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Craik And Tulving 1975 Evaluation Essay

Levels of Processing

Saul McLeod published 2007

The levels of processing model (Craik and Lockhart, 1972) focuses on the depth of processing involved in memory, and predicts the deeper information is processed, the longer a memory trace will last.

Craik defined depth as:

"the meaningfulness extracted from the stimulus rather than in terms of the number of analyses performed upon it.” (1973, p. 48)

Unlike the multi-store model it is a non-structured approach. The basic idea is that memory is really just what happens as a result of processing information. Memory is just a by-product of the depth of processing of information, and there is no clear distinction between short term and long term memory.

Therefore, instead of concentrating on the stores/structures involved (i.e. short term memory & long term memory), this theory concentrates on the processes involved in memory.

We can process information in 3 ways:

Shallow Processing

- This takes two forms

1. Structural processing (appearance) which is when we encode only the physical qualities of something.  E.g. the typeface of a word or how the letters look.

2. Phonemic processing – which is when we encode its sound.

Shallow processing only involves maintenance rehearsal (repetition to help us hold something in the STM) and leads to fairly short-term retention of information. 

This is the only type of rehearsal to take place within the multi-store model.

Deep Processing

- This involves

3. Semantic processing, which happens when we encode the meaning of a word and relate it to similar words with similar meaning.

Deep processing involves elaboration rehearsal which involves a more meaningful analysis (e.g. images, thinking, associations etc.) of information and leads to better recall.

For example, giving words a meaning or linking them with previous knowledge.


Levels of processing: The idea that the way information is encoded affects how well it is remembered.  The deeper the level of processing, the easier the information is to recall.

Key Study: Craik and Tulving (1975)


To investigate how deep and shallow processing affects memory recall.


Participants were presented with a series of 60 words about which they had to answer one of three questions.  Some questions required the participants to process the word in a deep way (e.g. semantic) and others in a shallow way (e.g. structural and phonemic). For example:

Structural / visual processing: ‘Is the word in capital letters or small letters?
Phonemic / auditory processing: ‘Does the word rhyme with . . .?’
Semantic processing: ‘Does the word go in this sentence . . . . ?

Participants were then given a long list of 180 words into which the original words had been mixed. They were asked to pick out the original words.


Participants recalled more words that were semantically processed compared to phonemically and visually processed words.


Semantically processed words involve elaboration rehearsal and deep processing which results in more accurate recall.  Phonemic and visually processed words involve shallow processing and less accurate recall.

Real Life Applications

This explanation of memory is useful in everyday life because it highlights the way in which elaboration, which requires deeper processing of information, can aid memory. Three examples of this are.

Reworking – putting information in your own words or talking about it with someone else.

Method of loci – when trying to remember a list of items, linking each with a familiar place or route.

Imagery – by creating an image of something you want to remember, you elaborate on it and encode it visually (i.e. a mind map).

The above examples could all be used to revise psychology using semantic processing (e.g. explaining memory models to your mum, using mind maps etc.) and should result in deeper processing through using elaboration rehearsal

Consequently more information will be remembered (and recalled) and better exam results should be achieved.

Critical Evaluation


The theory is an improvement on Atkinson & Shiffrin’s account of transfer from STM to LTM. For example, elaboration rehearsal leads to recall of information than just maintenance rehearsal.

The levels of processing model changed the direction of memory research. It showed that encoding was not a simple, straightforward process. This widened the focus from seeing long-term memory as a simple storage unit to seeing it as a complex processing system.

Craik and Lockhart's ideas led to hundreds of experiments, most of which confirmed the superiority of 'deep' semantic processing for remembering information. It explains why we remember some things much better and for much longer than others.

This explanation of memory is useful in everyday life because it highlights the way in which elaboration, which requires deeper processing of information, can aid memory.


Despite these strengths, there are a number of criticisms of the levels of processing theory:

• It does not explain how the deeper processing results in better memories.

