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Suzanne L. Medina, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Graduate Education California State University, Dominguez Hills

March 1, 1994


I Introduction From the steady beats of the human heart to the cadence of a musical piece, rhythm pervades every aspect of our lives. Rhythm plays a particularly significant role in the functioning of the human organism including the psychomotor, affective and cognitive domains. It is the rhythmic nature of our physiological processes which drives our movements, hearts beats, and other regularly occurring physiological functions. Apart from the psychomotor functions, rhythm also impacts the affective aspects of our lives. In a musical context, for example, music affects the human emotions such that a slow beat is calming and a fast one agitating to the human organism. Finally, rhythm partakes of a significant role in our cognitive functions although little has been written on the topic. Most of the existing empirical data on rhythm contribute to our understanding of memory for rhythm; however there is little which helps us comprehend the impact which has upon verbal memory. Although an increasing amount of research is emerging in the area of psychology of music, that is, the segment of psychology which deals with the psychological processes involved in the perception of music and its various sub-components, little literature can be found which concentrates exclusively on the interaction of rhythm and the memorization of verbal information. The existing, though sparse, data on this topic will be reviewed in this paper. More specifically, this review of the literature will explore the topic of rhythm as an aid or a mediator for verbal learning and in the process attempt to answer to main questions on the topic: (1) Are short-term and long-term memory similarly or differentially impacted by rhythm ?, and (2) What kinds of verbal items are positively and negatively affected by rhythm, those which are related in meaning to other items being memorized, or those which are not related semantically ? Defining Rhythm Prior to actually reviewing the literature on the topic, it is important to define what is meant by the word, rhythm. A review of the literature clearly points to the absence of any generally agreed upon definition of rhythm. Although there are a number of definitions, they vary depending upon the discipline from which they originated. Nevertheless, these definitions generally fall into one of the following categories (Behrens, 1984): * Definitions involving units of time * Definitions involving time and space * Definitions involving movement in time * Definitions involving the organization of music


* Definitions involving a subjective organization * Definitions involving a match or a motor response to an external source * Definitions involving a determination of difference * Definitions involving movement quality The definitions involving units of time best characterize rhythm as it is used in this paper. According to Spohn (1977), rhythm consists of "regular units of time or pulses " (p.62), or as Mikol (1954) states it, rhythm is "regular, equally spaced pulsations equivalent to the musicians term 'tempo' or 'meter' " (p.240). According to Smoll (1973), rhythme is " the periodic succession or regular recurrence of events in time which constitute the organization of temporal relationships" (p. 232). Yet, probably the most fitting definition/explanation is the one offered by Martin (1972): "Inherent in the rhythmic concept is that the perception of early events in a sequence generates expectancies concerning later events in real time" (p. 503). Other Terminology Used to Refer to Rhythm A number of other terms have been used in the literature apart from rhythm (Neisser, 1967): temporal grouping (Ryan 1969A, Ryan 1969B), and intonation grouping (Glazner, 1976). Underlying these differing terminologies are also divergent ways of approaching the topic of rhythm. As Glazner (1976) points out, psychologists studying rhythm focus upon juncture (i.e., spacing between items), while linguists study juncture, pitch, and stress as they occur in natural speech. Despite these apparent differences in orientation, this paper will focus upon commonalities, that is, the temporal aspects of rhythm. Memorization of Rhythm and Memorization with Rhythm This particular treatment of rhythm and memory should not be confused with other areas with which there is some overlap. Particular care was taken to entitle the paper "The Impact of Rhythm Upon Verbal Memory" so as to distinguish it from studies which focus upon auditory perception and memory for various aspects of rhythm such as accent (Sturges and Martin, 1974) and duration (Payne, Devenport, Domangue & Soroka, 1980). In this review of the literature, however, attention is given not to the memorization of rhythm, but memorization with the benefit of rhythm. Rhythm is secondary to verbal memory; it is an aid to encoding information into memory (Evans and Clynes, 1986) or what Staples (1968) refers to as an Iso-rhythmic mediator.


