IA tips for Glanzer and Cunitz Studies

Travis DixonInternal Assessment (IB)

The primacy and recency effect (the tendency to remember words at the beginning and ends of lists) is evidence in support of the MSM.

It’s a popular study to replicate for the IA, but Glanzer and Cunitz’s 1966 study on the serial position effect is filled with danger when you’re not careful. If you’re doing this study for your IA, read this post carefully!

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Focus on one effect:The weakest IAs filled with the most errors are those that are not clear on exactly what they’re studying. The serial position effect includes the primacy and recency effects. However, because of the requirements of the IA you should study one!

Which one? Well, I don’t want to give you all the answers, but you should be able to figure it out. Your independent variable in this study is the delayed or no delay, right? Take a look at the line graph. The delay only affects the primacy or the recency effect. Figure out which one and that’s what you should focus on because you don’t want to have two conditions in your experiment that you’re hypothesizing will have the same results.

Operational definitions: Remember what your independent variable (IV) is – it’s the delay. Therefore, be specific. Exactly how long is the delay in the DRF (delayed free recall) condition and when do participants recall in the IFR (immediate free recall). Misidentifying the IV is a common error that must be avoided. To repeat: it’s the delay/no delay that you should be manipulating, not the words in the sequence or the sequences of words . These will be consistent across both groups.

For your dependent variable (DV), be clear in what you mean by “recall.” Does this mean verbally, in writing, identifying? Operational definitions require you to be specific. (Learn more on this blog post).

Link it to the MSM: The biggest mistake students make is not clearly linking the primacy/recency effect to a theory or model (learn more on this blog post). It’s important that your introduction begins with a clear and accurate (and well-referenced) summary of Atkinson and Shiffrin’s multi-store model. You should also define the key terms primacy and recency effect. You can then explain the connection in one of two ways:

  1. Use the MSM to explain why the recency effect disappears after a delay
  2. Use the recency effect’s disappearance after a delay as support for the claims of the MSM
    1. (Hint: the concepts of rehearsal, STS-LTS and the capacity of the STS are needed to understand and explain this clearly).

Later in your introduction you can make the link clear between your own investigation and the MSM by stating how your aim is testing one of the claims of the model. You can learn more ways to avoid this common mistake here.

Aim to explain 2-3 materials: What you used to manipulate your IV, measure your DV and your ethical guidelines docs. (e.g. informed consent)

Explain your word list: In your exploration you must explain your materials. The most effective explanations are those that explain materials related to their manipulation and/or measuring of their variables. In this case, a common mistake is students state that they use a word list but they don’t take the time to explain how they created their word list and why they did it this way. For example, was a random word generator used? If so, which one and why use a random word generator?

Having a list of words that are different in each position could confound the results. For example, having some long or short, some easy or hard, some familiar or unfamiliar in the beginning and not in the end could be a confounding variable.

The recency effect is an effect not a cause: Because you’ve chosen (I hope) to do the recency effect you must remember that it does not cause an effect – the delay causes the recency effect. The RE is an effect not a cause, so it’s not your IV. Your IV is the IFR v DFR (Immediate Free Recall and Delayed Free Recall).

And yes, I’m aware I gave you the answer to the second problem here but I figure if you’ve read this far you deserve the answer if you didn’t already figure it out for yourself 🙂


Choose better names for groups: It’s a pet peeve and it doesn’t affect marks, but it’s difficult reading studies that call your conditions “Group A” and “Group B” or “Condition 1” and “Condition 2.” It makes it confusing when you try to summarize your results because your teacher or examiner must continually remind themselves which group was which. I recommend giving them descriptive titles that make it easier. For example, you could simply call them the “Delay” and “No Delay” conditions. Problem solved.

My students usually choose other studies, but it was a common one this year with my Pamoja classes, which is why I’ve written this blog post for them (and for you if it’s helpful). There are other common errors in the IA, but you can watch about those on our YouTube IA Playlist.