Visual-motor Memory Versus Visual Memory for the Recall of the Rey-osterreich Complex Figure Test
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:
FREUDENBERGER, S.E. & CRESCENZO, K.N (2003). Visual-motor Memory Versus Visual Memory for the Recall of the Rey-osterreich Complex Figure Test. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 6. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Visual-motor Memory Versus Visual Memory for the Recall of the Rey-osterreich Complex Figure Test

Sponsored by: DARLENE HOWARD (
Visual-Motor Memory versus Visual Memory for the Recall of the Rey-Osterreich Complex Figure Test: An Example of the Interaction between Type of Memory and Gender on Figure Recall

The purpose of this study was to examine if there was a difference between visual-motor memory and visual memory. 20 Georgetown University students, 10 boys and 10 girls, were given the Rey-Osterreich Complex Figure Test. One treatment condition copied the figure before recall and the other treatment condition visually copied the figure in their mind before recall. The copy treatment subjects scored higher on their recall of the figure than the no copy treatment subjects. There was no difference in the scores based on gender. From these results, visual-motor memory was shown to be more effective than visual memory alone.

Since the ancient Greeks, society has continued to emphasize the importance of memory. Memory profoundly influences all facets of life. Memory capacity differs from one individual to another. In relationship to differences in memory, the compelling question of how to improve one’s memory provides an interesting and desirable topic to be explored. This study compares the effects of visual memory versus visual motor memory on a person’s short-term memory. This study also investigates gender differences between visual memory and visual motor memory. The structure of the brain plays a large role in the construction of different types of memory. Studies have suggested that the movements produced by remembered targets can be attributed to the basal ganglia, whereas movements based on present visual cues are more likely controlled by the cerebellum. It is possible that eye-hand coordination may differ between the movements controlled by the basal ganglia versus those controlled by the cerebellum (van Donkelaar & Staub, 2000). Studies employing the use of functional magnetic resonance imagining have distinguished brain regions in the extrastriate cortex that participate more in perception and visual functions from brain regions in the medial and lateral frontal cortex that participate in more motor control (Haxby, Petit, Ungerleider, & Courtney, 2000). These studies provide biological and structural facts that different regions of the brain maintain different functions of memory. The possibility that visual motor memory may enhance short-term memory better than visual memory alone is supported by evidence that the difference may result from the functioning capabilities of different brain regions. Many researchers have studied the theory that visual motor actions may enhance memory more than visual perception alone. Fernald believes that memory for writing movements may be important in learning to read (1943, Fernald and Keller 1921). By manually tracing around the words as if writing them, children gained a better ability to remember the words, enhancing their reading skills. This method proved to be highly successful and more effective that visualizing the words alone. A study conducted by Berman (1939) following Fernald found that recognition of geometric figures by mentally disabled readers improved by tracing the figure. Compelling evidence that visual motor memory produces higher recall than visual memory is provided in a study conducted by Hulme (1979). The study was conducted with 8-9 years old children. A control group of children only viewed the figures presented on the cards, while a second group traced directly over the figures while viewing the cards. Children who traced the figures remembered the presented figures more accurately than those who only viewed the figures, demonstrating that tracing around forms improved memory. The information acquired through tracing the object defines the object. The motor information can then combine with visual memory resulting in an overall improvement in memory. The most fundamental finding in this study is the evidence that “there are differential effects of the motor interference task on memory for forms that have been traced around compared to those just visually inspected” (Hulme 1979). In our study, the experimental group college students copied the figure with a pen while viewing the figure. This differs from the study conducted by Hulme, which required children to trace the figure with their finger. In this study, the influence of gender on both visual and visual-motor memory is also investigated. Since visual and motor skills are controlled by different parts of the brain, it might be the case that men and women differ in these brain structures producing varying results between the two genders. Klavora and Espositio (2002) investigated the differences between males and females in complex psychomotor tests using complex Dynavision tasks. They found that males did better in all tasks of basic psychomotor abilities, which included hand-eye coordination. The Rey-Osterreith Complex Figure Test (CFT) permits the “assessment of a variety of cognitive processes, including planning, organizational skills, and problem-solving strategies, as well as perceptual, motor, and memory functions” (A Compendium of Neuropsychological Tests, 158). The task is essentially an incidental learning test because there is no warning of the memory component until the subject is asked to recall the figure from memory. Performance on the CFT varies with “both age and intellectual level” (A Compendium of Neuropsychological Tests, 166). In the present study, subjects were given the Rey-Osterreith Complex Figure Test. Half of the participants were asked to visually copy the figure over in their mind. The other half of the participants were asked to manually copy the figure. Those subjects who manually copied the figure were expected to have a higher mean of scores on the recall of the CFT. Males were expected to score higher than females on the CFT.