Rhythm in Non-Musical Contexts Given the previously-mentioned definitions of rhythm, it would seem logical to include studies of rhythm in musical contexts. After all, when songs are memorized verbal information is being memorized with the benefit of rhythm. Music has been reported in the literature to aid verbal memory (Gingold, 1985). However, when verbal information is presented in the context of a song, both rhythmic and tonal elements interplay and it is difficult to distinguish the effects of musical pitch and rhythm. Thus, in order to concentrate on the variable of rhythm, this review will not include research which has dealt with rhythm in a musical context. The intent of this paper is to study rhythm alone, without other extraneous variables such as musical tonality. Heterogeneity of Studies Although the definition of rhythm is narrow and the topic of this paper is focused upon rhythm and verbal learning, the studies contained in this review, though few in number, exhibit a certain degree of heterogeneity. More specifically, they are varied in terms of the subjects, contexts, and type of verbal information memorized. The data in this paper has been generated from studying the impact of rhythm upon the verbal memories of handicapped subjects as well as normal subjects, and children as well as adults. In some of the studies, rhythm occurs naturally with verbal information as it does in the simple sentence, while in other contexts it is artificially imposed. Probably the area of greatest diversity has to do with the type of verbal information memorized. Studies included in this paper report findings on the memorization of digits, consonants, words , word groups and sentences. In short, although the number of studies included in this paper are few in number, there is great diversity in these three areas. Distinctions Made in this Paper Prior to the review of literature, it is important for the reader to comprehend several distinctions which were made in order to bring continuity and comprehensibility to this literature review. The first distinction has to do with the nature of the material to be memorized, while the second distinction deals exclusively with the memorization task itself. First, the term semantically unrelated will be used in this paper to refer to studies involving stimuli to be memorized which are semantically independent of one another. These include lists of digits (e.g., 3,7,2) lists of words (e.g., cat, sky, pen) unstructured sentences (e.g., Dog of under) nonsense syllables (e.g., blif) and consonant lists (e.g., b,p,g). Semantically related will be used here to refer to verbal information consisting of stimuli which are semantically linked to one another. Thus paired associates involving coordinate pairs (e.g., pot and pan) or subordinate-superordinate pairs (e.g., couch-furniture) are semantically related as are lists of words which comprise a meaningful sentence (e.g., The dog bit the man).


Recall of Form / Recall of Meaning Within each of these lies another distinction which is important to this literature review: The type of recall required of the subject. Verbal information can be recalled from memory on the basis of its form or its meaning. A semantically related item such as a meaningful sentence (e.g. Mr. Jones departed from his home at 8 P.M.) can be memorized for its form (e.g.,"Mr. Jones departed from his home at 8 P.M.") or its meaning (e.g., "A man by the name of Jones left his house at approximately 8 o'clock." Similarly, subjects memorizing semantically unrelated items (e.g., dog, table) could be asked to recall their form (e.g., dog-money) or their meaning (e.g., animal with four legs, furniture), however, it is usually the case that unrelated items are memorized for their form only.In short, these distinction will allow the general tendencies to be more clearly delineated in the literature review.

II Rhythm and the Memorization of Semantically Unrelated Verbal Information In the following section the studies reviewed will consist of those studies in which rhythm impacts the short-term and long-term memorization of semantically unrelated verbal material. Clearly more research has been done in the area of short-term memory. Short-Term Memory Staples (1968) studied the effects of rhythm upon short term memorization of mildly and moderately retarded children. The fifteen subjects, consisting of twelve boys and one girl, were required to memorize nine nonsense syllables which were paired with basic vocabulary words. Subjects were randomly placed in one of three groups depending upon the types of mediators used: (1) iso-rhythmic mediators, which utilized rhythm but no melody, (2) melodic mediators, which relied upon melody and rhythm and (3) no mediation, which consisted of an oral presentation free of any mediation. Subjects were tested immediately after each of their five learning trends. Although 45 correct responses were possible for each student, the mean for any of the three conditions never exceeded 14. In fact, the experimental group learning with the aid of the iso-rhythmic mediation had the highest mean (i.e., 14.0) followed by the melodic mediation group mean of 8.86. The control group, which did not rely on any form of mediation, had a mean of 3.6. Using a Mann-Whitney U Test, the scores belonging to the iso-rhythmic group and control groups were compared. The difference between these scores was statistically significant at the .05 level. Thus, when compared to a no-rhythm situation, rhythm was a more effective mediator and means of enhancing short-term memory. Clearly, rhythm succeeded at facilitating short-term memory of semantically unrelated items in a group of mentally retarded subjects.


