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Does Speak Aloud Help Form Better Memory?

November 24th, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

Do you still remember the bedtime stories your parents read for you when you were little? Well, most of us jdad-bedtime_2817042bust have a vague impression about what was told. Even if we read the story by ourselves, we are unlikely to remember much. However, it is not the same case for our parents: they are likely to remember very much about story, even specific details such as the characters and how you felt about them. Now think back again, comparing the textbook you read aloud for the class in the morning and a message on your cell phone that you read ten minutes ago, which one do you remember better? In my personal experience, I found it easier to recall the sentences from the book rather than the text message. This raises the question: is there a relationship between how people read information and how much is actually remembered?


It turns out that ways of speaking do associate with memory formation: reading aloud repeatedly can boost verbal memory- a type of memory that involves words and their meanings in the language. Moreover, when people read aloud while addressing another person, the improvement can be even more obvious. In a recent study conducted by Alexis Lafleur and Victor Boucher, they investigated whether different reading styles affect people’s memory of the material. More specifically, they were focusing on different types of knowledge we may encounter: not only the meaningful words we speak everyday, but also many other so-called “non-words”- words that are formed with basic rules of combining sound but without any meaning. “Mundy” for instance, is a non-word that we can actually pronounce, but it does not have any meaning. Their assumption was that task performance on a memory test would be influenced by how the test materials were spoken and that speak aloud while gazing at another person would help people form the memories with meanings better, but in the case of novel forms (non-words), gazing or not does not make remarkable difference.


In order to understand this study fully, we need to learn how people’s language system works, especially when people are communicating. In general, the goal of language system is to convey meaning. There are two representations that are important for conveying meaning: surface structure and the semantic meaning. Surface structure is the sound or sound wave that actually goes into our ears, while semantic content is the meaning of a sentence or simply a word. In between them there is another step called syntax, which basically means how we organize sentences or how we combine words. In the whole process of speaking, the speaker may use syntax to form the original sentence in a completely new way, such as paraphrasing, while conveying the same meaning. This process helps people learn the material deep in semantic level and is one of the possibilities that might explain why speak with another person improves our memory of the material.


The study by Lafleur and Boucher explains how oro-sensory (the feeling when speaking) feedback enhances memory of spoken forms, with the results from the previous studies that repeating words aloud helps form a better memory than study the words silently. However, there are few studies focused on the effectiveness of production effect- the improvement of recollection- when the words are mouthed rather than read aloud. In this study, the participants were divided into four groups: repeating the items they see in their head (non-speaking group), repeating silently while moving their lips (lip-synch group), repeating aloud while looking at the screen (self-speaking group), and repeating aloud while addressing someone (other-speaking group).


Speaking_English (1)In the study, the researchers asked the participants to read a series of words on a screen. The participants, under four different groups, were also asked to wear a headphone with white noise playing at a high volume so that they cannot hear their own voices, thereby eliminating auditory feedback. Then the participants would perform a distraction task and finally take a monitoring test by identifying whether any of the words in a list match the ones they read before. There are also some words in the list that had not been shown. In a second experiment, the researchers set everything same as the first one except that the words were switched into non-words.


The results of this experiment showed that, when recalling actual words, participants who repeated the item out loud while addressing someone had a much higher response rate than any other group. Moreover, the “lip-synch” group performed significantly better than the group that was asked to “imagine repeating the word in their head”. Nonetheless, when it comes to non-words, the final data showed no difference between various experimental conditions. This might be explained  by that non-words cannot be transferred into semantic contents in memory and therefore would not be stored in the same way as the words with actual meaning.


In sum, the findings from this study extend our knowledge about increasing memory effectiveness. As college students, most of us tend to just read our textbooks silently, even reading aloud seems very rare. According to the study, however, we will have a much more reliable memory if we can find a friend and read or explain the materials to him or her. Even when some conditions, such as in a quiet library, restrict you from reading aloud to someone, try to move your lips since it is still better than reading in mind!


To read the original paper, click here.

For more related blogs, click here and here.



Lafleur, A., Boucher, V.J. (2014). The ecology of self-monitoring effects on memory of verbal productions: Does speaking to someone make a difference? Consciousness and Cognition, 36, 139-146. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2015.06.015

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  1. December 8th, 2015 at 10:35 | #1

    I am always interested in new study techniques, so this article is extremely compelling. I remember in elementary and middle school my classmates and I would often take turns reading aloud to the entire class. I had never thought of it as a way to better remember the information, but this article suggests that it does! Although the current research proposes that this is the case for those doing the reading, it would be interesting if reading along in one’s own head while listening to someone else read aloud (like in audiobooks) would also benefit memory for the information.
    I wonder if one of the drivers of this effect is the additional sensory information provided. There is an input of visual information from reading the words as well as sensorimotor input from mouthing or speaking the words. I would have been interested to see if an additional condition in which the participants heard themselves speak would have facilitated memory even more by adding yet another (auditory) input. Having multiple sensory inputs may enhance encoding by providing more memory traces for the information. If the trace from one area of sensory input was to decay, the other may still be present allowing the information to be retrieved.
    This article also mentions that speaking to a person facilitates memory for the information. This highlights the overlap between cognitive and social psychology. In our discussion on false memories, we discussed the ways that social interaction can be detrimental to memory in such cases of suggestibility and leading questions; however this study provides data highlighting the benefits of social interaction to memory. I would be interested to see what other ways social contact facilitates memory.

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