Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Levels Of Processing

Levels of Processing is an influential theory of memory proposed by Craik and Lockhart (1972) which rejected the idea of the dual store model of memory. This popular model postulated that characteristics of a memory are determined by it's "location" (ie, fragile memory trace in short term store [STS] and a more durable memory trace in the long term store [LTS]. Instead, Craik and Lockhart proposed that information could be processed in a number of different ways and the durability or strength of the memory trace was a direct function of the depth of processing involved. Moreover, depth of processing was postulated to fall on a shallow to deep continuum.

Shallow processing (e.g., processing words based on their phonemic and orthographic components) leads to a fragile memory trace that is susceptible to rapid forgetting. On the other had, deep processing (e.g., semantic or meaning based processing) results in a more durable memory trace.

A typical paradigm employed to investigate the Levels of Processing theory is the incidental learning paradigm. Results reveal superior recall for items processed deeply compared to those items processed at the more shallow level (Eysenck, 1974: Hyde & Jenkins, 1969).

Craik and Lockhart also distinguished between two kinds of rehearsal, maintenance and elaborative rehearsal. Of the two, elaborative rehearsal is the most effective in producing a more durable memory trace.


  1. Craik, F.I.M., & Lockhart, R.S. (1972). Levels of processing. A framework for memory research. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour, 11, 671-684.
  2. Eysenck, M.W. (1974). Age differences in incidental learning. Developmental Psychology, 10, 936-941.
  3. Hyde, T.S., & Jenkins, J.J. (1969). Differential effects of incidental tasks on the organization of recall of a list of highly associated words. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 82, 472-481.

(Revised February 2010)