Transfer Appropriate Processing Evaluation Essay

Transfer-appropriate processing, also referred to as TAP, is a type of state-dependent memory specifically showing that memory performance is not only determined by the depth of processing (where associating meaning with information strengthens the memory; see levels-of-processing effect), but by the relationship between how information is initially encoded and how it is later retrieved.

Further explanation[edit]

Memory will be best when the processes engaged in during encoding match those engaged in during retrieval. Transfer-appropriate processing (TAP) argues that to have memory successfully recalled there needs to be a successful encoding process. There has been an argument among cognitive psychologists that suggests that the encoding process and retrieval processes are substantially similar. In an experiment that tested TAP researchers found this argument to ring true. They found that successful memory retrieval backs up the encoding process, which therefore has a similar effect on both the retrieval and encoding function. This experiment also pointed out that there are certain variables to consider when looking at TAP because they greatly limit the effectiveness of the retrieval and encoding processes. They believed that to change TAP into a broader form, you would have to question whether the two processing forms actually coincide.[1] Also, TAP is an information-processing action that occurs in two stages; the first includes the procedures that should manipulate the information that coincides with the task activity, and the second stage focuses on the experience that the task activity created. Meaning, that we do not process stimuli all at one time, but instead break it down into a series of responses.[2]

History: the beginnings[edit]

  • Dr. Fergus I. M. Craik was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on April 17, 1935. Craik is one of the leading psychologists behind the idea of memory. After attending medical school at the age of 18, Craik found that that was not his true passion. He dropped out of medical school and started studying psychology. He became interested in memory because it was his thesis for graduate school at the University of Liverpool in 1960. Craik's work is heavily influenced by Dr. Treisman's work with information processing. After moving to Toronto, he started working on his now famous paper with Dr. Bob Lockhart explaining "Levels of Processing." Craik went on to work with Dr. Endel Tulving also.[3]
  • Dr. Endel Tulving was born in Estonia on May 26, 1927. At the age of 17, Tulving knew he was interested in pursuing psychology, especially the area of mind and behavior. In 1949, he went to study psychology at the University of Toronto. Tulving went on to gain his PhD from Harvard University after receiving his Honor's and master's degrees in psychology at the University of Toronto. After Harvard, Tulving went back to teach at the University of Toronto. It was there that he met and made history with Craik for their work with memory.[4]

In 1972, Fergus I. M. Craik and Robert S. Lockhart completed studies that went against the idea of multistore theories and were in favor of levels of processing when it comes to the human memory. Craik and Lockhart's studies were some of the first studies completed dealing with Transfer-Appropriate Processing, which is now popular because of their ideas. Craik and Lockhart explained that the theory of multistore had very little evidence when it came to capacity, coding and retention. Instead, they proposed that memory involves level of processing. They concluded that we are always building from what we already know through our senses, patterns, and stimulus. Craik and Lockhart completed 10 experiments where participants processed different words by answering questions about them. Depending on the word, the response could be shallow or deep. After this section of the experiment was complete, participants were asked to randomly recall words. They were able to conclude that participants remembered positive and deeper responses more easily.[5] Next, Craik continued his work with Endel Tulving in 1975. They tested subjects individually for perception and speed. Participants had a word revealed to them for 200 ms. through a tachistoscope. Before exposure, questions were asked about the word. These questions were meant to create shallow or deep reactions about the words for the participants. After this was complete, the participants were then asked questions about the words. After these random questions, the participants were asked to recall the words. It was assumed that deeper level questions would be recalled more often. Through four separate experiments, Craik and Tulving found this to be true.[6]


This phenomenon has been shown by various experiments:

