Date of Award

Spring 1981

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Tagatz, Glenn E.

Second Advisor

Martin, Thomas A.

Third Advisor

Dupuis, A.


The purpose of the present study was to determine the effect of arousal on verbal learning and subsequent memory retention at short and long retention intervals. This research attempted to delineate the issues of the model of arousal employed, the learning paradigm used, and the type of verbal material used to study verbal learning against a background of growing debate about the level of bodily arousal (activation) necessary for optimal learning (performance) in the classroom. The present study attempted to extend the generalizability of Hebb's inverted U function of arousal while providing detracting evidence for Walker's Action Decrement Hypothesis. The subjects were 45 adults ages 18 to 54. The subjects were divided into three levels of arousal, high, moderate, and low contingent upon their composite scores on the Activation-Deactiviation Adjective Check List and Eysenck's Personality Inventory, self-report inventories highly correlated with physiological arousal. The subjects were required to learn a list of 30 semantic verbal stimuli. The dependent variable was the number of semantic stimuli correctly recognized immediately after the learning trial and after 24 hours (long term memory). The design employed a 2 (retention interval length) x 3 (arousal level) factorial analysis. Linear and quadratic trend analyses evaluated the shape variation of the main effect of arousal level over long and short-term retention intervals. The main effect of arousal level was significant (p<.05) as predicted. However, the high arousal group demonstrated superior performance over both the moderate and low arousal groups. It was predicted that the moderate arousal group would demonstrate superior performance. The linear and quadratic trend analyses revealed a significant (p<.05) linear component and a non-significant curvilinear component of the main effect of arousal thus detracting from the predicted curvilinear or inverted U curve describing the relationship between arousal and learning/memory. A test of the main effect of retention interval was not significant as predicted. A test of the interaction between arousal level and retention interval was not significant. Thus Walker's Action Decrement Theory was not supported as it predicted an interaction between interval length and arousal. It was concluded that more than any other factor, the operational definition of arousal accounted for the variance and conflicting results in arousal, learning/memory studies.



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