• Deeper processing takes more effort than shallow processing and it could be this, rather than the depth of processing that makes it more likely people will remember something.

• The concept of depth is vague and cannot be observed. Therefore, it cannot be objectively measured.

Eysenck (1990) claims that the levels of processing theory describes rather than explains. Craik and Lockhart (1972) argued that deep processing leads to better long-term memory than shallow processing. However, they failed to provide a detailed account of why deep processing is so effective.

However, recent studies have clarified this point - it appears that deeper coding produces better retention because it is more elaborate. Elaborative encoding enriches the memory representation of an item by activating many aspects of its meaning and linking it into the pre-existing network of semantic associations.

Later research indicated that processing is more complex and varied than the levels of processing theory suggests. In other words, there is more to processing than depth and elaboration.

For example, research by Bransford et al. (1979) indicated that a sentence such as, 'A mosquito is like a doctor because both draw blood' is more likely to be recalled than the more elaborated sentence, 'A mosquito is like a racoon because they both have head, legs and jaws'. It appears that it is the distinctiveness of the first sentence which makes it easier to remember - it's unusual to compare a doctor to a mosquito. As a result, the sentence stands out and is more easily recalled.

Another problem is that participants typically spend a longer time processing the deeper or more difficult tasks. So, it could be that the results are partly due to more time being spent on the material. The type of processing, the amount of effort & the length of time spent on processing tend to be confounded. Deeper processing goes with more effort and more time, so it is difficult to know which factor influences the results.

The ideas of 'depth' and 'elaboration' are vague and ill defined (Eysenck, 1978).  As a result, they are difficult to measure. Indeed, there is no independent way of measuring the depth of processing.  This can lead to a circular argument - it is predicted that deeply processed information will be remembered better, but the measure of depth of processing is how well the information is remembered.

The levels of processing theory focuses on the processes involved in memory, and thus ignores the structures. There is evidence to support the idea of memory structures such as STM and LTM as the Multi-Store Model proposed (e.g. H.M., serial position effect etc.). Therefore, memory is more complex than described by the LOP theory.


Bransford, J. D., Franks, J. J., Morris, C.D., & Stein, B.S.(1979). Some general constraints on learning and memory research. In L.S. Cermak & F.I.M. Craik(Eds.), Levels of processing in human memory (pp.331–354). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum AssociatesInc.

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.

Eysenck, M. W. & Keane, M. T. (1990). Cognitive psychology: a student's handbook, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Ltd., Hove, UK.

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2007). Levels of processing. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/levelsofprocessing.html

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Evaluating The Levels Of Processing Theory

Evaluating the Levels of Processing Theory

The levels of Processing theory was put forward in 1972 by Craik and
Lockhart. This theory came about after they criticised the Multi-store
model of memory saying it was too simplistic and descriptive rather
that actually explaining the model. This theory was an alternative to
the Multi-store model as it replaces the idea of Short term and Log
term memory. Levels of processing theory believes that information can
be processed at different levels at the same time. The deeper the
information is processed, the more likely it will be remembered.

There was a case of a man name KF and he had damage to the occipital
parietal lobe so he had damaged a part of his brain which meant that
he no longer had a short term memory as he could not process
information in it, however, he was still able to store information in
his long term memory. This does not account in the Multi-store model
and it was realised that there must e another route to the long term
memory. It was after this Craik and Lockhart put forward their Levels
of Processing theory. In their theory, they stated that rehearsal was
not enough and the Multi-store model was far too simplistic and the
depth of the information and what you do with it also affects your
memory. The depth of the information go from shallow to deep
processing. The levels are made up of structural processing which are
upper and lower class letters, Phonetic or sound processing which are
rhyming words and lastly semantic processing which is about the
meanings of the words. The experiment done in our lesson was about
different types of processing. Results of that showed that the
semantic processing was the one that we had processed the deepest as
we had to actually recognise and process the words into our long term
memory, and not just based on the appearance of the word. When
information is first processed, it goes to the sensory memory....

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