A 2 × 2 factorial between-subject design was used. One independent variable was the type of copy method. The levels of copy method were whether the participant was told to copy the Rey Complex Figure visually or by motor movements. The copy method was varied between subjects, as participants were assigned to either of the conditions. The second independent variable was gender, which also varied between subjects. The participants were 20 Georgetown University students between the ages of 20 and 21. There were 10 men and 20 women subjects. All subjects gave an informed consent to participate in the study. They were informed that they could terminate participation at any time if they chose, and that their test and outcomes would remain confidential. The subjects were randomly assigned to motor copy or visual copy conditions.

The materials consist of blank pieces of paper, a pen, and the Rey-Osterreith figure. All of these materials were provided to the subject by the researchers.

Depending on the condition, the subjects both copy the Rey Complex Figure directly onto a piece of paper or mentally in their head and then, without prior warning, reproduce it from memory. For the copy trial, a piece of paper with the Rey Complex Figure at the top of it is placed in front of the subject. The instructions that the subjects receive vary depending on the copy condition. For the motor condition, the researcher says: “I would like you to copy the figure as carefully as you can”. For the visual condition, the researcher says: “I would like you to copy the figure in your mind as carefully as you can”. The subject is given a maximum of 5 minutes (there is no minimum time) before they hand back the CFT. Following a 3-minute delay filled with talking, a clean sheet of paper is presented and the researcher says: “Remember a short time ago you saw a figure. I would like you to draw that figure”. There is no time limit on this recall task. After the 3-minute recall task is completed, the time leading up to the 30-minute task is also filled with talking; however, there is no mention of another recall being given. Once it has been 30 minutes after the first administration of the CFT, another clean sheet of paper is presented and the researcher says: “Remember a short time ago you saw a figure. I would like you to draw that figure again”. There is no time limit on this recall task. The CFT’s of all the subjects are then scored.

To score the CFT, the Meyers & Meyers (1995) scoring system was used. The figure is broken down into 18 scoring units. A score of 0, 0.5, 1, or 2 is assigned to each unit of the figure based on accuracy and placement criteria. Unit scores are then summed to obtain the raw score for that drawing. “For each unit of the figure, a score of 2 is assigned if the unit was drawn accurately and placed correctly. A score of 1 is assigned of the unit was drawn accurately or placed correctly. A score of 0.5 is assigned if the unit was drawn inaccurately and was placed incorrectly, but is still recognizable” (Meyers & Meyers, 11). A score of 0 is assigned if the unit was omitted altogether or is not recognizable. Using the Meyers & Meyers scoring system, a drawing is never penalized twice for the same error. The scores for the 3-minute and 30-minute recall for each participant were averaged to get one recall score.

