Psychology, Notes 10 -- Interesting Cognitive Stuff
A. Where we are/themes.
B. Counting-out rhymes.
C. Distribution of memories.
II. Where we are/themes.
A. Where we are. We'll look at a diverse mix of research
that doesn't fit in the sequence so far. The criterion for
getting in here is that it is interesting and doesn't really go
anywhere else. There isn't really a theme.
As an overview, this will wrap up the "representation and process" part
of the class and get us to the "higher cognition" portion of the
class. We will cover these as we can, what we don't get to is out
of the class.
III. Counting-out rhymes.
Demonstration: Complete this poem: “Eenie,
...” Try this one: “One potato, two potato...”
frequency for the two modal versions:
|Eenie, meenie, miney, mo,
||One potato, two potato,
|Catch a tiger by the toe.
||Three potato, four,
|If he hollers, let him go.
||Five potato, six potato,
|Eenie, meenie, miney, mo.
||Seven potato, more.
Most native English speakers who grew up in the US will produce the
two versions above. There are some other common variations,
related to what gets caught in eenie meenie.
A. Why are we interested in counting-out rhymes? There
1. The rhymes were “designed” to be memorized. They're
used mostly by preliterate children. These kids can't consult the
big book of rhymes to decide who's “it.” They have to go by oral
tradition. Further, since the rhymes have a ritualistic role to
in maintaining order, they have to be reproduced exactly. Any
could constitute cheating, and kids don't tolerate that well.
2. The rhymes are readily accessible, and almost everyone has
learned one or some of them. This makes them relatively easy to
Given these facts about the rhymes, we can get to the truly interesting
question: What would something look like if it had to pass the
test of being memorizable? This is completely different from the
laboratory memory experiments we've been considering. As we'll
these rhymes have a lot of properties that the laboratory studies have
failed to uncover.
B. Properties of counting-out rhymes. Is there an
genre that these rhymes all belong to? In other words, is there
system of rules that constrains these rhymes to all be pretty
If there is, then we want to know what those constraints are. By
knowing the constraints, a person would never really have to “memorize”
any of these rhymes. Instead, the gist of the rhyme plus the
could allow relatively sure reproduction. In fact, there are
Rubin (1995) has examined the most popular 24 rhymes used in English,
and the least popular 24 rhymes. Here are the properties:
*Represents a proportion.
|Lines per rhyme
|Words per rhyme
|Poetic words on beats*
|Nonpoetic words on beats*
Assonance is when the stressed vowel of a word repeats.
is a repeated first letter. Overall poetics is the proportion of
all the words involved in some form of poetic device.
So, there is evidence of a common genre (or schema) that defines
rhymes. First, the rare and common rhymes generally don't differ
on these measures. So, when kids were constructing the rare ones,
they were made to fit the rules. The main difference is in poetic
words on beats. The common ones have more poetic words on beats
makes them easier to detect).
What are the properties of the genre? Use nonsense words (similar
to magic and ritual), use lots of poetic devices (almost 90% of the
are involved in something), have four-line rhymes with four beats per
(this emphasizes the counting and makes cheating harder), and put the
words on the beats. It looks like repeated sound patterns govern
the construction of these more than meaning.
What does this do? It greatly constrains your choices of what
to say at any point in the rhyme. These constraints remove a lot
of the burden from memory because the information you need is in the
of the rhyme you've already done. In other words, if you know the
gist, once you get started the rest comes pretty much due to
Here's an example of constraints.
Demonstration: Write down a word that rhymes with
Write down a word that rhymes with red. Write down a device for
numbers. Write down a device that plays music. Write down a
spiritual or mythological figure. Write down a spiritual or
figure that rhymes with “most.” Everyone probably wrote “ghost”
the last one.
Ghost rhymes with most and is a spiritual or mythological figure,
until you put the constraints together, it's not very likely. The
sound constraints help a person singing a ballad or an epic poem.