  • One example of this is empirically shown, specifically, in a study by Morris and associates (1977) using semantic and rhyme tasks. In a standard recognition test, memory was better following semantic processing compared to rhyme processing (the levels-of-processing effect). However, in a rhyming recognition test, memory was better for those who engaged in rhyme processing compared to semantic processing.
  • Another experiment done by Haline E. Schendan and Marta Kutas present the neurophysiological evidence for transfer appropriate processing. They verified that memory is best recalled when the situations are very similar to one another. In this experiment two different studies were done. The event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded as a means for information during a memory test. According to this specific study as well as other transfer-appropriate processing accounts, there will be significantly more memory recalled when things are continually grouped together on a perceptual level. Kutas and Schendan showed that there is neurophysiological evidence that if the correct transfer processing of study takes place, then the test experiences will show a difference in memory reactivation. This will occur even if there are some small visual differences within the setting.[7]
  • One experiment done by Patricia A. deWinstanley and Elizabeth Ligon Bjork also shows evidence for transfer appropriate processing. Two different tests were done within this experiment and their objective was to prove multifactor transfer appropriate processing of generation effects. Within this experiment they also focused on the fact that not all of our processing is compatible with one another, and they also hypothesized that comprehending and reading are different in regards to where the individuals' resources are used in the act of processing. The results showed new and truthful evidence for the multifactor transfer appropriate processing model. They also proved the limited processing assumption mentioned earlier; in which states that our processing of one type of information is not always compatible with a differing type of information. This was shown in the cued-recall test in Experiment 2. Once we switch to another information type, our processing may become slow or even stopped. However, when processing the same type of information, our comprehension can increase.[8]
  • Another great experiment done with transfer appropriate processing was one by Michael E. Stiso. It dealt with the role of TAP (transfer-appropriate processing) in the effectiveness of decision-support graphics. The tasks that were presented during the experiment were relatable to real-world tasks done by people each day. The individuals were placed into an air traffic control simulator. During some of the trials, they had decision-support graphics to show things that normally are processed cognitively, such as altitude. The hypothesis behind this experiment is that the individual will process information completely differently when these graphics are present versus when they aren't present. Also, the individual's performance should be the best when they are either shown the graphics during all of their trials or when they aren't shown them at all. It is predicted that the precipitants will perform the worst when they are shown the graphics in some of the trials but not in others. Within this experiment, the thought behind transfer-appropriate processing is that one's ability to remember depends on the length of the overlap in differing types of processing. If an individual has a great amount of overlap in processing, then memory will most likely be greater.[9]
  • Finally, an experiment that shows the effects of Transfer-appropriate Processing is one done by Jeffery J, Franks, Carol W. Bilbrey, Khoo Guatlien, and Timothy P, McNamara. Once again, TAP is interconnected with memory. In this specific study, transfer-appropriate processing is analyzed with its effects on first and second exposure to various items, and it is shown throughout 13 experiments. The idea that individuals will perform better on tasks that they have had previous exposure to is one of the main forums behind TAP.[10]


Although this theory has many experiments backing up its reliability, many researchers are questioning the levels of processing that TAP seems to fall into. The levels of processing have been under speculation for the fact that they seem untestable and unfalsifiable. They argue that these processing effects are "circular" in the sense that deep processing can be considered as just better remembering. They believe that much of the questionability of the processing effects lies between the encoding specificity principle and TAP. The researchers argue that these processing systems function much like Darwin's natural selection theory in that the "fitness" of a species and the "depth of processing" in the levels of processing cannot fully predict the final outcome, meaning the survival and retrievability of the species or the information processed. They have found that TAP is still vulnerable to this same type of circularity because it lacks a precise and definite definition. Basically, TAP can only be identified as happening only AFTER retrieval has occurred. Roediger and Gallo argue that after 30 years of research, they still cannot identify why or how we get the typical levels-of-processing effect. However, they still believe that even with these doubts that memory retrieval can be studied and subjected to experiments with "specified" retrieval conditions. Therefore, the levels-of-processing effect that TAP falls under supports that the "greater survival" of deep processing most likely occurs, which means that if they had any doubts about transfer-appropriate processing, they should consider the fact that retrieval has more of a range than a semantic processing theory would support, and more than likely thrive and survive.[11]


An example of TAP can be compared to the theory of natural selection presented by Darwin in the section above. This means that if a certain species is "fitter" than the other species, then that fitter species is more likely to continue to adapt to future environmental situations. Lockhart, who refers to this phenomenon, suggests that if a rabbit and a koala were compared that a rabbit would thrive and survive in many environments whereas the koala has worked itself into a "narrow ecological niche". This means the rabbit would excel at surviving because it has a wider range of flexible qualities. Of course it could be argued that there would be certain areas that the koala would thrive in, but they are not as numerous as the survival qualities of the rabbit.[12]


