tvSmarter – Life in a TV Nation

Memory: Watching a show, versus, reading the transcript

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In “Twilight of the Books”, author Caleb Crain
notes that “… a series of British studies
in which people who read transcripts of television
newscasts, political programs, advertisements,
and science shows recalled more information
than those who had watched the shows themselves.”

For more info on these studies see:

Although Furnham and Gunter have found a variety
of results under differing conditions, they have
consistently found that subjects remember material
presented in a print medium better than identical
material presented in an audio medium or a combined
audiovisual medium. Gunter (1987) concluded that
this was due to the INHERENT CAPACITIES of these
different media to convey knowledge. These differences
were found for samples drawn from populations of
schoolchildren, university students, military
personnel, and non-students. Across these categories
the most consistent result was that subjects
REMEMBER BETTER from print materials than
audio or audiovisual materials.

Furnham and Gunter’s research methodology is
best exemplified by their article, “Memory for
information from a party political broadcast
as a function of the channel of communication”
(Gunter, Furnham, & Leese, 1986). An approximately
five minute television broadcast was delivered
to university students in three groups. Group one
received the TV broadcast in its normal form.
Group two received the broadcast with audio only.
Group three received a transcribed script of the
broadcast. Time was held constant in all treatments.
Memory was tested with free recall, cued recall,
and multiple choice questions, in that order.
Results, as reported above, indicated that
retention was superior with print materials.
Note that the content was designed for TV and
that the print condition was the least “natural.”
These methods and results are typical.

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