Ryan (1969A) also addressed the issue of rhythm (i.e., temporal grouping) and its impact upon short term memory, however, his subjects consisted of 50 Cambridge University students. Subjects, who were placed into one of 5 conditions, were instructed to memorize nine-digit sequences taken from a random number table. Subjects in the rhythmic temporal group were presented digits in groups of threes with 0.9 second time intervals between digit groups. Subjects in the remaining four non-temporal groups were presented the same nine-digit sequences without pauses between groups. In one condition, the digits were not grouped. In the remaining three conditions, grouping of a different nature took place. In one, pips were heard after the third digit, in a second, students were instructed to group the digits into threes, and in the third, subjects heard pips and were instructed to do their own grouping. Students were tested on their recall of these digits immediately after presentation. After error scores were computed, Ryan performed a Kruskal-Walls one-way analysis of variance across conditions which was significant a the 0.02 level. This was followed by a Mann-Whitney U test which was also significant at the 0.0002 level (U=6) for the temporally grouped and ungrouped conditions. That is, when comparing the two, temporal grouping resulted in significantly fewer recall errors than the ungrouped condition which presented digits without the benefit of rhythmic grouping of any kind. When the temporal grouping error scores were compared with the pips-only group, there was also statistical significance (U = 13, p< 0.002). In the pip condition, grouping did occur because of the pips. While both the pips group and the temporal group did provide subjects with a means of grouping digits, the temporal group relied upon rhythm while the pip group did not. The statistical significance mentioned points to the superiority of the rhythmic condition when compared to another form of grouping. In short, rhythm facilitated recall of digits when compared to conditions in which there was (1) no rhythm and therefore no digit grouping and (2) no rhythm, but grouping thru pips. Taking a more linguistic approach to the issue of rhythm in short-term memory, Weener (1971) studied the impact of sentence rhythm (i.e., intonation) upon the memorization of short word lists. Ninety child subjects of normal intelligence participated in this study. Subjects, who were enrolled in kindergarten, first, second and third grades, were instructed to recall five-word strings which were syntactically acceptable but either (1) intoned or not intoned during presentation, and (2) had associativity (i.e., were semantically related) or lacked associativity (i.e., semantically unrelated). After performing a 4 X 2 X 2 Fixed Factor Analysis, it was determined that intonation was a significant main effect (F = 58.7, p< .01). In short, Weener found that intonation facilitated short-term recall of semantically unrelated items. Although rhythm also positively impacted the recall of semantically relevant items as well, this will be discussed in greater detail later in this paper. Shepard and Ascher (1972), also taking a more linguistic approach, studied the effects of rhythm (i.e., intonation) upon short-term memory as well. Unlike some of the previously mentioned studies, their subjects covered a wide range of ages: first graders, fifth graders and college students. All ninety-six subjects, 16 of each gender, were instructed to recall five-item word strings which were either (1) meaningful, that is syntactically and semantically accurate;


(2) anomalous, that is, syntactically but not semantically acceptable; and (3) unstructured, both semantically and syntactically incorrect. Half of the subjects were presented the stimuli with the benefit of sentence rhythm, while the other half received a monotone presentation. Subjects were required to recall the lists immediately after each trial. The intonation effect between list type (i.e., meaningful, anomalous and unstructured) and intonation (i.e., intonation/no intonation) was significant at the .001 level. Sentence rhythm did in fact facilitate the learning of all three lists in the short term memory task. Clearly, rhythm aided short-term memory of the semantically unrelated items as was the case with the unstructured lists of this study. Findings with respect to the anomalous and meaningful lists will be discussed later in this paper under section III entitled, "Rhythm and the Memorization of Semantically Related Verbal Information." Long-Term Memory Only the study by Milman (1974) deals with the issue of rhythm and its impact upon long-term memorization of semantically unrelated items. By using a metronome, Milman facilitated the memorization of multiplication tables in a group of slow learners. Students recited their times tables rhythmically to the sound of the metronome, often tapping the table with their hands in syncopation. After a while, the recitation usually began to resemble a chant. Lessons covering one multiplication table generally lasted 25 minutes. The subjects in her study consisted of only two subjects, each of which were experiencing little success using conventional instructional methods. Pre and post tests consisted of forms A and B of the Metropolitan Achievement Test (Elementary Arithmetic-Computational Section). Grade-level scores belonging to the two subjects rose from 4.9 at the end of the fourth grade to 7.1 at the end of the fifth grade, and 4.9 at the end of the fifth grade to 8.1 at the end of the sixth grade. Milman reports that in this last case, other mathematical skills, apart from computational skills, improved: More abstract mathematical skills improved as well, as evidenced by higher scores on the Concepts and Problem Solving section of the test. Thus, rhythm, in this case artificially imposed, positively affected the memorization of semantically unrelated items in long-term memory.

