Thursday, February 16, 2012

Revisited: Recall vs. Recognition

I've written quite a bit about the differences between recall and recognition when it comes to measuring political knowledge (see, for example, here).  I've also published research on the topic.  Well, I'm back.

First, a quick-and-dirty theory/methodology lesson.  Recognition tests are the ones we often see in survey research, such as "Who is the Vice-President?" and four choices given.  Recall questions are harder.  "Who is the Vice President?" with respondents required to generate a name from memory, that's a cognitively more challenging question. 

Case in point:  John Boehner, the Speaker of the House.

In some national data I am analyzing now, a random half of the respondents were asked to name the Speaker of the House and were provided four names (a recognition question).  The other half of respondents were provided the name John Boehner and asked "what job or political office does he now hold?"  That's recall. 

As you'd expect, fewer people got the recall question correct.

Only about half of those asked the harder recall question managed to identify Boehner as the Speaker of the House.  However, on the recognition question, 70 percent got it right.  I am still coding other similar questions (VP, for example), cleaning data, and then I'll turn my attention to the predictors of who gets the recall versus the recognition questions correct.  Setting aside a host of other likely predictors, based on theory, I expect respondents who rely more heavily on print media to do better on the recall question as compared to the recognition question.  In other words, I'm guessing (hypothesizing) that television news helps people with recognizing a political actor but not so much in free recall of his or her name (or office).

Anyone out there doing similar research, I'd love to hear from you.

I'll write a bit more on this as my research progresses, in part because it allows me to think aloud, in part because I'm curious as to whether others are also engaged in similar research.  There are several good recall vs. recognition studies out of advertising and marketing, but relatively few out of political science or political communication.

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