Educational Psychology Review

, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 57–80 | Cite as

Memory for action events: The power of enactment

  • Ronald L. Cohen


Memory researchers have traditionally made use of verbal materials in their empirical studies. During the last decade or so, there has been a burgeoning interest in memory for other classes of materials — in particular, memory for action events. This report reviews briefly some of the research in this area. The emphasis is on the recall of series of instructions, such aslift the pen, put on the ring. The core finding in those studies is that enactment of the instructions during the study phase, either by the subject or by the experimenter, improves performance on a subsequent recall test. Some explanations for the mnemonic effect of enactment are examined, as also are subsidiary issues, such as population and individual differences in the recall of action events. Implications for education are discussed, including the possibility of a two-way interaction between enactment and cognition.

Key words

cognition motor activity individual differences memory 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Asher, J. J. (1969). The total physical response approach to second language learning.Mod. Lang. J. 53: 3–17.Google Scholar
  2. Atkinson, R. C., and Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. In Spence, K. W., and Spence, J. T. (eds.),The Psychology of Learning and Motivation: Advances in Research and Theory, Vol. 2 Academic Press, New York, pp. 89–195.Google Scholar
  3. Baddeley, A. (1986).Working Memory Clarendon Press, Oxford, England.Google Scholar
  4. Baddeley, A. D., and Hitch, G. J. (1974). Working memory. In Bower, G. (ed.),Recent Advances in Learning and Motivation, Vol. VIII Academic Press, New York, pp. 47–90.Google Scholar
  5. Bäckman, L., and Nilsson, L.-G. (1984). Aging effects in free recall: An exception to the rule.Hum. Learn. 3: 53–69.Google Scholar
  6. Bäckman, L., and Nilsson, L.-G. (1985). Prerequisites for lack of age differences in memory performance.Exp. Aging Res. 11: 67–73.Google Scholar
  7. Bäckman, L., Nilsson, L.-G., and Chalom, D. (1986). New evidence on the nature of encoding action events.Mem. Cognit. 14: 339–346.Google Scholar
  8. Bandura, A. (1977).Social Learning Theory Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  9. Bartlett, F. C. (1932).Remembering Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England.Google Scholar
  10. Bower, G. H., and Karlin, M. B. (1974). Depth of processing pictures of faces and recognition memory.J. Exp. Psychol. 103: 751–757.Google Scholar
  11. Broadbent, D. E. (1958).Perception and Communication Pergamon, New York.Google Scholar
  12. Bruner, J. (1971).The Relevance of Education Norton, New York.Google Scholar
  13. Carroll, J. B. (1980). Individual difference relations in psychometric and experimental cognitive tasks. (Rep. No. 163). University of North Carolina, L. L. Thurstone Psychometric Laboratory.Google Scholar
  14. Case, R. (1985).Intellectual Development: Birth to Adulthood Academic Press, New York,Google Scholar
  15. Cohen, R. L. (1981). On the generality of some memory laws.Scand. J. Psychol. 22: 267–282.Google Scholar
  16. Cohen, R. L. (1983). The effect of encoding variables on the free recall of words and action events.Mem. Cognit. 11: 573–582.Google Scholar
  17. Cohen, R. L. (1984). Individual differences in event memory: A case for nonstrategic factors.Mem. Cognit. 12: 633–641.Google Scholar
  18. Cohen, R. L. (1985). On the generality of laws of memory. In Nilsson, L.-G., and Archer, T. (eds.),Perspectives on Learning and Memory Erlbaum, Hillsdale, New Jersey, pp. 247–277.Google Scholar
