Understanding Elaborative Rehearsal in Psychology

Definitions, Examples, and Research

Elaborative rehearsal is a way to more effectively memorize information and maintain it in your long-term memory. By making associations between the new information you're trying to learn and the information you already know, you're making your brain process the information in a more in-depth way.

Elaborative rehearsal can involve organizing the information, thinking of examples, creating an image in your head of the information and developing a way to remember the information through a mnemonic device. There are several mnemonic devices that can facilitate elaborative rehearsal, such as using the first letter of a list of words to make a new word.

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Origins

Elaborative rehearsal finds its roots in the levels of processing theory proposed by Criak and Lockhart in 1972. These researchers felt that the depth of information processing directly affects our ability to recall it.

Maintenance vs. Elaborative Rehearsal

Maintenance rehearsal is what we might typically think of as rehearsal—that is, the straight repeating of information in order to memorize it. This may also be referred to as rote rehearsal. An example of maintenance rehearsal is repeating the digits of a phone number until we dial them.

Rehearsal of the information you're trying to learn can be mental, where you're thinking about and repeating the information in your mind, or verbal, where you're speaking and repeating the information out loud.

Does Rehearsal Work As a Memory Aid?

Who benefits from using rehearsal to help remember things? The answer is everyone, but some groups may find it particularly helpful, including those with learning disabilities or early dementia. Patients with conditions like fibromyalgia that cause "brain fog" may also find rehearsal a valuable way to improve memory retention.

Multiple research studies have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of rehearsing information in order to be able to later recall it. For example, a 2015 study found that rehearsing details of video clips immediately after watching them significantly improved recall of the videos weeks later.

However, evidence suggests that maintenance rehearsal is mostly effective at placing information in your short-term memory (such as a phone number) while elaborative rehearsal may be more effective at encoding it into your long-term memory.

Six Examples of Elaborative Rehearsal

Let's imagine you need to learn the names and locations of all the bones of the body. Here are some examples of ways to use elaborative rehearsal in this task.

  1. Translate information into your own words. Rather than simply reading what your study guide says about which bone is connected to the next bone, try phrasing the information differently and then explaining it to someone else.
  2. Compose study questions and answer them. Come up with 10 questions about where specific bones are located in the body and which other bones they're connected to, and then answer your questions.
  3. Use images to assist you. Use paper and online images of the skeleton, and reference on your own body where each bone is located and what its name is. Rather than simply look at the pictures on a study guide, use color to help you. For example, you could choose blue to color each bone of the leg once you've rehearsed its name several times. The color blue might remind you that blue jeans are worn over legs, which can help you recall the location of the bone.
  4. Group terms. Outline different characteristics or categories of the bones and check off which ones fit into each group. You could identify all of the bones that are located in the foot and list them in that category, and then do the same for the other parts of the body.
  5. Use a mnemonic strategy. Mnemonic strategies can be very helpful in learning names or terms. For example, take the first letter of the list of bones in the arm and hand and create a new word where each letter stands for one of the bones you need to remember.
  6. Space out your learning. Don't try to learn all of the bones in the body in one sitting. Your efficiency is likely to decrease if you spend too long cramming for a test. Research suggests that using the same amount of time (or less) spread out over the course of a few days can be more effective at placing the information you need to know in your memory.

Elaborative Rehearsal in Early Dementia

While much of the research about elaborative rehearsal is related to students, there has also been some discussion about how this method may be useful for people in the early stages of dementia.

Memory is often one of the first areas affected by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia. However, some research has shown that elaborative rehearsal strategies, such as using a simple mnemonic technique, can help compensate for those memory deficits and improve mental functioning in early dementia.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are two types of rehearsal?

There are two types of rehearsal: maintenance and elaborative. Maintenance rehearsal simply involves repeating information (out loud or in your head). Elaborative rehearsal is, well, more elaborate, and involves additional memory aids like mnemonic devices.

Which type of rehearsal strengthens long-term memory?

Elaborative rehearsal is more effective for long-term memory retention. By using memory aids—such as grouping, using images, or quizzing yourself on the information you need to learn—you are more likely to have a stronger long-term retention rate than you would if you used maintenance rehearsal.

Does research support elaborative rehearsal?

Yes. Studies have demonstrated that elaborative rehearsal is an effective way to retain information.

Is elaborative rehearsal more effective than maintenance rehearsal?

That depends on what information you need to remember and for how long. While elaborative rehearsal has been shown to be effective for information that you want to remember long-term, there may be cases (like a phone number) when maintenance rehearsal may be appropriate.

A Word From Verywell

Elaborative rehearsal can improve your ability to learn and later recall the information you learned. Rather than simply repeating facts that you're trying to learn, elaborative rehearsal can help you connect meaning to those facts and thus make them easier to remember.

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