game players: evidence from a memory-masking paradigm. Scientific Reports, 9: 6027. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-42593-0
Murphy, K., Andrews, G., & Williams, K. (2012). Does video game playing impact on short-term memory task performance? Psychology Research Progress. Beyond the lab: Applications of cognitive research in memory and learning (p. 1-24). https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2013-06419-001
Liu, S., Kaufmann, C., Christian, L., Ströhle, A., Kuschpel, M., Garbusow, M., Hummel, R., Schad, D., Rapp, M., Heinz, A., Heinzel, S. (2019) Short-term effects of video gaming on brain response during working memory performance. PLoS ONE 14(10): e0223666 https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0223666
Thanks to my mom and dad for the inspiration on the project, and the rest of my family for participating.