  19. Cohen, R. L. (1988). Metamemory for words and enacted instructions: Predicting which items will be recalled.Mem. Cognit. 16: 452–460.Google Scholar
  20. Cohen, R. L., and Bean, G. (1983). Memory in educable mentally retarded adults: Deficit in subject or experimenter?Intelligence 7: 287–298.Google Scholar
  21. Cohen, R. L., and Heath, M. (1988). Recalled probabilities for enacted instructions. In Gruneberg, M. M., Morris, P. E., and Sykes, R. N. (eds.),Practical Aspects of Memory: Current Research and Issues, Vol. 1 John Wiley & Sons, Toronto, pp. 421–426.Google Scholar
  22. Cohen, R. L., Petersen, M., and Mantini-Atkinson, T. (1987). Interevent differences in event memory: Why are some events more recallable than others?Mem. Cognit. 15: 109–118.Google Scholar
  23. Cohen, R. L., Sandler, S. P., and Schroeder, K. (1987). Aging and memory for words and action events: Effects of item repetition and list length.Psychol. Aging 2: 280–285.Google Scholar
  24. Cohen, R. L., and Stewart, M. (1982). How to avoid developmental effects in free recall.Scand. J. Psychol. 23: 9–16.Google Scholar
  25. Craik, F. I. M., and Lockhart, R. S. (1972). Levels of processing: A framework for memory research.J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Behav. 11: 671–684.Google Scholar
  26. Craik, F. I. M., and Tulving, E. (1975). Depth of processing and the retention of words in episodic memory.J. Exp. Psychol. G. 104: 268–294.Google Scholar
  27. Engelkamp, J. (1988). Modality specific encoding and word class in verbal learning. In Gruneberg, M. M., Morris, P. E., and Sykes, R. N. (eds.),Practical Aspects of Memory: Current Research and Issues, Vol. 1 John Wiley & Sons, Toronto, pp. 415–420.Google Scholar
  28. Engelkamp, J., and Zimmer, H. D. (1984). Motor programme information as a separable memory unit.Psycholog. Res. 46: 283–299.Google Scholar
  29. Engelkamp, J., and Zimmer, H. D. (1985). Motor programs and their relation to semantic memory.Ger. J. Psychol. 9: 239–254.Google Scholar
  30. Gardiner, J. M., and Klee, H. (1976). Memory for remembered events: An assessment of output monitoring in free recall.J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Behav. 15: 227–233.Google Scholar
  31. Geiselman, J., Woodward, A., and Beatty, J. (1982). Individual differences in verbal memory performance: A test of alternative information processing models.J. Exp. Psychol. G. 111: 109–134.Google Scholar
  32. Glover, J. A., Timme, V., Deyloff, D., and Rogers, M. (1987). Memory for student-performed tasks.J. Educat. Psychol. 79: 445–452.Google Scholar
  33. Hall, J. H. (1985). Free recall as a function of type of encoding and word frequency.Bull. Psychon. Soc. 23: 368–370.Google Scholar
  34. Helstrup, T. (1986). Separate memory laws for recall of performed acts?Scand. J. Psychol. 27: 1–29.Google Scholar
  35. Helstrup, T. (1987). One, two, or three memories? A problem-solving approach to memory for performed acts.Acta Psychol. 66: 37–68.Google Scholar
  36. Kausler, D. H. (1989). Impairment in normal memory aging: Implications of laboratory evidence. In Gillmore, G. C., Whitehouse, P. J., and Wykle, M. L. (eds.),Memory and Aging Springer, New York (in press).Google Scholar
  37. Kausler, D. H., and Hakami, M. K. (1983). Memory for activities: Adult age differences and intentionality.Dev. Psychol. 19: 889–894.Google Scholar
  38. Kausler, D. H., Lichty, W., and Freund, J. S. (1985). Adult age differences in recognition memory and frequency judgments for planned versus performed activities.Dev. Psychol. 21: 647–654.Google Scholar
  39. Kausler, D. H., Lichty, W., Hakami, M. K., and Freund, J. S. (1986). Activity duration and adult age differences in memory for activity performance.Psychol. Aging 1: 80–81.Google Scholar
