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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
GILGOUR, S. R. (2004). Highlighting the Color of Memory. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 7. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 3, 2022 .

Highlighting the Color of Memory

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
Highlighters have been used for the past couple decades for use of a study aid. Past experiments have shown that yellow highlighters benefit when studying for a test versus not using any kind of highlighting. When studying I noticed that yellow and pink highlighters helped me remember key terms better than when I did not use them, and decided to test whether they actually had an effect on memorization. Students in Missouri Westernís general studies courses were used as subjects and were given extra credit for participating in the study. They were given test packets that contained a reading passage, short demographic section, and five questions to answer over the reading they had just completed. These packets were divided into a control group with no highlighting in the reading passage, an experimental group where key terms were highlighted in yellow, and a third experimental group where the same key terms were highlighted in alternating pink and yellow. The tests were graded with the questions being answered correctly, giving one point, or incorrectly, giving zero points. The results showed that there were no significant differences in the three groups, all of their average scores came out to be almost equal, and the results were calculated using a one-way between subjects analysis of variance. Though the results were not as hypothesized, I found that the experimental yellow group did achieve the highest average in correct answers. If this study were to be replicated, more information about colors effects on the brain would be beneficial, as well as making sure that the participants are not able to cheat on the test; the results in this test could have been flawed by participants who looked up the right answers

Short-term memory is temporary recollection of information. When reading a sentence, or a passage, you have to keep in mind the beginning of the sentence to make sense of the rest. The sensory memory is received through the senses. A sensory memory is obtained through the senses: iconic memory is the name given to the sensory memory of visual stimuli. Information is passed from sensory memory to short-term memory through attention, meaning information that is interesting is whatís going to be remembered. Beckman (2002) states that researchers have had a hard time showing that peopleís ability to see things in color helps them to remember what they are seeing. Earlier studies compared memory with line drawings done in black and white and in color, resulting in few differences. Beckman also states that only natural colors improves memory versus black and white and also falsified color, especially when viewing a nature scene, landscape, or people. Color is used in memory through learning strategies. Harlow (1988) defines learning strategies as a set of processes used by a learner that can facilitate the acquisition, storage, and/or utilization of information, and highlighting falls under the category of a learning strategy. Phillips (2004) states that the color yellow stimulates the brain, which is basis for my hypothesis that yellow will show the highest results, and why yellow is such a popular highlighter color. Rachel Bailey (2001), a Missouri Western State College student, did a study with highlighting and found information that showed highlighting did not increase the learning of enrichment. In her study, she used a control group of non-highlighting, and two experimental groups with highlighting: one group had key terms highlighted, and the other had the wrong terms highlighted. Her results showed that there was a significant difference between the scores of the highlighted group and scores of the non-highlighted group. I have found that when I study, highlighting helped me remember essential information for tests. I have also found that certain colors stimulate learning more than others when I study, I steer away from greens and blues because they didnít seem to keep my concentration. In this study the dependent variable will be memory, shown by the number of correct answers. The independent variable will be highlighting and the color of highlighter. The purpose of this study is to find whether highlighting improves memory and is an effective learning strategy.


There were 62 participants in this experiment: 24 participants in the control group and 19 for each level of the independent variable. The participants were from general studies classes of Missouri Western State College, including a 100 level psychology class and a 100 level criminal justice class

The participants received a pen and paper test packet including a reading passage, a multiple-choice questionnaire, and a short demographics section (see appendix).

Each general studies course had participants assigned to each level of independent variable because it is an individual test. Those who received the control test will answer the same questions as those who receive the experiment packets, the only difference is that the control group has nothing highlighted in their reading passage, whereas the experimental groupsí passage has key terms highlighted in either yellow, or alternating yellow and pink. The demographics section was the same in all the test packets as well as the multiple-choice questions. The tests were collected and put face down into a large envelope, and graded by whether the question was answered correctly or incorrectly. Correct answers received one point, and incorrect answers were given zero points.

In this study a one-way between subjects analysis of variance was used to calculate the results of the test. No significant difference was found (F(2,59)=.033, p=.97). The three groups tested did not differ significantly in the tests given. The means were very close between all the groups: the yellow experimental group was 2.89; the yellow and pink experimental was 2.78; and the control group was 2.83.

The tests resulted in the experimental yellow group having the highest mean score of correct answers, with the second experimental group of pink and yellow and also the control group of no highlighting showing means very close to the yellow group. I expected the yellow highlighting group to do the best out of all the groups. In Rachel Baileys study she found that the group with the yellow highlighting received higher scores, and her data reflected her hypothesis. In future research I would find more information on how colors influence the brain and try to match different colors with different attributes. In a repeat of this study I would also take that information into consideration, as well as making sure the participants did not cheat while taking the test even if testing in smaller groups would be the only reasonable action.

Beckman, M. (2002). Kodak moments more memorable in color. Science now, 5, 2.Cycowicz, Y.M., & Friedman, D. (2003). Pictures and their colors: what do children remember? Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 15, 759.Harlow, L.L. (1988). The effects of the yellow-highlighter?second language learning strategies and their effectiveness- a research update. Canadian Modern Language Review, 45, 91-102.Howe, M.L. (2004). Demystifying the beginnings of memory. Developmental Review, 24, 1-5.Phillips, S. (2004). Pastels are good for the brain. Times Educational Supplement, 4596, 2.The Dalai Lama. (2001). An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life. Boston: Little. Brown and Company.

Read the following passage, and when finished, turn the page and do not turn it back to this page: Calm abiding, or single-pointed concentration, is a form of meditation whereby you choose an object and fix your mind upon it. This degree of focus is not achieved in one sitting! You must train your mind by degrees. Slowly, you will find that your mind is capable of greater and greater concentration and focus. Calm abiding is the steady state in which your mind is able to remain focused on a mental object for as long as desired, with a calm that is free from all distractions. In this meditation practice, as with all the others, motivation is once again all-important. The skill involved in concentrating on a single object can be used to various ends. It is a purely technical expertise, and its outcome is determined by your motivation. Naturally, as spiritual practitioners, we are interested in a virtuous motivation and a virtuous end. Let us now analyze the technical aspects of this practice. Calm abiding is practiced by members of many faiths. A meditator begins the process of training his or her mind by choosing and object of meditation. Whatever object you choose, your single-pointed concentration must possess qualities of stability and clarity. Stability is undermined by excitement, the scattered, distracted quality of mind that is one aspect of attachment. The mind is easily distracted by thoughts of desirable objects. Such thoughts keep us from developing the stable, settled quality necessary for us to abide truly and calmly on the object we have chosen. Clarity, on the other hand, is hindered more by mental laxity, what is sometimes called a sinking quality of mind.

Please answer the following then turn to the next page, and do not turn back to the first page.



Years completed in college:_______________

Estimated hours spent studying per week:__________________

Do you use highlighters when studying for classes?___________________ Read the questions and write the letter of the correct answer in the space provided by the question number. When you are finished please raise your hand and your packet will be collected.

______1. What form of meditation is this passage discussing? A single-sided B. single-minded C. concentration D. single-pointed

______2. It is a purely __________, and its outcome is determined by your _________. A. technical experience, determination B. technical expertise, motivation C. technical experience, motivation D. technological, motivation

______3. What is undermined by excitement? A. clarity B. calming C. stability D. motivation

______4. Naturally, as spiritual _________, we are interested in a virtuous end. A. practice B. practitioners C. leaders D. people

______5. What should ?calm? be free of? A. distractions B. focus C. desires D. stress

Submitted 12/7/2004 12:58:43 PM
Last Edited 12/7/2004 1:07:33 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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