A Reasoning Behind An Excuse You Always Use: “In One Ear, Out The Other”

By Taylor Peterson

Finally, out of high school: no more being stuck in the same building for 7 hours every day! Only a few classes every day- how awesome does that sound? Incoming students may think that with only 2 or 3 classes every day instead of 7, it will be so much easier to pay attention the entire class than it was in high school. After the first few weeks you realize, it is just as hard, if not harder. There are still days that you may nod off in class, or days you just stare at the board and have no idea what is going on.

The days that you just listen to the teacher lecture and stare at the board are always the days you may look back at the notes and say, “Was I even in class this day?”. The depth of processing theory explains this feeling you may have every Monday morning or Wednesday after lunch. The information was shallowly encoded into your memory, making it hard to recall ever seeing it before or understanding the content.


Long-term memory is dependent on the ways things are encoded. Encoding is a process where information is collected, transferred, and stored into LTM (1). Some ways of encoding are more efficient than others, therefore some information is stored into LTM better than other information that can be forgotten due to decay.

Depth of Processing

Craik and Tulving gave the participants of their study a list of words. There were one of three different types of questions asked about each word during the experiment in 1975:

  • Structural- the physical appearance of the word.
    • “Is the word in capital letters?”
  • Phonemic- the sounds of a word.
    • “Does it rhyme with ____?”
  • Semantic- the meaning of a word.
    • Does it have a pleasant meaning?”


Both structural and phonemic questions are shallow processes while semantic is a deep process. Shallow processes show little focus to meaning and more towards superficial parts of the word. Deep processes show close attention to the meaning of the word (1). The depth of processing theory indicates that with shallow processing, the word is more likely to be forgotten or decay in memory. The deeper the word is processed, the better the memory and recall will be (3). The phrase, “In one ear, right out of the other” is shown true in this theory. If you do not engage in the word and its meaning, and instead focus on its physical or auditory features, you will not be able to recall the word as well at a later time.

Incidental learning

Incidental learning is not the usual condition experimenters use in their studies, but it was most effective for the DOP experiments. Incidental learning is when one learns through experiences and engaging in material. The key to incidental learning is that the participants are never told that they will need to recall the material they are engaging with (4). Craik and Lockhart chose incidental learning to refrain from the participants using their own recall strategies through the experiment, causing the results to be skewed not be fully dependent on DOP. The results showed that the more the material is engaged with, the deeper the information is processed, and there is a significantly higher rate of recollection (2).

Main Flaws of DOP

The main flaw with DOP is that the reasoning is tautological. The explanation “We know it is deeper processing because it gives better recall” does not have any other reasoning behind it, therefore it is weak and circular (5). Do you know when your parents tell you what to do and their only reasoning is “Because I say so” or “Because I make the rules” …. not a good explanation at all…but you still do whatever they told you to do.

Another flaw is that there is no exact way to measure the “depth”. With constant criticism about this, Craik and Tulving suggested to replace the word “depth” with “elaboration” (4). They said recall functions based off the amount of elaborative encoding of each topic given. Elaborative encoding links the topic with other words or material that relate to that topic. For example, when you think of the words “Dr. Swan” in the deepest, semantic way, different elaborations may be linked to it, such as “cognitive psychologist”, “learning”, “hard tests”, and “smart” (hopefully soon….”extra credit”) that were not shown with the initial words “Dr. Swan”. The semantic questions still result in better retrieval than orthographic or phonemic, the word used to describe it just is easier for people to understand.

Self-referencing effect

Have you ever been told quit being self-centered? Well- DON’T! Now’s your time to shine with the self-referencing effect. Memory is actually encoded better when you relate the word to yourself. T.B. Rogers and coworkers used the same procedure as the DOP experiment, but added a fourth question: Self-Referencing: “Describes you?”. The studied showed that people were 2x more likely to recall the words they had said described them (1). This effect may be because the word is connected to something they know extremely well, therefore will have a lot of very detailed representations in their mind, giving them a higher chance of recalling those specific words. This is extremely useful for studying! If you relate the subject to yourself or a situation that pertains to you, you’re more likely to comprehend the material! So next time your mom tells you, “Not everything is about you”, just tell her that you’re trying your best to remember everything she or anyone else has to say and that’s the best way to get out of it!


Goldstein, E. B., & Hooff, J. C. (2018). Cognitive psychology. Andover: Cengage Learning EMEA.

[Millfield Psychology]. (2014, February 4). Levels of Processing [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykD4APOVLB4

Huitt, W. The Information Processing Approach to Cognition [PDF document].Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Website: http://vulms.vu.edu.pk/Courses/PSY504/Downloads/The%20Information%20Processing%20Approach%20to%20Cognition%20article.pdf

Levels of Processing Theory [PDF document].Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Website: http://www.socialscientist.us/nphs/psychIB/psychpdfs/LevelsofProcessing.pdf

Swan, A. Long Term Memory [PDF document].Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Website: https://brightspace.eureka.edu/d2l/le/content/11195/viewContent/41058/View

4 Replies to “A Reasoning Behind An Excuse You Always Use: “In One Ear, Out The Other””

  1. I definitely agree and relate to this. When i first started college i new it was going hard but it thought the days i had my two or three classes would be an easy day. I was wrong! Good Topic!

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