  • Goldstein, E. B. (2008). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (2nd ed.). Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth.
  • Morris, C. D.; Bransford, J. D.; Franks, J. J. (1977). "Levels of processing versus transfer appropriate processing". Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior. 16: 519–533. doi:10.1016/s0022-5371(77)80016-9. 
  1. ^Neil W. Mulligan & Jeffrey P. Lozito (January 2007). "An asymmetry between memory encoding and retrieval. Revelation, Generation, and Transfer-Appropriate Processing". Psychological Science. 17: 7–11. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01657.x. PMID 16371137. 
  2. ^Chris Janiszewski & Elise Chandon (May 2007). "Transfer-Appropriate Processing, Response Fluency, and the Mere Measurement Effect"(PDF). Journal of Marketing Research: 309–323. Retrieved October 3, 2012. 
  3. ^University of Toronto. "Biography of Dr. Fergus Craik". Worth Publishers. Retrieved 25 October 2012. 
  4. ^University of Toronto. "Biography of Dr. Endel Tulving". Worth Publishers. Retrieved 25 October 2012. 
  5. ^Fergus I.M. Craik & Robert S. Lockhart (December 1972). "Levels of processing: A framework for memory research". Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior. 11 (6): 671–684. doi:10.1016/S0022-5371(72)80001-X. Retrieved 11 October 2012. 
  6. ^Craik, Fergus I. M.; Tulving, Endel (September 1975). "Depth of processing and the retention of words in episodic memory"(PDF). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 104 (3): 268–294. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.104.3.268. Archived from the original(pdf) on 2013-10-19. Retrieved 11 October 2012. 
  7. ^Haline E. Schendan & Marta Kutas (2007). "Neurophysiological evidence for transfer appropriate processing of memory: Processing versus feature similarity"(PDF). Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 14: 612–619. doi:10.3758/bf03196810. Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  8. ^Patricia A. deWinstanley & Elizabeth Ligon Bjork (May 1997). "Processing Instructions and the Generation Effect: A Test of the Multifactor Transfer-appropriate Processing Theory". Memory. 5 (3): 401–422. doi:10.1080/741941392. Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  9. ^Stiso, Michael E. "The Role of Transfer-Appropriate Processing in the Effectiveness of Decision-Support Graphics"(PDF). Dissertation. Retrieved 8 October 2012. 
  10. ^Jeffery J. Franks; Carol W. Bilbrey; Khoo Guatlien & Timothy P. McNamara (2000). "Transfer-appropriate processing and repetition priming"(PDF). Memory & Cognition. 28: 1140–1151. doi:10.3758/BF03211815. Retrieved 8 October 2012. 
  11. ^Lockhart, Robert S. (2002). "Levels of processing, transfer-appropriate processing, and the concept of robust encoding". Memory. 10: 397–403. doi:10.1080/09658210244000225. Retrieved 8 October 2012. 
  12. ^Lockhart, Robert S. (2002). "Levels of processing, transfer-appropriate processing, and the concept of robust encoding". Memory. 10: 397–403. doi:10.1080/09658210244000225. Retrieved 8 October 2012. 

Since some people are still doing exams,  I’m sharing another academic essay. This one I wrote as a seminar essay with an essay question taken from David Shanks’ PSYC3207 Human Learning & Memory. It’s a great module that I took in my third year of my BSc Psychology at UCL. I believe other degree students can take it as an optional module as well, so if you’re interested in memory and cognitive science at all and have the chance to take it, do consider it. For anyone else – don’t bother reading this tedious academic drivel (that I love so much).

Essay question: Evaluate the levels of processing theory of memory.

According to the levels of processing (LOP) theory of short-term episodic memory, recall of incoming information improves the deeper the information is processed (Craik & Lockhart, 1972). With regards to linguistic information, processing meaning (semantics) is deeper than processing structure (e.g. grammar, graphemics).  This essay will examine the evidence for and against the LOP theory and evaluate its account of the memory system. The theory has been convincingly supported by studies demonstrating that semantically processing words leads to longer retention than shallower processing of grammar, critically with rehearsal ruled out as a factor. However, a strong LOP account has been disputed as there is evidence of transfer appropriate processing (TAP). It is concluded that depth of processing does influence recall of information, but that recall is additionally modified by the encoding and testing conditions.

