Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name



Psychological and Brain Sciences

Degree Program

College of Arts and Sciences

Author's Keywords

Education Psychology; Distributed Practice; Recognition; Learning; Neuroanatomy; Studying


Our study investigates the interaction of retrieval practice and element interactivity. Spaced practice is the process of breaking up the retrieval of information into smaller chunks across a longer period of time as opposed to learning everything in one time block. Retrieval practice is the process of testing yourself on previously learned material. Spaced retrieval practice is the merger of these two ideas. This style of learning is well-suited for learning many items that must be retained indefinitely (Lyle et al., 2019). Element interactivity describes the amount of learned items (elements) that are interrelated and must be processed together in working memory to be learned effectively. We utilized a within-subjects crossing of spaced retrieval practice and element interactivity in a psychology course for undergraduate participants. This study focused on memorization of neuroanatomy structures across a semester. Practice consisted of neuroanatomy labs in which structures were reviewed six times total across three labs. After a two-month delay, assessment consisted of a final in which participants attempted to label each structure from the neuroanatomy labs. Results suggested that spaced retrieval practice was more effective with more element interactivity. Given these findings, future research should focus on further clarifying the efficacy of spaced retrieval practice when affected by other common factors in educational settings. This research is vital for further developing a nuanced and effective curriculum at all educational levels.

Lay Summary

Within undergraduate neuroanatomy education, the brain tends to be studied as a collection of individual elements as opposed to functionally interactive networks. At the same time, students will “cram” for an exam as opposed to spacing their studying out over time. Together, these factors lead to quick forgetting of neuroanatomy once an exam is over. This study explores the interaction of spacing out retrieval-based study and learning more complex and interconnected information (called relational information). Retrieval-based study is study which involves remembering information stored in long-term memory (for example, a fill in the blank question). This is in contrast to recognition–based study, which would involve recognizing the information relevant to the question (for example, a multiple-choice question). This study had participants study brain structures over a several week period. We manipulated whether the structures were spaced or crammed retrieval-based study and how low or high relation the information was. We hypothesized that the effectiveness of spaced out retrieval-based study depended on how relational the information was. We found that structures in the highly relational/spaced retrieval condition performed significantly better than highly relational/massed retrieval condition structures. This indicates highly relational information benefits more from spacing than low relational information. Future research should further investigate how relational learning can best be applied in a classroom setting for long-term memory that extends beyond a single semester.