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Influence of Position on Encoding and Recall

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This study explores the encoding of words and letters with regard to the visual field they were presented in, with the investigation into two prominent theories, the scanning theory, and cerebral dominance theory. An observational task which showed two letters in the centre of a desktop PC with one letter slightly to the left and the other to the right with a red dot in-between for the individual to focus on. The accuracy was measured by the total of letters/words that were correctly recalled. The results found that accuracy of recalling a single letter was higher on the left however for mirror-reversed letters and words a ccuracy was higher on the right. Thus, highlighting that reading direction was necessary for the recalling of letters however left cerebral dominance was found when the individual had to process the letters or words.

Cognitive encoding is the process of converting information from working memory into a long-term memory a process that occurs on a daily basis (Buckner, Logan, & Wheeler, 2000). Encoding relies heavily on the prefrontal lobes of the brain; however, the left and right sides have differing roles (Tulving, et, al. 1994).

This current study will focus on the accuracy of encoding letters and words presented in both visual fields. There has been debate about whether the position of stimuli in our visual field influences encoding and our ability to retrieve these memories (Holcombe, Nguyen, & Goodbourn, 2017). As the result of the investigation into these concepts, two major theories have arisen. The first theory, the ‘scanning’ or left bias theory suggests that encoding will be more accurate when the stimulus is presented in the left visual field (LVF) (Holcombe, Nguyen, & Goodbourn, 2017). This left bias was explicitly explored by Asanowicz, Śmigasiewicz, and Verleger (2013) suggesting that the reading direction of the individual contributes to this bias as they will subconsciously scan from left to right as they would when reading (Asanowicz, Śmigasiewicz, & Verleger, 2013). However, limitations and inconsistencies have been identified including second-target deficit and the use of only one form of stimuli (Asanowicz, Śmigasiewicz, & Verleger, 2013).In contrast, the cerebral dominance theory suggests due to the left hemisphere of the brain (which receives its information from the right visual field (RVF)) being responsible for language and logic, letters and words presented on the right will be recalled more accurately (Sheremata & Shomstein, 2014). Both theories were investigated comparably by Holcombe, Nguyen, and Goodbourn (2017), through the use of letters presented for 0.5 seconds in both visual fields. Both approaches contribute to the scientific community through their research on the influence of visual field on encoding; thus, this study aims to supplement these investigations and provide supporting evidence. This current study will also go beyond the use of just letters as a stimulus and incorporate both words and letters, similar to Goodbourn and Holcombe (2015) who used uppercased letters presented for 50 milliseconds (Goodbourn & Holcombe, 2015). However, differing to this study, also considered whether participants were right or left handed (Goodbourn & Holcombe, 2015).

A left bias was also found in the following studies; Asanowicz, Śmigasiewicz, and Verleger (2013); Holcombe, Nguyen, and Goodbourn (2017); and Isseroff, Carmon, and Nachshon (1974) all studies implementing similar methods to this study. Moreover, this leads us to hypothesize that participants will have higher accuracy when recalling the stimulus in the LVF when compared to the stimulus in the RVF. ResultsFor letters canonically orientated the accuracy for the letters in the left position was higher than those in the right position (p-value = 0.0021), table 1. For letters that were mirror-reversed and presented on the left and right showed higher accuracy for the letter in the right position compared to the left (p-value= 0.0065). Words (3 letters) with canonical orientation, positioned left and right, showed higher accuracy for the words in the right position than words in the left position (p-value = 0.0094)


The results for letters presented canonically support our hypothesis that recalling the letter on the left will be more accurate than that on the right. However, the results for the words and mirror-reversed letters are in support of the cerebral dominance theory as the stimuli on the right were recalled more accurately than the left. Moreover, this leads us to conclude that reading direction was supported for letters but left cerebral dominance is shown to be more critical when processing words and distorted letters (Holcombe, Nguyen, & Goodbourn, 2017). Our results correspond with Asanowicz, Śmigasiewicz, & Verleger (2013) who found a clear LVF advantage when individuals were presented with stimuli in both visual fields, however, our results didn’t provide a conclusion as clear (Asanowicz, Śmigasiewicz, & Verleger, 2013). The difference in results can be attributed to the stimuli used. Asanowicz, Śmigasiewicz, & Verleger (2013) conducted four experiments using faces, shapes, letters, and digits rather than just letters and words, multiple may be implemented in future studies to futher our understanding (Asanowicz, Śmigasiewicz, & Verleger, 2013).

Our results also corresponded to an extent with Sheremata & Shomstein, (2014) however differences can be accredited to the participants used, since Sheremata & Shomstein, (2014) used a sample group of 12 females, which largely contrasts to our sample group of over 700 students (Sheremata & Shomstein, 2014). Thus, this allows our study and findings to contribute to the scientific community by acting as additional support for many past studies and as a reference for future studies.Despite our results being supportive of the scanning theory, there are several limitations. Some of these limitations lie with our participation group since the participants were comprised of students, some may not have been motivated to complete the study, which can confound our results. These students also came from a large variety of backgrounds some not having English as their first language, which may have made it difficult to process the words and letters again confounding our results. Additionally, students weren’t restricted in terms of eye movements or distance from the screen which may influence the results.

For example, Holcombe, Nguyen, & Goodbourn, (2017) employed a chinrest to maintain a 57cm viewing distance from the screen adding reliability and consistency to their results (Holcombe, Nguyen, & Goodbourn, 2017). The incorporation of an eye motion tracker or chinrests in our future studies as well a mix of participants from an extensive range of occupational backgrounds should be used in future studies to add reliability and validity to the results. Additionally, to further this study it would be interesting to investigate the effect of age or early life environment, more explicitly people who can’t read compared to people who can.To conclude our results are supportive of the hypothesis however also suggest the dominance of the left hemifield in the interpretation and processing of letters and words.

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Influence Of Position On Encoding And Recall. (2019, August 08). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 23, 2021, from
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