III Rhythm and the Memorization of Semantically Related Verbal Information While the previous section drew attention to rhythm and its participation in the memorization of semantically unrelated items, the following section focuses on the memorization of semantically related items, that is, on the interaction between rhythm and meaning. This section will explore whether rhythm facilitates the learning of semantically related stimuli as much as it does the learning of semantically unrelated stimuli.


Short-Term Memory In Weener's (1971) study of 90 elementary school children, sentence rhythm (i.e., intonation) increased the recall of semantically related strings as well as the semantically unrelated word groups. Although rhythm was beneficial to both types of word groups, recall was greatest for semantically related items than their unrelated counterparts. When both intoned conditions were compared, an average of 1.3 more words were recalled when there were meaningful relationships between items. So then, although rhythm benefits short-term memory of semantically related and semantically unrelated stimuli, the effect is greater in the former than it is in the later. The findings of Weener (1971) are consistent with the findings of Shepard and Ascher (1972). In their study involving 92 subjects, there was a significant interaction (p< .001) between rhythm (i.e., intonation) and list type. As was reported earlier in this paper, rhythm enhanced memory for semantically unrelated items (e.g., unstructured lists). This interaction effect held true as well for short-term memorization of the more semantically related anomalous and meaningful lists, however there was one major difference: the degree to which rhythm facilitated learning. The lists which were semantically related were favored over lists with little semantic relatedness to other items in the list. No statistical data were reported to support these findings. Furthermore, the meaningful lists , which carried the greatest amount of meaning were recalled better than the anomalous lists, whose items were not as semantically related. Thus, the greater the semantic relatedness, the greater the recall with rhythm. It is understandable why anomalous sentences were retained better than unstructured ones, yet to a lesser extent than meaningful sentences. Although anomalous sentences such as "The eloquent eraser sprinkles freedom." maintains semantically unacceptable relationships between words (i.e., Erasers cannot sprinkle.), the items in the sentence are semantically related, so much so that they are capable of conjuring up mental images. Glazner (1976), in another experiment of the aforementioned study, studied rhythm and the short-term memorization of semantically related items in a group of 60 college students. Subjects were divided into one of two groups: those who were presented the words rhythmically and those who were presented the words in a monotone voice. Glazner presented 18 lists of 24 nouns for his subjects to memorize. Each list contained four pairs of semantically related words (i.e., subordinate-superordinate or coordinate word pairs). Two of these semantically related word pairs were presented in-phase, that is, within the same intonational groups or were out-of-phase, that is, displaced into two different intonational or rhythmic groups. Filter words, which were semantically unrelated to other items in the list, made up the remainder of the lists and separated the semantically related words from one another. Students were tested by writing all words recalled after presentation.


In contrast to the research in this section, Glazner's findings indicated that there was no positive interaction between rhythm (i.e., intonation) and semantic relatedness for short-term memory. To further examine this relationship, Glazner compared the conditions in which intonation was in-phase (i.e., synchronized) with the semantic relationships with the conditions in which intonation was out of phase with semantic relationships. Given the mean proportion of in-phase words was .51 and out-of-phase words as .48, no statistical significance (p< 1.0) was found. These findings stand in stark contrast to the findings found thus far from other studies examining the relationship between semantic relatedness and rhythm in short-term memory. Long-Term Memory In another experiment belonging to the same study, Glazner turned his attention to the impact of rhythm (i.e., intonational groups) and semantically meaningful material upon long-term, rather than short-term memory. Although the subjects consisted of a different group of 30 college students, the methods and procedures used in the previously mentioned experiment were the same. Findings from this experiment indicated that early list items, those attributed to long-term memory, were statistically analyzed. There were in this study, two differing ways in which Glazner determined whether rhythm (i.e., intonational grouping) interacted with semantic relationships to bring about beneficial effects in long-term memory. First, he compared intoned semantically related words (i.e., those in-phase) to intoned unsemantically related (i.e., filter) words. When the mean proportions of correct words were compared for both of these conditions using an Analysis of Variance, there was significance. That is, more intoned semantically related words were recalled than intoned semantically unrelated words. The possibility of this occurring by chance was 10 -9. The second way in which Glazner determined if there was a positive interaction between semantic relatedness and rhythm was to compare the recall scores of intoned semantically related words with intoned but out-of-phase words, that is, words whose semantic relationship had been uninterrupted by intonational boundaries. Once again, the results were significant (F = 12.07) at the .005 level. So then, after using two different procedures to answer Glazner's question, it was determined that for long-term memory, there was a strong interaction between rhythm and semantic relatedness. IV Summary of Research Findings The following table, Table 1, was constructed to provide the reader with a simple overview of the studies covered in this review of the literature. The studies have been placed in the table by type of memorization (i.e., short-term / long-term), nature of the verbal material learned (i.e., semantically related / semantically unrelated stimuli), as well as the type of recall required (i.e., form / meaning). Furthermore, the words yes and no alongside the experimenter's name signify whether rhythm significantly improved recall of the targeted verbal information.


