Pegword Mnemonics

Understanding the Pegword Mnemonics

The pegword mnemonic is a technique that combines visual and auditory memory into a powerful mnemonic for remembering ordered lists. It provides a system of remembering numbers, nouns and the numerical order of nouns.

With the pegword mnemonic, an interactive image is developed to join each of the items on the list to each of a series of pegs. Pegs are words that rhyme with numbers; these words, memorized by a learner prior to a particular memory task, may be used to assist recall of any list of items.

To employ the method, one must first remember a list of pegwords referring to tangible objects that may be readily visualized. Each pegword rhymes with one of the cardinal numbers. For example, one is a bun, two is a shoe, three is a tree, etc.

The list of pegwords should be sufficiently well rehearsed so that given a number such as eight, one can rapidly recall the corresponding pegword plate; or, conversely, given a pegword such as pen, once can rapidly retrieve the corresponding number ten. Thus, given the numbers 2, 5, 8 and 3 to recall, one can translate the numbers into their corresponding pegwords, and employ syntactic encoding and visual imagery to visualize a shoe, stuck in hive on top of a gate under a tree.

A more typical application of the method is to recall the numerical order of a list of items such as: 1. Car, 2. Apple, 3. Book, etc. Once again, visual imagery is employed and the pegword and its corresponding list item are visualized as interacting with each other.

For example, a car is visualized shooting out of the barrel of a gun (1); similarly, the image is conjured of a shoe (2) filled with apples. Thus, given any number, one could recall the corresponding item in the list. For example, given the number two, one would recall the previously learned pegword shoe and the interacting image of the apples; thus, item two is an apple. Also, using the reverse operation, given an item in the list, e.g., car, one can rapidly recall its numerical position in the list, e.g., car shooting out of a gun (1). The pegword also facilitates sequential retrieval of each of the items in the list in their numerical order.

The pegwords most commonly employed are listed below; the words in parentheses are alternative pegwords. Pegwords eleven to twenty were developed by Bower and Reitman (1972).

one = bun (gun)two = shoe three = tree
four = doorfive = hive (knives)six = sticks
seven = oven (heaven) eight = gate (plate)nine = line (wine)
ten = pen (hen)11 = penny one, hotdog bun 12 = penny two, airplane glue
13 = penny three, bumble bee14 = penny four, grocery store 15 = penny five, big bee hive
16 = penny seven, go to heaven 17 = penny seven, go to heaven 18 = penny eight, golden gate
19 = penny nine, ball of twine 20 = penny ten, ball point ten

Several considerations must be made in the choice of suitable pegwords. Bellezza (1981) recommend that, if more than once stimulus is being encoded in any mnemonic operation, each specify encoding should be discriminable from each of the others. For example, in the pegword mnemonic system, the rhyming pegwords 1 = bun, and 2 = shoe are discriminable auditorially, visually and semantically.

However, in some renditions of the pegword mnemonic, various confusions may arise. For example, the visual image of 4 = door and 8 = gate may be confused because the visualized images of a gate and a door share common characteristics. The images would be more discriminable, if 4 = door and 8 = plate.

Confusion may also exist between the numbers from 1 to 10, and the corresponding numbers from 11 to 20. For example, although the numbers 2 and 12 refer, respectively, to shoe and glue, the numbers 1 and 11 both refer to a bun. A similar situation may occur between the numbers 8 and 18 (gate), and 10 and 20 (pen). Also, both the numbers 13 and 15 refer to bees.

Additional problems may occur for some age levels with the abstract nature of the pegwords. For example, both the numbers 7 and 17 refer to heaven.

Whether or not, and how, any of these or other variables influence the effectiveness of recall can only be determined by controlled experimental analysis. Paivio (1968), for example, studied the effects upon the recall by college students of abstract, rhyming pegwords: 1 = fun, 2 = true, 3 = free, 4 = fore, 5 = live, 6 = tricks, 7 = given, 8 = fate, 9 = time and 10 = sin.

The result of the study clearly demonstrated that recall was better when a concrete or an abstract pegword method was used than it was when no pegword mnemonic was used. Given directions to imagine the abstract or concrete words (depending on the respective experimental group) interacting with the items in the recall list, recall increased dramatically over the condition in which no pegword was used.

Alternatively, the use of the pegwords, either concrete or abstract, without imagery, had no beneficial effect on recall. If anything, without imagery, recall tended to be lower with the use of the mnemonic than under the conditions in which no mnemonic was used. This study illustrates the importance of imagery in the use of the pegword mnemonic.

Paradoxically, however, the study also shows that whether the pegwords are concrete or abstract is of little consequence with the college population studied. This observation is in contrast to the evidence produced by Paivio (1971) in other studies showing that concrete words are easier to visualize and lead to better retention than are abstract words. Whether the results of these studies may be generalized to the performance of children remains to be demonstrated.

The rate at which items to be recalled are presented to college subjects influences the effectiveness with which they can employ pegword mnemonics. Bugelski, Kidd and Segmen (1968) found that subjects using the pegword system performed better than control subjects did only at the slower presentation reates of four and eight seconds per item. At rapid rates of presentation, there is presumably insufficient time to indulge in the encoding necessary for success.

The list of pegwords that one initially memorizes can be used repeatedly to assist the memorization of a number of different lists of items. However, retroactive interference may occur in which the learning of one list may interfere with the recall of previously learned lists. Therefore, the pegword mnemonic is most useful for short-term recall.

Alternatively, as Bower and Reitman (1972) have demonstrated with college students, a cumulative pegword mnemonic may be employed in the recall of items from several lists. In this procedure, one learns the first list of items applying the pegword mnemonic in the usual manner. However, when the sound and each of the successive lists are memorized, the first item in the second list is added to the image developed for the first item in the first list.

Similarly, a cumulative image is developed for the second items in each list. For example, suppose the third word in lists one, two and three were, respectively, swing, cigar and fish. Using the pegword three = tree, a cumulative image is developed. For list one, the image may be of a swing hanging from a tree; for list two, the image may be elaborated to a cigar on a swing hanging from a tree; and for list three, the image may be of a fish smoking a cigar on a swing hanging from a tree.

The results of the study indicated that subjects who used the conventional pegword method for each list suffered large amounts of retroactive interference. However, use of the progressive elaboration pegword method dramatically improved recall after one week. The loci and pegword mnemonics produced similar results in this study.