The Effects of Highlighting on Long-term Memory
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
BAILEY, R. J. (2001). The Effects of Highlighting on Long-term Memory. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved June 27, 2017 .

The Effects of Highlighting on Long-term Memory
RACHEL J. BAILEY
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
ABSTRACT
Highlighting has been studied since Hershberger’s 1964 study. Since that time, educators have been interested in the effects of highlighting on retention. This study looks at the effects of highlighting on long-term memory. Data was collected from 184 general psychology students using a packet containing directions, a reading text, a distracter task, and a questionnaire. The independent variable was whether the text was highlighted or un-highlighted. The dependent variable was the number of questions answered exactly correct, close, but not exactly correct, and wrong. The hypothesis was that recall would increase on the highlighted words and decrease on the un-highlighted words. Results showed that there was a significant interaction between whether the text was highlighted and the number of questions answered exactly correct and close, but not exactly correct. There were more correct responses in the group that received the highlighted text. The highlighting group also had fewer wrong answers to questions about the highlighted text. This suggests that highlighting does effect long-term memory. Further research should look at gender differences and using a different distracter task.

INTRODUCTION
“Study methods such as underlining, note taking, outlining, summarizing, and generating self-questions are the staple of most study skills courses in secondary schools and colleges” (Wade &Trathen, 1989). The topic of highlighting has been studied as early as 1964 by Hershberger. Hershberger (1964) found that highlighting did not increase the learning of enrichment or essential texts. Wade and Trathen (1989) supported Hershberger’s statement when they said, “noting information has almost no effect, independent of importance, on recall of that information.” Both of these studies suggest that by reading pre-highlighting material, recall of that material will not be increased. The hypothesis of this study states that long-term memory will be enhanced by pre-highlighting reading material. Studies (Peterson, 1992; Silvers & Kreiner, 1997) suggest that students have to highlight the material themselves to have an effect on recall. To control for what material is highlighted, this experiment will be conducted with pre-highlighted material. This is also supported by Nist and Hogrebe (1987). The negative effects of highlighting, addressed by Wade and Trathen (1989), will be looked at by comparing the mean number of highlighted questions answered correct to the mean number of un-highlighted questions answered correct. Even though controversy revolves around the validity of the Nelson-Denny Reading Test (Perkins, 1984), a portion of the Comprehension Test will be used for the reading text. Due to the focus of the test, separate questions used to asses memory will be attached. The independent variable for this study is the highlighted key words in a paragraph from the Nelson-Denny Reading Comprehension Test (Brown, Fischo, & Hanna, 1993). As a control, half of the participants were given the same paragraph without any of the words highlighted. The dependent variables are the number of exactly correct, close, but not exactly correct, and wrong responses to questions regarding highlighted and un-highlighted words. The data was compared across the experimental and control groups to see if highlighting produces a significant effect on recall. The purpose of this study is to see if highlighting words in a passage increases the recall of those words over a long period of time. The hypothesis is that recall will increase on the highlighted words and decrease on the un-highlighted words.


METHOD

PARTICIPANTS
Data was collected from 184 participants in four general psychology classes. The classes meet at varying times in the day and week to allow a diverse sample. There was no control for gender or age.

MATERIALS
A packet containing four items was handed to each participant. The first item was a cover statement including directions. The second item was the first paragraph from passage one of the Nelson-Denny Reading Comprehension Test (Brown, Fischo, & Hanna, 1993). Half of the packets contained this paragraph un-highlighted. The passage was typed in 12 point, double-spaced, Times New Roman font. The third page contained a distracter task. The final section of the packet was a questionnaire with ten fill-in-the-blank questions used to asses the participants’ memory of the details in the paragraph.

PROCEDURE
Each participant was handed one of two packets described in the materials section. They were asked to follow all of the directions in the packet and not turn a page back when they have completed that page. Upon completing the packet, the participant raised their hand and the packet was collected.


