The Effect of Prioritization in Information Processing

Park, Hyun-Young
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When listening to messages from the mass media, we may find that certain facts grab our attention – perhaps because we find them especially relevant. It is likely that we will remember these facts, but how does their attention-grabbing nature impact our memory for other information contained within the same broadcast? Do we just forget this other information? Because we are surrounded by overwhelming amounts of information, we tend to select and prioritize information that we consider to be important. Notably, visual working memory studies have shown that of the consequences such prioritization on processing of other information can be different according to the situation. Given this, our study examined how people’s information prioritization affects the memory of other unselected information. We asked people to listen to a passage about a fictional man, “Jack,” in order to decide whether to bet on him or against him in the first round of a tennis tournament. For half of the participants, this passage never contained any information relevant to their decision (that is, no information about tennis). For the other half of participants, a single piece of tennis-relevant information appeared midway through the passage. We compared the memory of people who heard only task-irrelevant statements with the memory of people who heard the one task-relevant word in the middle of the statements. Results revealed that after people heard the task relevant word, their memory for immediately following information was impaired. In contrast, their memory for information that preceded the relevant word was enhanced. These results have implications not only for our understanding of memory, but also for the design of messages for a listening public. For example, the data suggest that it might be effective to locate particularly important messages before the most attention capturing aspect of a message rather than after it, in order to ensure that these messages are remembered.