British Journal of Psychology

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Volume 86 Issue 4 (November 1995), Pages 449-559

What makes a number easy to remember? (pages 537-547)

Natural categories (such as birds, furniture or pieces of music) include ‘good’ and ‘poor’ exemplars. While there are a number of factors that determine the extent to which an item is a good category member (prototypicality, distinctiveness, frequency of occurrence), a consistent experimental finding is that ‘good’ category members are better remembered than ‘poor’ ones. Can numbers be considered a natural category of this sort, with good and poor members? This study tested memory for number lists, using numbers between 1 and 100 in a list‐learning task in which both recall and recognition tests were given to over 500 subjects. Stepwise regression on the memorability scores for each number between 1 and 100 indicated that four attributes made a significant contribution to the variance. ANOVA confirmed that these attributes had individually significant effects on memory for numbers. Recognition and recall gave similar scores under these conditions. The order of memorability was (a) single digit numbers, (b) teen numbers (10–19), (c) doubled numbers (e.g. 44, 77, 22), (d) large tabled numbers (numbers which factor and therefore appear in the multiplication tables, such as 49, 36, 60, 84, 27), and (e) other numbers that do not fall into any of these categories. While memorability for single digit numbers was above 80 per cent, that for other numbers (no subcategory) was only around 40 per cent.

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