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Canadian Journal of Psychology, 1990, 44(1), 87-112

Canadian Journal of Psychology Outstanding Contributions Series Levels of Processing: A Retrospective Commentary on a Framework for Memory Research Robert S. Lockhart and Hergus l.M. Craik University of Toronto ABSTRACT The influence on memory research of levels of processing (Craik & I^ockharl, 1972) is reviewed, and a number of conceptual and empirical criticisms are evaluated. Research since 1972 has enabled the original formulation of depth of processing to be refined in various ways, and the concepts of elaboration and distinctiveness of encoding are discussed as examples of this refinement. It is concluded that, despite change and development, many of the original ideas of levels of processing have survived and that as a research framework it has been substantially successful in encouraging the building of a dala base that can serve as a foundation for future theory construction. RKSUMK I/influence des niveaux de traitcment sur la recherche touchanl la memoire (Craik & Lockhart, 1972) est passcc en revue et un certain nombre de critiques concepluelles el empiriques sont cvaluees. La recherche depuis 1972 a pcrmis de ralfiner de maintcs facons la formulation originale de la profondeur de traitemenl el les concepts dc I'claboralion et dc clarte de codage sont discutes comme cxemple de raffinement. L'on arrive a la conclusion que malgre le changement ct le developpcnicnt, nombreuses sont les idees originates quant aux niveaux dc traitcment qui ont survecu et que, en tant quc cadre dc recherche, ccs idces ont eu un certain succes a encouragcr I'acquisition dc donnces qui peuvent servir de fondalions pour la construction dc futures theories. The levels of processing framework proposed by Craik and Lockhart (1972) presented a general approach to memory research that has been widely influential and the subject of intensive critical scrutiny. The purpose of the present article is to offer some retrospective observations on the ideas associated with levels of processing. Why was the article so influential (White, 1983), and has that influence been retained in current theoretical notions, or was it just a transient blip on the path to the real truth about memory? Despite its success, the article gave rise to many misconceptions about what we were trying to say; for example, it is commonly reported that the Craik and Lockhart article was the one that advocated eliminating the

Preparation of this article was facilitated by grants to both authors from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The authors are grateful to Janinc Jennings lor helpful library research. Requests for reprints should he addressed to Robert S. Lockhart. Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario. Canada MSS IA1.

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distinction between short-term and long-term memory. That is simply nol ihe ease; in fact, we argued for the retention of the distinction, albeit in a somewhat different form (p. 676). Thus, a second purpose of the present paper is to clarify the arguments surrounding such misconceptions. In such a retrospective analysis it is important to place the ideas expressed in the original paper against the background of ihe theoretical views prevailing at the time. Ihe general conceptualization of memory that we sought to displace was the idea (a) that memory could be understood in terms of elements ("items") held in structural entities called memory stores, (b) that the fate of an item so stored was determined by the properties or parameters of this store, and (c) that a theory of memory consisted of refining our understanding of the number and properties of these stores. We sought to replace this structuralist style of theory with one thai was more proccdurally oriented. Our principal objection to the concept of stores was that their major properties — capacity, coding characteristics, and forgetting rales...
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