Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Educational Psychology


Alpana Bhattacharya


Linnea Ehri

Committee Members

David Rindskopf

Subject Categories

Educational Psychology


vocabulary instructional methods, sensory motor categories and features, pseudo words, word definitions, free recall, word recall, and mnemonic strategies


This dissertation research focused on how the mental imagery that college students created and associated with pseudo vocabulary words affected the degree to which they learned and remembered the meanings and pronunciations of those words. The following major questions were investigated: 1) Does having college students generate sensory motor images elaborating the meanings of pseudo words produce better memory for the words and their meanings than generating visual images? 2) Does having students generate images of either sort produce better memory for the words than having students practice verbal meanings of the words? The purpose of this dissertation research was to examine empirical support for the following theoretical frameworks: Sadoski and Paivio’s (2001) dual coding theory, Heilman, Blair, and Rupley’s (1990) multisensory approach to vocabulary instruction, Birsh’s (2007) theory of multisensory teaching, and Thelen, Schoner, Scheier, and Smith’s (2001) theory of embodied cognition. Three different interventions for the teaching of vocabulary to college students were compared: 1) having students generate sensory-motor imagery that included auditory, visual, textural, olfactory, gustatory, and kinesthetic features; 2) having students generate imagery that included only visual features; and 3) in a verbal control condition, having students repeat the meanings of the vocabulary words without generating any type of imagery.

Findings indicated a significant effect of trials on definition recall during training as well as significant effects of treatment on the learning of definitions during training, on the quantitative count of categories and features in the mental imagery reports and on training time. Although students in the sensory motor condition generated a larger number of categories and features in their imagery reports, this did not significantly improve their memory of spellings, pronunciations, or definitions on posttests compared to students in the visual and verbal treatment conditions. Furthermore, even though the sensory motor group had significantly longer training times than the visual group, which had significantly longer training times than the verbal control group, this did not improve vocabulary learning. However, the performance of students recalling definitions during the first and second test trials of learning explained significant variance across all posttests confirming the effects of vocabulary training. Students in both the sensory motor and visual groups recalled significantly more definitions than students in the verbal control group in the first training test trial when scores were adjusted for entry level performance on a vocabulary pretest. However, the verbal group caught up in the second test trial where no significant differences were found. In conclusion, each of the three conditions in this study provided an effective method of vocabulary instruction and the combination of these methods could be of great educational value for students at all levels.