Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Recall and Recognition

I've blogged often (and published academic research) on the differences between the recall and the recognition of political information. These two forms of what people know differ not only methodologically but theoretically as well.  To put it simply -- and less PhDweebishly -- recall is one's ability to pull information out of memory with no help, a cognitively difficult task.  Recognition is like a multiple-choice test in which you're given a number of answers to choose from, a cognitively easier task.

Recall Example:  Who is Nancy Pelosi?
Recognition Example: Who is Nancy Pelosi?  Is she (a) Senate Majority Leader, (b) Speaker of the House, (c) a brand of underarm deoderant, (d) Secretary of State?

The first question, the recall example, is harder.  It would be even harder if you asked Who is the Speaker of the House? versus giving respondents a name to work with, but that's a different theoretical and methodological issue for another day (yeah, I did a paper on this, but it never got accepted ... damn those reviewers).

So why go on about recall vs. recognition?  There is a study in a 2009 issue of Political Behavior that examines knowledge about congressional candidates.  It's not actually a test of recall and recognition, but it includes both approaches and so I'm riffing off of it since it serves my purpose.  Full cite at bottom.

Here's a part I found kinda interesting.  The study includes a variable called media market concentration.  What's that?  When media markets straddle or bleed across congressional districts, you expect less knowledge about candidates since the coverage of any particular race is diluted.  When districts are better aligned with media markets, knowledge should improve (journalists are covering just one race).  That's the guts of this concept, though the method to create it is more complicated.  See the study for details.  

Their result?
When media market boundaries are well aligned with the boundaries of congressional districts, incumbents receive no particular benefit, but recognition of challengers is disadvantaged

Other than the awful, jargon-drunk use of disadvantaged here, people in districts where you'd expect higher knowledge because of alignment actually do a lousy job of recognizing challengers.  There's no relationship in recognition of incumbents (probably a ceiling effect).

In recall, they do not break it down by incumbents and challengers (not sure why), and in this case there is a negative relationship between accurate recall of all candidates and media concentration.  This is similar to above, where you have a non-significant relationship and a negative one, so it's no surprise -- I guess -- that an overall recall measure is negative.  This also points out the difficulty in improving recall versus recognition, especially in "media markets" defined by television, which is thought to improve recognition but not recall.

My take?  In reading the methods, the tables, and the study, at least when talking about media concentration, it seems to me the results support the idea that news media coverage helps a little on recognition but not at all with recall -- again supporting my discussion in the previous graph.

Full cite
Wolak, Jennifer (2009).  The consequences of concurrent campaigns for citizen knowledge of Congressional candidates.  Political Behavior, 31, 211-229.


Billy said...

Thank you, sir! I was directed here from your Like The Dew posting.

I am hereby officially going to name my next rock band Titular Colonicity.

And I will henceforth sprinkle my conversations with "PhDweebishly."

Lead on!

Hollander said...

Heh heh, glad I could be of help in naming your next band. But it does sound more like an invasive medical procedure conducted by half-dressed nurses.