Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2014, 2, 20-24
Published Online January 2014 in SciRes. http://www.scirp.org/journal/jss
The Use of Apps to Prime Learning for
a Verbal Task
Christina Frederick, Devin Liskey, Daniel Brown
Human Factors and Systems, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, USA
Email: Frederic@erau.edu, LiskeyD@my.erau.edu, BrownD39@my.erau.edu
Received 4 September 2013; revised 10 October 2013; accepted 18 October 2013
Copyright © 2014 Christina Frederick et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Com-
mons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, pro-
vided the original work is properly cited. In accordance of the Creative Commons Attribution License all Copy-
rights © 2014 are reserved for SCIRP and the owner of the intellectual property Christina Frederick et al. All
Copyright © 2014 are guarded by law and by SCIRP as a guardian.
This study tested whether or not children’s memory performance would be affected by stimulat-
ing brain activity by completing a verbal puzzle task or a non-verbal puzzle task prior to a verbal
Memory; Priming; Learning; Verbal-Learning
Video games and computer games are central forms of entertainment in most children’s lives. Numerous stu-
dies have shown that children are investing more time in games now than ever in the past. The Kaiser Family
Foundation has tracked media use of 8 to 18-year-olds from 1999 to 2009 and has found that in a single decade,
daily computer and video game use has tripled from a single hour to three. During a seven-day week, the aver-
age child was engaged in computer and video games for 19 hours, nearly two thirds of the time spent in class-
room . The NPD Group, a market information and advisory service, in their 2011 report of Kids and Gaming,
found that between 2009 and 2011 the US population under 18 grew by 1.5% while the gaming population of
the same demographic grew by 12.68%, encompassing 91% of kids today . While virtual gaming has typi-
cally been viewed as a distraction that causes students to neglect either their schooling and/or homework, re-
searchers and educators are investigating the role of virtual games in supporting children’s learning inside and
out of school. A study out of the Educational Psycholog y Program at the University of New Mex ico found that
interactive multimedia may promote learning better than traditional methods. Presenting students with dual re-
How to cite this paper Frederick, C., Liskey, D. and Brown, D. (2014) The Use of Apps to Prime Learning for a Verbal Task.
Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2, 20-24. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/jss.2014.21003
C. Frederick et al.
presentations of information, verbal and non-verbal, promotes deeper learning presenting students with only one
representation. Interactive multimedia also has the ability to vary the number of representations, degree of inte-
ractivity, and tailor the difficulty to each individual .
The purpo se of this study is to determine if stimulating brain activity using iPad game apps prior to a verbal
learning task would facilitate memory performance. Furthermore, we tested whether or not memory perfor-
mance would be affected if children completed a verbal puzzle task (word search) in comparison to completing a
non-verbal puzzle task (“flow” puzzle) prior to a verbal learning task. Performance in these two puzzle groups
was compared to a control group that did not engage in puzzle solving before the learning task. The iPad g ames
in pre-task were chosen to match (verbal) or have dissimilar (non-verbal) brain activation as the subsequent
verbal learning task. Different sources of stimulus-based priming can interfere with, rather than facilitate activa -
tion of the correct task . The correct task in this case would be the verbal learning task. The activation of
words in pre-task and their recovery in the subsequent test is referred to as priming . The initial task, or the
stimulus-based prime, is thought to leave a persisting activation in the corresponding effected areas of the brain.
The verbal learning puzzle activates the left frontal cortex, and the left hemispheric areas of the brain associated
with verbal learning areas in the left temporal and parietal lobes . The non-verbal puzzle stimulates the right
frontal cortex of the brain, which is not specifically associated with verbal learning, but is associated with plan-
ning and executive control . This type of non-verbal puzzle has been used to try to enhance learning in stu-
dents who may have difficulty with verbal learning, such as those with dyslexia . Both puzzle tasks involve
visual scanning and search and thus also engage the occipital or visual lobe of the brain .
Participating childr en, 3rd graders from a public charter school in Florida, were divided into three groups. Each
participant group consisted of between 9 and 11 students randomly assigned to the groups by their teachers. The
first group was asked to play a word search, app-based puzzle for 10 minutes. The word search consisted of a
grid with words written horizontally, vertically, and diagonally, which were obscured among random letters.
Players are meant to find all th e hidden words within the grid. The second group was asked to play a non-verbal
puzzle game for 10 minutes. The non-verbal puzzle was an iPad app called “Flow Free”, where the player has to
connect pairs of dots of the same color in a grid while not allowing any of the paths of each color to overlap.
The control group was provided with ten minutes of free time in their seats. Each experimental group was asked
to make as much progress with their game as possible.
2.2. Written Test
At the end of the ten minutes, the iPads were collected and a single page story on the history of Embry-Riddle
Aeronautical University was distr ibuted. Students were told to follow along as the story was read aloud by a re-
searcher. Once the story was read, the handouts were collected and a test on the story was distr ibuted. There was
no time restriction on the completion of the test. It was hypothesized that the group that was primed before
learning with a verbal puzzle would perform better on a subsequent verbal learning task than either the non-
verbal puz z l e g roup or the control group.