As Table 1 indicates, the majority of researchers studied the short-term effects of rhythm upon the memorization of semantically unrelated items. Yet, Table 1 also indicates that little work has been done with respect to rhythm and semantically related items. Furthermore, as is obvious from studying the table, most of the study findings concurred with the exception of the studies on short-term memory of semantically related items. Given there are only three studies on the subject, it is unclear why their findings are contradictory. Table 1 Synopsis of Rhythm and Verbal Memory Research Semantically Unrelated Items Ryan (1969A) - Yes Shepard & Ascher (1972) - Yes Staples (1968) - Yes Weener (1971) - Yes Milman (1979) - Yes

Short-Term Memorization

Long-Term Memorization

Semantically Related Items Meaning Recalled Short-Term Memorization Form Recalled Weener (1971) - Yes Shepard & Ascher (1972) - Yes Glazner (1976) - No

Meaning Recalled Long-Term Memorization Form Recalled Glazner (1976) - Yes


The studies reviewed in this paper included research from two fields: linguistics and psychology. Although their orientations differed somewhat, they both centered their attention on the temporal aspects of rhythm. The actual verbal material memorized consisted primarily of words, yet in one study digits were memorized with rhythm. Subjects were normal and retarded and varied greatly in their ages from four years of age to college-age. Despite these differences there were some general tendencies which are noteworthy. These research findings are summarized as follows: * Rhythm facilitated short-term memorization of semantically unrelated stimuli in the four studies cited. * Rhythm facilitated long-term memorization of semantically related stimuli. * There is disagreement regarding the effectiveness of rhythm upon the short-term memorization of semantically related stimuli. Based on this literature review, it is possible to tentatively address the two questions which were central to this review of the literature: (1) Are short-term and long-term memory similarly or differentially impacted by rhythm ? (2) What kinds of verbal items are positively and negatively affected by rhythm, those which are related in meaning to other items being memorized, or those which are not related semantically ? With regard to the first question, the existing research indicates that both long-term and short-term memorization of semantically unrelated stimuli are positively affected by rhythm. There is some disagreement as to whether the semantically related stimuli are impacted in short-term and long-term memories. Glazner (1976) points to the differential effects of rhythm upon semantically related stimuli: While rhythm facilitated long-term memory, it failed to have the same effect upon short-term memory. The studies by Weener (1971) and Shepard & Ascher (1972), however, while focusing only upon short-term memory do provide data which is in conflict with Glazner's: Rhythm does enhance the short-term memorization of semantically related items. The second question posits whether rhythm interacts differently with semantically related and unrelated stimuli. The findings of Weener (1971) and Shepard & Ascher (1972) concur: In short-term memory, rhythm positively affects recall to a greater extent when stimuli are semantically related. Furthermore, in long-term memory, rhythm significantly impacts meaningful verbal information to a greater degree than semantically unrelated items (Glazner, 1976).


Although most of the research findings are in agreement, caution should be taken not to draw definitive conclusions based on these studies alone. As Table demonstrates, there are certain areas in which the research is almost non-existent, particularly the research on long-term memory and semantically related items. Greater numbers of research studies are needed overall in order to properly address the questions posed at the beginning of this paper. Only then will it be possible to explore further the topic of rhythm and its impact upon verbal memorization.


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Shepard, W., & Ascher, L. (1973) Effects of linguistic rule conformity on free recall in children and adults. Developmental Psychology, 8(1), 139. Smoll, F. (1973) A rhythmic ability analysis system. Research Quarterly, 44, 232-236. Spohn, C. (1977) Research in learning rhythms and the implication for music education. Council for Research in Music Education, 50, 62-66. Staples, S. (1968) A paired-associates learning task utilizing music as the mediator: An exploratory study. Journal of Music Therapy, 5(2), 53-57. Sturges, P., & Martin, J. (1974). Rhythmic structure in auditory temporal pattern perception and immediate memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 102, 377-383. Weener, P. (1971) Language structure and free recall of verbal messages by children. Developmental Psychology, 5, 237-243.