Studies of incidental learning tasks suggest that deeper encoding of word stimuli facilitate subsequent test recall in the absence of rehearsal. Clark and Tulving (1975) presented participants with a series of words and manipulated the type of decision they were to make on each word. In order of increasing depth of processing, participants were to make structural decisions (e.g. whether the word was in capital letters); phonemic decisions (e.g. whether the word rhymed with a specific word); and semantic decisions (e.g. whether the word would fit in a specific sentence). The participants then underwent either a recognition test or a recall test. They were either informed (intentional learning condition) or uninformed about the test (incidental learning condition) from the start of the experiment. Regardless of test type, it was found that memory was better when the meaning of words was encoded than when structure was encoded. This finding was particularly strong, as Craik and Tulving strictly controlled for a number of potentially confounding factors, including “nominal identity of items, preexperimental associations among items, intralist similarity, frequency, recency, instructions to “learn” the materials” and “the amount and duration of interpolated activity”. Hence, only the level of meaning of the stimuli was manipulated. However, there is ambiguity in the definition of “depth”: it was found that the semantic decision task was more time-consuming than the structural decision task. Recall for semantically encoded words was still superior in an experiment where the structural task was more time-consuming (“Is the word brain a CCVVC word?”), however, the conclusions are limited, as time of processing cannot independently measure depth. Nevertheless, Craik and Tulving rigidly established an effect of depth on memory.

Depth of encoding processes as well as rehearsal of information may both influence recall. Crucially, Craik and Tulving found no difference between learning conditions, suggesting rehearsal of the material does not further facilitate recall – otherwise recall would be superior in the intentional learning condition. However, another study disputed the negligent effect of rehearsal: Maki and Schuler (1980) examined the effect of both depth of encoding (i.e. a letter, rhyme or semantic cue) and rehearsal time during a task whereby participants searched word lists for a target word according to the given cue. Although there was an effect of encoding depth, there was an additional effect of rehearsal, whereby longer rehearsal led to better retention. This is contrary to the LOP theory. A limitation of the study was that amount of rehearsal was indirectly inferred from the target word’s position in the word list. Hence, it is not entirely clear whether all participants did rehearse earlier words more than later words. It is nevertheless suggested that depth is not the only facilitating factor of memory.

Examining the spacing effect can help resolve the ambiguity of rehearsal as a facilitator for memory. The spacing effect refers to the finding that spacing out repeated practice sessions of encoded information is more beneficial for memory compared to “massing” the encoding into a single session (e.g. Seabrook, Brown & Solity, 2005). This can be due to spaced information being either rehearsed or processed more deeply than massed information. To resolve this, Challis (1993) conducted a modified experiment similar to Craik and Tulving’s, including both an intentional and an incidental learning condition. In the latter, information was encoded by either semantics (e.g. pleasantness of word) or graphemics (e.g. count ascending and descending letters). After either spaced or massed stimuli presentations, participants were given a graphemically cues recall test. The spacing effect was found in the intentional and incidental-semantic conditions, but not in the incidental-graphemic condition. Similarly to Craik and Tulving’s study, then, rehearsal did not explain the results as incidental learning took place. Indeed, as there was a benefit for semantic encoding, the results supported the LOP account. Challis’ experiment was particularly strong as the design succeeded in distinguishing between the potential effects of rehearsal and depth of processing on an established memory-facilitating effect. This allowed for stronger conclusions to be reached as to the dominating influence of depth.

