Ideas for Internal Assessment

This is by no means a definitive list of all the topics that students could choose to explore in their internal assessment. Students should choose something that they clearly understand and is easy to replicate.

Memory studies

Imagery vs rehearsal: participants recall more words from a (20) word list when they use an imagery method (forming a vivid mental image and linking each item to the last in a dynamic fashion) than if they use either rehearsal (repeat each item until you hear the next) or no particular method (no prior instruction). Bower (1967); Paivio (1971)

Loftus and Palmer (1974); Loftus and Zanni (1975). Participants asked how fast cars were going when they ‘smashed’ into each other, after viewing a car accident, report greater speeds than do participants asked the speed when they ‘hit’ each other.

Does background music impair memory? (e.g. Perham & Vizard 2010).

The role of colour on testing. Each had the same set of questions, but one was red and the other was blue. Because red is a danger signal, it has been shown to make people score worse on intelligence tests (Journal of Experimental Psychology)

The use of chunking. Based on Miller’s original research. Click here for more information.

Exercise and memory. Does taking a exercise prior to memorizing a list of words help one to remember more? Etnier & Labban (2011)

Highlighting vs. writing. The purpose of this study is to determine which rehearsal method; highlighting words or writing them down while you study them, increases the recollection of the words.

Shuell (1969) two groups of participants were presented with a list of words. For one group the words were in a random order, whereas for the other group they were arranged under categories. After looking at the list, participants were asked to recall as many words as they could remember. Participants who had the organised lists recalled significantly more words than participants who had random lists.

Schema theory and memory. In one of Mandler’s studies participants were given 52 cards with a randomly selected word on each card, they were then asked to sort the cards into between 2 – 7 categories of their choice. They were then asked to recall as many words as they could remember. The more categories the participants had used, the higher their recall of words.

Sattler (1992) A within-subjects design comparing digit recall for numerical stimuli presented in an auditory and visual format. The independent variable in this study is the format in which the stimulus appears (auditory vs. visual), and the dependent variable is the length of the digit sequence that the research participant can recall. In another study done by Drewnowski and Murdock (1980), a visual list of English words was found to have an immediate recall of 4.82 words while an auditory representation of this same list led to a memory span of 5.36, a statistically significant variance

Self reference and memory. Click here for more information.

In Don Simon’s book the Invisible Gorilla, there are several studies about attention. In one participants are asked to recall a list of words. In another, they are asked to identify words that were on a list. The memory was higher for those who had to do passive recall than for those who had to do active recall.

Memory interference: Participants have to learn a list of words and then recall them. However, memory is interfered with by learning another list of words but some subjects learn this interfering list before the main list and some learn it after the main list to see which has the greater effect.

Distraction and memory. Peterson & Peterson (1959, p. 194) In the memory task, the participant viewed a trigram of consonants (e.g., GKT, WCH,...) and then performed a number of algebraic computations (e.g., counting backward by 3s) for less than 20 seconds. The data showed that recall of the trigram was less likely as the participant worked on the algebraic computations for longer durations.

Working Memory: The extent to which phonological similarity of list words impairs short-term-memory recall was investigated in two experiments. Experiment 1 showed that the phonological-similarity effect occurred both when list words were repeatedly sampled from a small set and when they were new on every trial, both when word-order information was required and when it was not. Furthermore, the adverse effect of phonological similarity on recall was apparent on the initial lists recalled, did not change over trials, and cannot be attributed to increasing levels of proactive inhibition across lists. In Experiment 2, subjects were required to count repeatedly to six during list presentation. Concurrent irrelevant articulation lowered recall and abolished the phonological similarity effect for both repeated and novel word lists. PDF available here.

Schema Theory: Anderson & Pitchert

Other areas of research

Stroop effect (Dyer 1973)

Word and letter recognition: Visual search: Time taken to find X’s hidden in a four column list of similar shaped letters (Y, Z etc.) is longer than for lists with letters such as S, R, or P. Alternatively: Participants will take longer to find 0 among letters if it is called zero than when it is called letter ‘oh’ and vice versa – Jonides & Gleitman (1972).

Social Facilitation Theory - The idea is that people tend to perform better when in groups than when on their own. Subjects can be given tasks (e.g. word searches) either in groups or on their own to test this theory. Eg. Triplet (1898). Zajonc & Sales (1966)

The halo effect: The effects of physical attractiveness: The halo effect states that attractive people are perceived as having more positive attributes. Click here for more information.

Meyer & Schvaneveldt (1971) provided early evidence supporting network models by illuminating the effects of priming. In their classic experiment, these researchers measured response times as people made lexical decisions (determining whether or not two letter strings, presented simultaneously, were both words). In conditions in which both stimuli were words, some of the pairs were related (e.g., BREAD and BUTTER) and others were unrelated (e.g., CHAIR and FLOWER). The key finding from this investigation was that response time was faster for related words than for unrelated words.

Heuristics: Tversky and Kahneman’s (1973) ‘availability’ hypothesis. If people recall more items from one set than from another they assume (heuristically) that there actually were more in the former set. Demonstrate this by giving participants a set of names to remember containing 19 very famous males and 20 not so famous females. Since participants tend to recall more male names they tend to judge that more males were in the list.

Overjustification Effect Click here for more information.