For the scoring of the RCFT, one researcher was a primary scorer and the other researcher second scored a sample of tests. To examine the reliability of scoring, both researchers scored all five female subjects on the copy trial. The correlation between the scores obtained by both researchers was positive. The r-value was statistically significant at the .01 level (r = 0.981, df = 3). This inter-rater reliability value established that there was scoring consistency between both researchers. Therefore, it was decided that only one researcher needed to continue scoring and no second scoring was done. The primary dependent measure was the score that each participant received on the CFT. The mean of the scores for all four cells, and the standard deviations of each, are shown in Table 2. Figure 1 depicts the means of the scores the participants received for the visual and motor conditions. The figure shows the differences in means for males, females, and both genders combined. The means of the motor condition are higher than that of the visual condition for males, females, and combined.

In Table 3, a 2 (Treatment) x 2 (Sex) analysis of variance of these scores yielded only one statistically significant main effect for the treatment condition, F (1,34) = 5.07, p < .031. There was no main effect of gender, F (2,34) = .73, and there was no interaction between treatment and gender, F (2,34) = .04.

The results of this study support the proposed hypothesis that visual-motor memory yields better recall than visual memory alone. Subjects who participated in the motor-condition scored higher overall on the CFT than those who participated in the visual condition. There was no gender difference in scores for either condition; however, we believe this is due to the small sample size of 20 subjects. We suspect that gender differences are so subtle that they are hard to detect without large amounts of data.This study, like all others, contains several flaws. One aspect of our study that would be changed if we were to repeat the experiment would be to increase our sample size to approximately forty subjects. We chose this number because it was twice as many subjects as we used. A problem with this experiment was that we used the average of the 3-minute and 30-minute recall scores. This was done in order to remove another independent variable that would have complicated the reporting of our results. We were also not interested in analyzing the difference in scores for the 3 and 30 minute delays, we were only concerned with having one average score for each participant. This study has limits on its internal validity. Although no subjects were informed about the recall aspect of the CFT, we suspect that some participants assumed they would be asked to reproduce the figure. This demand characteristic could have affected the results of this study because those individuals may have paid closer attention while studying the figure in anticipation of our request for recall. In applying these results to a greater population, one must also be aware of the limits to external validity. The outcome of this experiment may only be valid for 20-year-old Georgetown University students. The results of our study provide additional evidence to the experiment conducted by Humle. In that study, children who traced figures with their fingers showed a significantly higher level of recall for the figures than those who only viewed the figures (1979). Both studies show that recall memory benefits better from visual-motor memory than visual memory. However, our study does not keep with the findings of Klavora and Espositio, which provided support that men do better on visual-motor tasks than women (2002). The overall results maintain our hypothesis that visual-motor memory produces better recall results than visual memory.

Berman, A. (1939). The influence of the kinaesthetic factor in the perception of symbols in partial reading disability. Journal of Educational Psychology, 30, 187-98.

Fernald, F. M. (1943). Remedial Techniques in Basic School Subjects. New York & London: McGraw Hill.

Fernald, G. M. & Keller, H. B. (1921). Effects of kinaesthetic factors in the development of the word recognition I the case of non-readers. Journal of Education Research,4, 355-77.

van Donkelaar, P. & Staub, J. (2000). Eye-hand coordination to visual versus remembered targets. Experimental Brain Research, 133, 414-8.

Hulme, C. (1979). The interaction of visual and motor memory for graphic forms following tracing. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 31, 249-61.

Haxby, J. V., Petit, L., Ungerleider, L, G., & Courtney, S. M. (2000). Distinguishing the functional roles of multiple regions in distributed neural systems for visual working memory. Neuroimage, 11, 380-91.

Klavora, P. & Espositio, J. G. (2002). Sex differences in performance on three novel continuous response tasks. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 95, 49-56.

Meyers, J.E. & Meyers, K.R. (1995). Rey Complex Figure Test and Recognition Trial.Professional Manual. Psychological Assessment Resource, Inc.

Spreen, O. & Strauss, E. A Compendium of Neuropsychological Tests; Administration,Norms, and Commentary. Oxford University Press. New York. 1991.

Data Tables and Graphs

Submitted 2/12/2003 2:53:05 PM
Last Edited 3/29/2003 4:41:10 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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