Eliminating an effect of rehearsal, evidence that depth is not the only factor determining recall has nevertheless been found by support for the TAP account. TAP assumes that recall of information is optimised when the mental processes that occur during encoding match those that occur during retrieval. This is important to consider, as depth at encoding can only be an unambiguous factor provided the type of memory test is irrelevant. Morris, Bransford and Franks (1977) conducted a study similar to that of Craik and Tulving, extended with a critical manipulation: in a second memory test participants were to determine whether a cue word rhymed with a study word. It was found that recall was best for the study words in the rhyme encoding condition than in the deeper, semantic encoding condition. This suggests that it is crucial that the mental operations performed upon stimuli presentation transfer appropriately to the mental operations performed during stimuli retrieval. It should be noted, however, that the overall data indicated an advantage for the semantic study/semantic test condition over the rhyme study/rhyme test condition. The interacting effects of both depth of processing and processing match between study and test therefore remain unclear. Regardless, that shallower processing can sometimes lead to superior recall disputes a strict LOP account.

Considering the difficulty of the recall tests may resolve some of the conflicting implications of the TAP and LOP theories. In Morris et al.’s experiment, there was a significant main effect of retrieval test, whereby the rhyme test was deemed more difficult than the standard yes/no recognition test. This was largely due to the use of novel words in the former and already studied words in the latter. However, there was no significant main effect of encoding task, when – according to the TAP account -, there should be a difference. This highlights a limitation of Morris et al.’s study as they misinterpreted an effect of recall test as an effect of encoding. Marmurek (1995) sought to correct this by an improved replication of the Morris et al. study: at test, participants were presented an unstudied cue word and asked if it related either semantically or by rhyme to a study word that was encoded either by semantics or rhyme. This was a stronger method as all words at test were novel. A main effect of encoding task was established, demonstrating that when test difficulty is controlled for, depth of processing determines recall independently of test type. This supports the LOP theory. It is possible, however, that whether or not there is a clear LOP effect depends directly on the type of test: in a yes/no recognition test, memory was better for words encoded more deeply; whereas in a perceptual identification test presenting both target and new words, memory was better for words encoded more shallowly (Jacoby, 1983). This implies that encoding by shallow reading engages the same mental processes as perceptually identifying words at a later test; and contrastingly, that deeper encoding by generating words engages the same mental processes as recognising words. Thus, rather than merely the depth of a learning procedure providing either good or poor recall, the type of processing at encoding and retrieval – and in particular the match between the two – is what determines whether or not depth affects recall.

In conclusion, the LOP theory of short-term episodic memory is subject to modifying factors such as TAP. Evidence in favour of the LOP theory has been found in experiments which have successfully ruled out rehearsal of stimulus as a confounding factor. There are thus robust demonstrations of better recall the deeper the information is encoded, in particular when test difficulty is controlled for. Importantly, however, depth of processing is not the only factor: the effect of depth is overruled if the mental processes at retrieval appropriately match the mental processes at encoding. A strong LOP account can therefore be discarded. It remains unclear to what extent modifying factors such as TAP, as well as factors not considered here, mediate the effect of depth. There have been some neurophysiological studies finding enhanced activity in the left inferior prefrontal cortex for deep encoding, but not for shallow encoding (Kapur et al., 1994). Perhaps further investigation into the neural correlates of levels of processing and encoding may help resolve the validity of the LOP theory.


Challis, B.H. (1993). Spacing effects on cued-memory tests depend on level of processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 19, 389-396.

Craik, F.I.M., & Lockhart, R.S. (1972). Levels of processing: a framework for memory research. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11, 671-684.

Craik, F.I.M., & Tulving, E. (1975). Depth of processing and the retention of words in episodic memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 104, 268-294.

Jacoby, L.L. (1983). Remembering the data: analyzing interactive processes in reading. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior. 

Kapur, S., Craik, F.I.M., Tulving, E., Wilson, A.A., Houle, S., & Brown, G.M. (1994). Neuroanatomical correlates of encoding in episodic memory: levels of processing effect. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 91, 2008-2011.

Maki, R.H., & Schuler, J. (1980). Effects f rehearsal duration and level of processing on memory for words. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 19, 36-45.

Marmurek, H.H.C. (1995). Encoding, retrieval, main effects and interactions: were

Lockhart and Craik (1990) on the level? Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 49, 174-190.

Morris, C.D., Bransford, J.D., and Franks, J.J. (1977). Levels of processing versus transfer appropriate processing. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 16, 519-533.

Seabrook, R., Brown, G.D.A., & Solity, J.E. (2005). Distributed and massed practice: from laboratory to classroom. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19, 107-122. 

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