If you finish a line that has the word “host” and you need a spiritual
figure at the end of the next line, “ghost” is the only option, whether
you remember it or not. This is how sound patterns can contribute
to memory for counting out rhymes.
Let's analyze one line: “Eenie, meenie, miney, mo.” First,
the vowels follow a front to back progression (e, I, o). This is
also present if “fee, fi, fo” of “fee, fi, fo, fum” and Old MacDonald
Front to back is a lot more natural than a mixture such as “eenie,
There's also a repetition of “eenie” in “meenie.” You have
in “meenie, miney, mo.” You have rhyming for “eenie, meenie,
“Mo” will rhyme with “toe” and “go.” The /n/ sound is in the same
place in three words. The whole line repeats at the end and “mo”
will determine who is “it.” This puts the selection on a beat,
couldn't happen if “mo” was two syllables, like “monie.” In other
words, changing one sound anywhere will mess up some pattern that's
You can change the whole line (as in the Scottish “eena deena dina
but not one part. The sound patterns determine all of the
that could be forgotten.
Meaning constrains the rest, but the meaning is a lot less
In fact, if you look at variation, most of it happens in the
How can we test this?
First, have a group of people write down “eenie, meenie” from
Then, compare to the “standard” version. What kinds of changes do
|Replace story line
Replacing the story line would be substituting something like “if he
hollers make him pay fifty dollars every day.” In the mid 1800’s
when the rhyme first started, a n----r was grabbed by the toe.
then, this has become unacceptable. So, something had to
What did Rubin get? 73 tigers, 10 monkeys, 10 rabbits, 2 fellows,
2 piggies, and one bunny, blackbird, buyer, chicken, doggie, froggie,
wiffer waffer. The miscellaneous changes were mostly making “the”
into “he,” “his,” or “its.”
The sound patterns didn't change. In fact, the most important
change (tiger) actually shows the sound patterns at work. It had
to be a two-syllable thing. So, if you want a frog, it has to be
a froggie. The two most popular have other poetic
Tiger alliterates with toe. Monkey alliterates with the items in
line one. So, the ones that add even more poetic constraint are
In fact, looking at samples from people who learned the rhyme in 1953,
1965, 1976, and 1978, the n-word appears 40%, 6%, .5% and 0% of the
Tiger appears 56%, 70%, 84%, and 100%. In other words, social
outside the rhyme genre made change, and the system settled on the one
with the best poetics (better than the original). Rubin repeats
same analysis for one potato.
One last look: What historical changes have taken place?
Up until around 1860, the most popular rhyme was:
Onery, twory, tickery, tevin
Alabone, crackabone, ten and eleven.
Pin, pam, musky dam.
Tweedleum, twaddleum, twenty-one.
Over time, it disappeared, and “eenie, meenie” and “one potato”
more popular. Looking at a sample of former favorites and current
favorites, what can we say? Rhymes are becoming more
This provides dual constraints of meaning and sound (the “eenie,
analysis above was all sound). In a competition, meaning and
will make recall easier, and increase a rhyme's popularity. Also,
the kids using the rhymes are getting younger, which cuts down on the
poetics that they can take advantage of.
Upshot: Rhymes are a genre which uses sound and meaning to
what is remembered. Since you have to remember them accurately,
can tell us something about memory.
Some confirmation of this comes from a study by Rubin, Ciobanu, and
Langston (1997). We collected a sample of Romanian counting-out
from Bucharest school children. These rhymes were analyzed using
the same rules as were developed for English. The most popular
|Din oceanul pacific
||From the Pacific ocean
||Pe o bara
||On a bar
|A iesit un peste mic
||A little fish came out
||Se caca o cioara
||A crow was pooping
|Si pe coada lui scria
||And on his tail was written
||Ga, ga, ga
||Ga, ga, ga
|Iesi afara dumneata
||Out goes you
||Drept in gura ta
||Right in your mouth
|Last line could be:
|Te iubesc, nu ma uita
||I love you don't forget me
When you look at the variability, you get the same pattern as for
There are some differences, but none of them affect the poetics.