Anchoring bias experiments. For example, 10! in ascending and descending order. Tversky, A.; Kahneman, D. (1974). "Judgments under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases". Another example is participants are asked to fill in a “group number” on their papers. One group is given a low 2-digit number (e.g. 13) and the second is given a higher value (e.g. 97). Then the participants are asked to consider whether they would pay x number of dollars for items whose value they did not know, such as wine, chocolate and computer equipment. They were then asked to bid for these items, with the result that the audience members with higher two-digit numbers would submit bids that were between 60 percent and 120 percent higher than those with the lower social security numbers, which had become their anchor. (Edward Teach, "Avoiding Decision Traps," (1 June 2004))

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Comments 18

Nate Binzen 15 January 2018 - 13:15

Dear John, students of mine would like to reproduce Shuell (1969) recall in organized lists vs. random order, but have been unable to find that study. They are looking at one that appears very similar, Bower (1969), Hierarchical Retrieval Schemes in Recall of Categorized Word Lists. Do you have any thoughts as to making that substitution?

John Crane 16 January 2018 - 05:10

Bower is a good substitution. I have the original Shuell if you like, but it is very poorly written (a trait of these early studies). Many of my students have done Bower and done quite well. If you would like the original of Shuell, send me an email to

Nate Binzen 16 January 2018 - 06:55

Thank you, John! That's most helpful.

Nikki Rotkosky 17 January 2018 - 21:50

Hi John, What would be the original Miller chunking study that one would replicate? The original I found had subjects chunking numbers and not words. There is a study that uses words (Bower) but it is executed differently than the ones in the link you provide above. Also, would that be too much modification of SL? Thanks.

John Crane 18 January 2018 - 05:19

Dear Nikki, yes, the original uses numbers, not words, but they could use the words as a modification. That is not a problem. I have had students do it at SL and done well.

Stacey Locascio 24 January 2018 - 20:43

Hi John,
I've had students see suggestions on running "social interference" studies. One in particular they found that seemed easy to replicate for an IA is called "Conformity: The effects of interference without social pressure" and though it's title says conformity the study itself is related to perceived social pressure, similar to anchoring bias. The group is enthusiastic about it, I want to be able to say its OK. You know they are all drawn to conformity studies :-) Teenagers after all...

John Crane 25 January 2018 - 19:41

If the study is on anchoring bias, then it should be fine. But if it is even called conformity in the study, I would stay away from it as the IB will give an automatic zero.

Sreekala Sureshkumar 4 February 2018 - 05:48

HI John,
Sorry , but I need to check several IAs with you;

1. One of my SL groups is doing Craik and Tulving - they also have to identify the sort of data they have, select which measure of central tendency they have to do and explain reasons for this , right?
2. On of my HL groups is doing the Stroop- they have used a repeated measures design and added another condition along with the original single condition in the study. In the original study , participants have to identify different types of words/ colours. This group have given them two words and interchanged the colours of the text- is this okay? what data would this throw up- they feel its interval data. And we can take the Wilcox test for this, right?
Is it also possible to do these tests online? They need to screenshot the final test results and attach to the appendix, right?
sorry for these really basic questions, its my first time teaching Psych

Sreekala Sureshkumar 4 February 2018 - 05:57

Hi John,

I have an HL group who did the experiment by Paivio but have some doubts:
Firstly, they cant find the actual study.
then, they changed the images and words from the ones that were used.
is this alright?

John Crane 4 February 2018 - 10:08

Dear Sreekala -

1. Yes, they have to do that.
2. Yes, and it is interval. And yes, the Wilcoxon.

John Crane 4 February 2018 - 10:09

Sorry - and as for Paivio, yes, that is fine. They don't need to find the original study as long as they have a good summary of it. Is this the one that they are looking for? Paivio did a lot of research!

Sreekala Sureshkumar 4 February 2018 - 11:42

Thank you so much, JOhn!!

James Jacocks 12 March 2018 - 20:01

May a student use Chartrand and Bargh for their IA?

John Crane 13 March 2018 - 05:06

Dear James, as long as a study is an experiment and meets the ethical requirements, a a study may be used.

Paulomi Choudhury 27 March 2018 - 09:02

Dear John,

I gave my students the above stated list of studies. My students want to replicate the Highlighting vs Writing study . However , they are unable to find any study which is published in a peer review journal. Can you please share which research paper they can refer to? I would really appreciate your help !

John Crane 29 March 2018 - 11:57

Dear Paulomi,

The only one that I have is the link that is provided in the list. Maybe there is something in this article that they could use? /

Jane Gallagher 2 October 2018 - 09:12

Dear John, My students have decided to replicate one of Tversky and Kahneman's studies (Study 8 on Fame, frequency and recall). They intend to simplify it by conducting an independent measures with Condition 1 being given 20 famous names and 18 less famous names and Condition 2 given 18 famous names and 20 less famous names. For the D.V. they were going to ask them to write all the names down they can recall and then count up which group recalled more ( predicting it would be Condition 1). They are worrying if this is making the D.V. too complex and whether they should simplify the D.V. to an estimation of the total number of names on the list (I assume they could then link this to the availability heuristic as a list consisting of famous names should be judged more numerous than a list of less famous names). I am sorry to bother you once again in this busy IA season but I am not familiar with replications of this study and am concerned about it. I promise it is the final time! Many thanks.

John Crane 3 October 2018 - 05:11

Dear Jane

The original study would have them estimate the lengths of the list; they could, however, list the names, but then they are no longer testing the availability heuristic. I would probably stick to the original.