Confirming what many of us have learned through practical experience, a study comparing different strategies of reading or listening has found that you are more likely to remember something if you read it out loud to yourself.
In the study, 75 undergraduate students first spent around 15 minutes being recorded as they read aloud 160 common words. They were not told any reason for this activity. Two weeks later, they attended another short session, in which they were told that they would be given the same words they had read earlier, and they would then be tested on their memory of them. Half of the 160 words were given to them in four learning conditions (20 words in each):
- reading silently
- hearing someone else read
- listening to a recording of oneself reading (taken from the first session)
- reading aloud.
They were then given a self-paced recognition test involving all 160 words, and had to classify each one as “studied” or “new”.
The expected pattern of performance was consistent with that hypothesized: reading aloud was best, followed by hearing oneself, then hearing another, and finally reading silently. There was not a lot of difference between saying aloud and hearing oneself, however — words that were said aloud were only marginally better remembered than those in which one heard oneself say the word (hit rate of 77% vs 74%). Hearing someone else speak was significantly better than simply reading silently (69% vs 65%) (I know, it doesn’t seem much more different, but the first comparison didn’t reach statistical significance, and the second did, just). Much clearer was the comparison between those conditions with a self-referential component (reading aloud, hearing yourself) vs conditions with no such component — here the difference was very clearly significant. This was supported by the results of an unplanned comparison between the hear-self and hear-other conditions, which also produced a significant difference.
These results are consistent with previous research, though the differences are smaller than previous. It seems likely that this might be due to the necessity for participants to have previously experienced the words in the earlier session (obviously it would have been much better to have a substantially longer period between the sessions; I assume logistical issues were behind this choice).
In any case, the findings do support the idea that reading aloud helps memory through all three of its ‘extra’ components:
- the motor aspect in producing the word
- the auditory aspect in hearing the word
- the self-referential aspect of being associated with one self.
Notably, this study suggests that it is the third of these (self-referential) that is the most important aspect, with the motor aspect being least important.