The tests were analyzed for the: 1) number of correctly “recalled” items—items from the test where the stu-
dent had to remember and report a specific date or number 2) number of correctly “recognized” items (e.g. items
where the student had to choose the correct answer from a number of alternatives) and 3) self-reported percep-
tions of how enjoyable the task was, how well the student felt he/she could remember the information and how
well the student felt he/she could attend to the task.
A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted to measure the effectiveness of the verbal and
non-verbal puzzle primes on the graded verbal task. The independent measure was the type of learning prime
received which was divided into three groups: word search, flow-free, and control. Each student’s ability to re-
call or recognize the correct answer on multiple choice questions as well as their individual perceptions of task
C. Frederick et al.
enjoyment, memory ability an d ability to attend to the task were dependent measures. A second MAN OVA was
performed on a second test administered two weeks later on the same students to examine retention effects. The
mean scores for each section for both tests are listed in Tables 1 and 2 below. Before conducting each
MANOVA, the da ta wer e screened for completeness. Several individuals’ data were unable to be included in the
analysis because their school attendance did not allow them to complete both tests.
Using the Wilk’s criterion at an alpha level of .05, the dependent variables of recall, recognition, and individ-
ual perceptions were not significantly affected by either the verbal or non-verbal puzzle primes in the initial test,
β = 0.379, F(10,45) = 0.836, p = 0.597 with an effect size of 0.148. The post-test analysis found significant dif-
ferences amongst the scores with β = 0.985, F(4,54) = 6.455, p < 0.001 and effect size of 0.323. A univariate
F-test found no group differences in post-test recall or on any of the individual perception variables, but revealed
a significant difference in post-test recognition, F(2,31) = 15.523, p < 0.001. Tukey’s HSD was applied and
showed that the Flow-Free group differed significantly from both the control group and the group primed with
the word search. The Free Flow group scored about 80% lower than the other two groups. These results are pre-
sented in Table 3.
Our hypothesis that the group primed with the word search puzzle would outperform the other two groups
was only partially supported by the data as there was not a statistically significant difference in overall score,
recall, or recognition between the groups in the initial test, but the word search group did perform significantly
higher than the non-verbal puzzle group on post-test recognition. It can be noted however, the standard deviation
of overall memory performance in initial testing for the word search group (SD = 1.84) was much smaller than
that of the control (SD = 3.04) and non -verbal puzzle group (SD = 2.71).
Table 1. Initial test results.
Measures Initial test results
Overall score Free flow group Word search Control group
Total performance 5.4/12 5.4 4.9 5.8
Recall 2.6/8 2.9 1.9 2.9
Recognition 2.8/4 2.5 3 2.9
Fun 4.8/5 4.8 4.6 4.9
Remember 3.7/5 3.6 3.5 4.2
Attention 4.5/5 4.6 4.4 4.7
Table 2. Post-test results.
Measures Post-test results
Overall Free flow group Word search Control
Total performance 4.7/12 4.9 4.8 4.4
Recall 2.7/8 2.8 2.8 2.3
Recognition 1.4/4 0.4 2 2.1
Table 3. Post-test group performance.
Post hoc means table
variable Group Mean Std. Error 95% confidence interval
Lower bound Upper bound
Control 2.111 0.266 1.567 2.656
Flow 0.417 0.230 −0.055 0.888
Word Search 2.000 0.252 1.483 2.517
C. Frederick et al.
There are several possible reasons why statistically significant learning differences between the groups were not
found during initial testing. First, the sample of N = 33 students, was only half of what was required to reach β =
0.4 with a ƞ = 0.25. If more participants were involved in the study perhaps a greater distinction between the
groups could be seen. A significant difference between the two primed groups and the control group may have
been apparent with a larger sample and more testing. It’s also possible that a distinction between these two
groups may not have been seen in part because the stimulus-based primes did not affect the brain in significantly
different ways. Non-verbal activities like the one used in this study have been used in past studies to help stu-
dents suffering with learning disabilities such as dyslex ia to enhance their verbal skills. Students with this learn-
ing disposition have been shown to learn more effectively when presented with spatial and non -verbal informa-
tion rather than verbal sources . The non-verbal prime may have actually benefitted the students instead of
creating task interference as intended. Interference of this kind only manifests itself in performance when there
is a high level of competition between the stimulus based-prime and the subsequent task . Even the fact that
the students followed along in reading while an instructor read text aloud may have been enough to boost the
performance of the students on the test. Reading silently and in their heads would have stimulated Broca’s area
in brain, which is associated with inner speech and verbal learning. The students may have received an uninten-
tional prime for verbal learning that blurred the intentional disparity created by the verbal and non-verbal puz-
zles . Third, the closely distributed results could be due to the Hawthorne Effect. The Hawthorne Effect de-
scribes the awareness of the participant of the presence of something new in the environment and this changes
the participant’s behavior . The novelty associated with the presence of the experimenters and iPads may
have been enough to stimulate the students in all three groups enough to increase their focus and attention to the
level the stimulation from their respective primes would have otherwise provided. Lastly, it could be that the
primes for learning were either ineffective or that they were not of long enough duration to produce an effect.
Over the next couple months, our research team will be examining the results of this study in more detail to de-
termine which of these explanations is most likely and further research will proceed from those conclusions.
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