When you compare the poetics, you get pretty much the same
So, what we've concluded from the English rhymes (sound and meaning
lead to recall) appears to be universal.
IV. Distribution of memories. How are your memories
distributed across your lifespan? When you're older (65-75 or
what will you remember? This question about autobiographical
has produced some very interesting results.
A. First, how do you ask the question? The most common
technique is to present a person with a list of words and ask that
to write down the first concrete memory that comes to mind when they
the word. The memory should be clear and distinct, and the person
needs to have been involved in it. For example, if you hear
you might recall a time you went to the store with your father.
all the words are presented, the person goes back and dates each memory
(at least to the year, maybe more). Then, you plot the
of memories by the age at the time the event happened.
See the results of such a study done by Jansari and Parkin
The top graph is for people 46-50 at the time of the test, the bottom
is for people 56-60. There are three parts to these curves.
1. The recent part is explained by a power forgetting
You forget a lot right away, but less and less as time goes by.
is similar to the function you get in laboratory research.
2. The earliest part is explained by a function that has
amnesia. Very few people remember anything before the age of 3,
this part goes to zero around that age.
3. There's a bump in the middle (especially for older
This bump represents a portion of the curve where you have a lot more
than would be expected. It usually goes from around age 10 to
age 30. We're interested in the bump.
B. Properties of the bump:
1. It's very robust. You get it with word cues, object
cues, memory for world events and news stories, memory for music,
for sporting events, and memory if a person is asked to write events
would go into a story of their life.
2. It doesn't happen for younger adults. This may be due
to a memory deficit that occurs as you age. In particular, as you
get older you get less efficient at encoding, this means there are
recent memories to report, so you go farther back, and that makes a
But, Jansari and Parkin didn't let people recall recent memories, and
you do that, younger people show a bump too, so that might be wrong.
The implication is this: If you're between the ages of 10-30,
you're currently laying down the memories that will be most recallable
for the rest of your life. This might partially explain cohort
For example, I was in prime bump time in the 80s, and now I'm turning
retro stations that play 80s music, I like 80s movies better, I think
like today's music and fashion, etc. aren't as good as when I was going
through the bump, etc. In other words, if you're in the bump, I
you're having a good time, because at least part of your “self” will
be here in the memory bump with the memories that are “easiest” to
What makes this interesting to us is to ask why. What produces
the bump? Why are you recalling significantly more memories from
this part of your life than any other? Here's a preview:
Rubin and Schulkind (1997) consider seven hypotheses. They are:
1. It's demand characteristics from the experiment. People
somehow think these are the memories you're asking for.
2. People will tolerate longer searches in this period, which
helps them get more memories. A situation would be if you try to
remember yesterday, you have this metamemory knowledge that it should
easy, so if it seems the least bit hard, you stop right away. If
you try to remember 10 years ago, you expect it to be hard, so you look
longer before quitting.
3. You have your important memories in the bump.
4. The bump memories are more likely to be in the central
of your life.
5. The bump memories are more novel and distinctive, so less
6. The bump memories are more vivid or emotional.
7. The bump memories are encoded differently, and that makes
them easier to retrieve.
How can we test between these?
What do Rubin and Schulkind find?
1. They had biasing instructions that conveyed to people the
desire to get bump memories, and it had no effect. So, this
2. No reaction time differences.
3. People rated all of the memories on importance. These
weren't any more important. When people write down the five most
significant events of their lives, a lot of them are in the bump, but
are all in the 20-30 decade, not the whole bump.
4. Bump memories were not rated as being more significant.
They were also not rated as being retold more often.
5. The memories were not rated as being more novel.
6. The bump memories were not rated as being more emotional or
7. It's all that's left. What could this be? Maybe
a neurological thing. Maybe this is a critical period as an
trying to survive in a harsh world, and that means you should pay more
attention here. Maybe, but we have no data.
Cognitive Psychology Notes 10
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