  40. Koestler, A. (1964).The Act of Creation Macmillan Company, New York.Google Scholar
  41. Laabs, G. J., and Simmons, R. W. (1981). Motor memory. In Holding, D. (ed.),Human Skills John Wiley & Sons, New York, pp. 119–151.Google Scholar
  42. Lichty, W., Bressie, S., and Krell, R. (1988). When a fork is not a fork: Recall of performed activities as a function of age, generation and bizarreness. In Gruneberg, M. M., Morris, P. E., and Sykes, R. N. (eds.),Practical Aspects of Memory: Current Research and Issues, Vol. 2 John Wiley & Sons, Toronto, pp. 506–511.Google Scholar
  43. Lichty, W., Kausler, D. H., and Martinez, D. R. (1986). Adult age differences in memory for motor versus cognitive activities.Exp. Aging Res. 12: 227–230.Google Scholar
  44. McNeill, D. (1975). Semiotic extension. In Solso, R. L. (ed.),Information Processing and Cognition: The Loyola Symposium Erlbaum, Hillsdale, New Jersey, pp. 351–380.Google Scholar
  45. McNeill, D. (1985). So you think gestures are nonverbal?Psychol. Rev. 92: 350–371.Google Scholar
  46. McNeill, D. (1987). So youdo think gestures are nonverbal! Reply to Feyereisen (1987).Psychol. Rev. 94: 499–504.Google Scholar
  47. Nilsson, L.-G., and Cohen, R. L. (1988). Enrichment and generation in the recall of enacted and non-enacted instructions. In Gruneberg, M. M., Morris, P. E., and Sykes, R. N. (eds.),Practical Aspects of Memory: Current Research and Issues, Vol. 1 John Wiley & Sons, Toronto, pp. 427–432.Google Scholar
  48. Paivio, A. (1971).Imagery and Verbal Processes Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York.Google Scholar
  49. Paivio, A., and Begg, I. (1981).Psychology of Language Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  50. Patterson, K. E., and Baddeley, A. D. (1977). When face recognition fails.J. Exp. Psychol. HLM 3: 406–417.Google Scholar
  51. Piaget, J. (1964). Development and learning. In Ripple, R., and Rockcastle, V. (eds.),Piaget Rediscovered U.S. Office of Education, National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  52. Postman, L. (1961). The present status of interference theory. In Cofer, C. N. (ed.),Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior McGraw-Hill, New York, pp. 152–196.Google Scholar
  53. Riseborough, M. G. (1981). Physiographic gestures as decoding facilitators: Three experiments exploring a neglected facet of communication.J. Nonverb. Behav. 5: 172–183.Google Scholar
  54. Rubin, D., and Friendly, M. (1986). Predicting which words get recalled: Measures of free recall, availability, goodness, emotionality, and pronounciability for 925 nouns.Mem. Cognit. 14: 79–94.Google Scholar
  55. Rubin, K. H., Fein, G. G., and Vandenberg, B. (1983). Play. In Hetherington, E. M. (ed.), Mussen, P. H., (series ed.),Handbook of Child Psychology, Vol. 4. Socialization, Personality, and Social Development John Wiley & Sons, New York, pp. 693–774.Google Scholar
  56. Rumelhart, D. E., and Ortony, A. (1977). The representation of knowledge in memory. In Anderson, R. C., and Montague, W. E. (eds.),Schooling and the Acquisition of Knowledge Erlbaum, Hillsdale, New Jersey, pp. 99–136.Google Scholar
  57. Rundus, D., and Atkinson, R. C. (1970). Rehearsal processes in free recall: A procedure for direct observation.J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Behav. 9: 99–105.Google Scholar
  58. Saltz, E. (1988). The role of motoric enactment (m-processing) in memory for words and sentences. In Gruneberg, M. M., Morris, P. E., and Sykes, R. N. (eds.),Practical Aspects of Memory: Current Research and Issues, Vol. 1 John Wiley & Sons, Toronto, pp. 408–414.Google Scholar
