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Automatic and effortful processing: A meta analysis

Robert George Arias, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The Hasher and Zacks (1979) model of automatic versus effortful processing was based on two main assumptions. First, encoding operations vary in their attentional requirements. Operations were classified into "automatic" and "effort" subtypes based on the energy requirement needed to encode the information. Memory for frequency and spatial information were "automatic," requiring "minimal" energy to encode, whereas most other forms of memory (e.g., rote verbal learning were described as "effortful." The second assumption was that attentional capacity varies within and among individuals, as a function of mood (i.e., depression), age, and intelligence. Because of the automatic nature of memory for spatial and frequency information, memory for these forms of information were predicted to be insensitive to these variations. The present study, derived from the Hasher and Zacks (1979) model, is a test of this prediction. Meta-analytic techniques were used to compute 151 effect sizes (ESs) from 72 independent samples examining memory for frequency and spatial information. Methodological variables across these studies were also examined. Overall, frequency and spatial memory were not found to be automatic, with ESs falling generally within the medium range of 0.4 to 0.6 (Class, McGaw, & Smith, 1991). The only nonsignificant ES found was for the depression analysis, whereas depth of processing was found to have a large ES. The results of the present study are inconsistent with predictions derived from the Hasher and Zacks (1979) model. Implications for current information processing theories are discussed and suggestions for future research are made. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical|Psychology, Cognitive

Recommended Citation

Arias, Robert George, "Automatic and effortful processing: A meta analysis" (1998). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9908460.