RESULTS
A 2 x 2 mixed design ANOVA was calculated to examine the effects of the number of exactly correct answers for the type of question (highlighted, un-highlighted) and the group (highlighted, un-highlighted) on scores. A significant group x type of question was present (F(1,168) = 32.204, p < .01). In addition, the main effect for group was significant (F(1,168) = 14.46, p < .01). The main effect for the type of question was significant (F(1,168) = 37.84, p < .01). Upon examination of the data, highlighted material was recalled exactly correct more than un-highlighted material. A 2 x 2 mixed design ANOVA was calculated to examine the effects of the number of close, but not exactly correct, answers for the type of question (highlighted, un-highlighted) and the group (highlighted, un-highlighted) on scores. A significant group x type of question was present (F(1,168) = 3.66, p = .058). In addition, the main effect for group was significant (F(1,168) = 5.13, p < .05). The main effect for type of question was significant (F(1,168) = 24.94, p < .01). Upon examination of the data, highlighted material was recalled close, but not exactly correct, more than un-highlighted material. A 2 x 2 mixed design ANOVA was calculated to examine the effects of number of wrong answers for the type of question (highlighted, un-highlighted) and group (highlighted, un-highlighted) on scores. A significant main effect for group was present (F(1,168) = 5.09, p  .05). There was not a significant interaction or a significant main effect type of question. The group x type of question interaction (F(1,168) = 0.19, p > .05) and the main effect type of question (F(1,168) = 2.79, p > .05) were not significant. Examining the scores indicated that the group did effect the scores, but the type of question did not effect the scores and the number of wrong answers was not effected by the group and type of question interacting.


DISCUSSION
A significance was found between the highlighted group and the un-highlighted group and on the type of question for the number of exactly correct and close, but not exactly correct. The wrong answers to questions that were either highlighted or un-highlighted was only effected by whether the text was highlighted. There were more wrong answers in the un-hilghlighted group and to questions regarding the un-highlighted text than on questions regarding the highlighted text. The hypothesis that recall will increase on the highlighted words and decrease on the un-highlighted words was not rejected. Although studies (Herberger, 1964; Wade &Trathen, 1989) showed that highlighting has no effect on recall, this study does show an effect on recall. Limitations of this study include the dismissal of 14 participants, lack of control for gender, and using pre-highlighted material. The data from 14 participants were thrown out due to the distracter task not being completed. The distracter task was used to promote the use of long-term memory. Without completing the distracter task, it could not be determined if the participant was using their long-term memory. As other studies have indicated (Wade &Trathen, 1989), highlighting studies can be generalized to other methods of noting information in texts. Such generalizations include underlining, outlining, and referencing. A direction for future research includes looking at the difference between male and female recall, allowing the participant to highlight, and using a different distracter task.


REFERENCES
Blake, D & Kreiner, D. (2000). Effect of highlighting versus no highlighting and how it affects memory.Brown, J., Fischo, M., & Hanna, G. (1993.) Nelson-Denny Reading Test, Form H. Chicago, Illinois: Riverside Publishing Co.Hershberger, W. (1964). Self-evaluational responding and typographical cueing: Techniques for programming self-instructional reading materials. Journal of Educational Psychology, 55, 288-296.Nist, S. & Hogrebe, M. (1987). The role of underlining and annotating in remembering textual information. Reading Research and Instruction, 27, 12-25.Perkins, D. (1984). Assessment of the use of the Nelson-Denny Reading Test. Forum For Reading, 15, 64-69.Peterson, S. (1992). The cognitive function of underlining as a study technique. Reading Research and Instruction, 31, 49-56.Silvers, V. & Kreiner, D. (1997). The effects of pre-existing inappropriate highlighting on reading comprehension. Reading Research and Instruction, 36, 217-223.Wade, S. & Trathen, W. (1989). Effect of self-selected study methods on learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 40-47.

Submitted 12/3/2001 8:59:10 PM
Last Edited 1/10/2002 8:19:39 AM
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