  59. Saltz, E., and Dixon, D. (1982). Let's pretend: The role of motoric imagery in memory for sentences and words.J. Exp. Child Psychol. 34: 77–92.Google Scholar
  60. Saltz, E., and Donnenwerth-Nolan, S. (1981). Does motoric imagery facilitate memory for sentences: A selective interference test.J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Behav. 20: 322–332.Google Scholar
  61. Schmidt, R. A. (1975). A schema theory of discrete motor skill learning.Psychol. Rev. 82: 225–260.Google Scholar
  62. Schoenfield, D., and Stones, M. J. (1979). Remembering and aging. In Kihlstrom, J. F., and Evans, F. J. (eds.),Functional Disorders of Memory Erlbaum, Hillsdale, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  63. Seligman, M. E. P. (1970). On the generality of the laws of learning.Psychol. Rev. 77: 406–418.Google Scholar
  64. Slamecka, N. J., and Graf, P. (1978). The generation effect: Delineation of a phenomenon.J. Exp. Psychol. HLM 4: 592–604.Google Scholar
  65. Smyth, M. M., Pearson, N. A., and Pendleton, L. R. (1988). Movement and working memory: Patterns and positions in space.Q. J. Exp. Psychol. 40a: 497–514.Google Scholar
  66. Tulving, E. (1974). Cue-dependent forgetting.Am. Scient. 62: 74–82.Google Scholar
  67. Tulving, E., and Thomson, D. M. (1973). Encoding specificity and retrieval processes in episodic memory.Psychol. Rev. 80: 352–373.Google Scholar
  68. Tulving, E. (1983).Elements of Episodic Memory Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  69. Underwood, B. J., Boruch, R. F., and Malmi, R. A. (1978). The composition of episodic memory.J. Exp. Psychol. G. 107: 393–419.Google Scholar
  70. Waugh, N. C., and Norman, D. A. (1965). Primary memory.Psychol. Rev. 72: 89–104.Google Scholar
  71. Winograd, E. (1976). Recognition memory for faces following nine different judgements.Bull. Psychon. Soc. 8: 419–421.Google Scholar
  72. Wolff, P., and Gutstein, J. (1972). Effects of induced motor gestures on vocal output.J. Commun. 22: 277–288.Google Scholar
  73. Woodall, W. G., and Folger, J. P. (1981). Encoding specificity and nonverbal cue context: An expansion of episodic memory research.Commun. Monogr. 48: 39–53.Google Scholar
  74. Wright, A. A., Santiago, H. C., Sands, S. F., Kendrick, D. F., and Cook, R. G. (1985). Memory processing of serial lists by pigeons, monkeys, and people.Science 229: 287–288.Google Scholar
  75. Yokubynas, R. J. (1986). Memory for subject-performed tasks: Individual differences and retrieval factors. Doctoral thesis, York University.Google Scholar
  76. Young, G. (1989). Early neuropsychological development: Lateralization of functions—hemispheric specialization. In Hauert, C. (ed.),Developmental Psychology: Cognitive, Perceptuo-Motor and Neuropsychological Perspectives Elsevier Science Publishers, North Holland (in press).Google Scholar
  77. Zimmer, H. D. (1986). The memory trace of semantic or motor processing. In Klix, F., and Hagendorf, H. (eds.),Human Memory and Cognitive Capabilities: Mechanisms and Performances Elsevier Science Publishers, North Holland, pp. 215–223.Google Scholar
  78. Zimmer, H. D., and Engelkamp, J. (1985a). An attempt to distinguish between kinematic and motor memory components.Acta Psychol. 58: 81–106.Google Scholar
  79. Zimmer, H. D., and Engelkamp, J. (1985b). Modality-specific representation systems and inference: Task-dependent activation processes in the motor memory. In Rickheit, G., and Strohner, H. (eds.),Inferences in Text Processing Elsevier Science Publishers, North Holland, pp. 137–157.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald L. Cohen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Glendon CollegeYork UniversityTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations