Effect of Schemas on Drawing a Clock

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An investigation of the effects of schemas on drawing a clock.

A schema according to Henry Gleitman (2007) is a mental representation that summarises what we know about a certain event or situation. Schemas reflect the fact that many aspects of our experience are redundant and schemas seek to provide a summary of this redundancy. When an individual encounters an event or situation, they seek to understand it by relating it to a schema. Schemas are useful not only in providing meaning in an experience, but also filling in the gaps resulting from a failure to notice all the details of an event or situation. However, reliance on schematic knowledge can lead to memory error, hence causing an individual to remember the past as being more regular and orderly than the reality. In an experiment, participants who waited briefly in a professor’s office were asked, seconds later, to recall the contents in the office. One-third of the participants recalled seeing books in the office, even though none were present (Brewer & Treyens, 1981). In this case the memory error is in line with participants’ expectation of what should be in a professor’s office. Research shows that people have a very poor memory for familiar everyday objects. As in the case of Nickerson & Anderson (1979) who conducted a study where American subjects were asked to draw from memory what they would expect to find on each side of a United States penny. The study showed that out of the eight critical features on the coin, on average only three were recalled accurately. Furthermore out of the three features recalled they were often mislocated. Similarly, Morris (1988) showed that only 15% of his British subjects were able to correctly recognise the correct appearance of a ten pence coin. Furthermore Bekerian & Baddeley (1980) found that a campaign to inform radio listeners of a new set of wavelengths for radio broadcasts failed to a have the required effect. These experiments suggest that merely being exposed to something repeatedly does not sufficiently produce an accurate memory of it. French & Richards (1993) demonstrated memory failures that could be attributed to schema-driven memory in an experiment where participants were required to draw a clock from memory. This experiment attempts not only to replicate but also extend the effects of schema-driven memory as demonstrated by French & Richards (1993). It is predicted that participants in the memory condition will be more likely than those in the copy condition to misrepresent the form of the Roman Numeral IIII (or IV) when drawing the face of a watch. It is also predicted that participants in the copy condition would more likely report incorrectly that there is something unusual about the representation of the number four on the watch.

90 participants took part in this experiment. Participants were split into small groups, with each group being allocated to either the basic memory condition or the forewarned memory condition or the copy condition.


Participants were given pencils, erasers and papers.


A between-subject design was adopted which means the different participants were allocated to different groups or conditions.

The independent variables, which are variable that can be manipulated, were the memory condition, the forewarned memory condition and the copy condition. The dependent variables, which are variables that can be measured, were accuracy in drawing the number four in Roman numerals correctly and number of participants that reported that there was something unusual about the number four on the watch face.


The procedure for the Drawing Phase was identical to that of French and Richards (1993):

In first condition which is called Condition A, participants were told, “I am going to show you a picture of a watch which I want you to examine visually for one minute.” The picture of...
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