What Is Transfer Appropriate Processing?

Memory performance is not only determined by the depth of processing, but by the relationship between how information is initially encoded and how it is later retrieved. This concept is known as Transfer Appropriate Processing. This is an information-processing action that occurs in two stages. The first has to do with the activity that takes place when information is encoded. The second involves the retrieval experience.

Transfer Appropriate Processing

Deep Processing

How we remember information depends largely on how we encode it. If we pay little attention to meaning, information will not be remembered for a very long time. In contrast, with deep processing we pay close attention to the meaning of what we try to remember. Consequently, it gets stored much more effectively in the long term memory.

For example, consider 3 groups being given a memorizing task: The first group has to memorize a list of words; the second group has to memorize a list of words, plus they are given a rhyming task (they have to match rhyming words in addition to the list); the third group is given the list of words to memorize, plus an even more advanced task, where they have to fill-in-the-gaps so that the words make sense in sentences. This “meaning task” requires a much deeper level of thinking. As a result, when asked to recall as many words as possible, the third group will remember the most words from the list. This illustrates that the deeper the brain processes information, the greater the recall.

So, deep processing needs to take place for optimal recall. But there is more to it. Transfer Appropriate Processing is also needed: memory is further enhanced if the type of task a person engages in during encoding matches the type of task at retrieval.

Match Activities

Let’s consider the same experiment, but focus specifically on how participants are asked to retrieve the information: When given a retrieval test that involves rhyming, those who did the encoding by means of a “rhyming task” will perform better than those who did the encoding by means of a “fill-in-the-gaps task”. So, when asked to encode the information in a very specific way and then get it back out of the brain in the same way, memory is enhanced. This shows that memory is enhanced when encoding and retrieval match, even when the encoding does not necessarily involve optimal deep processing.

So, for best recall, two activities need to match: how we get information into the memory and how we get it out of the memory. This is Transfer Appropriate Processing.

Four hands holding individual puzzle pieces.


Match Locations

It has even been shown that the context and surroundings in which information is learned play a role in how well it is remembered. In an experiment conducted in the 1970’s, it was found that even the location where encoding takes place has a profound effect on the retrieval of the information. Subjects were placed into two groups. One group had to study under water. The other group had to study the same information on land. These groups were then divided so that half were tested for recall on land and half were tested under water. The results showed that the best recall occurred when subjects learned and were tested in the same location. The retrieval and encoding conditions were thus matched, specifically with regard to location.

For optimal memory, processing needs to take place at a deep level: one needs to elaborate on the information, making it meaningful in order to generate connections. However, the Transfer Appropriate Processing theory suggests that memory will be best when the processes engaged during encoding match those engaged during retrieval.

Location Icon.