my capstone experience

Evelina Simanonyte

Evelina Simanonyte '08, a Psychology major and Business Administration minor from Mazeikiai, Lithuania, discusses her senior Capstone project, which was an experimental study called “The Effects of Visual Presentation on Memory in Divided Attention Situations.” The Capstone project, which involves extensive research and presentation, is the culmination of each student's academic experience and part of the Liberal Education Program at Colby-Sawyer College.

At Colby-Sawyer, Evelina was part of the Wesson Honors Program, Dean's list, Psi Chi and Alpha Chi National Honors Society, was member and treasurer for both Cross Cultural Club and Word Order, and a member of Christian Fellowship. At Commencement, she received the David H. Winton Baccalaureate Award, which recognizes the graduating student with the highest cumulative grade point average. She is employed as a research associate at Sequent Partners, a brand and media metrics consultancy based in NYC.

Describe the subject of your Capstone project and why you chose to focus on this subject.

The title of my experimental study was “The Effects of Visual Presentation on Memory in Divided Attention Situations,” and its purpose was to test whether visual brand advertising is retained in memory better than primarily verbal advertising when no conscious attention is paid.

A few years ago I was exposed to the idea of implicit learning, i.e. our ability to store information in long term memory without paying any attention to the stimulus. I found it to be fascinating and extremely relevant today when, due to technological advances and increasing time demands, we tend to multitask more and are bombarded with an increasing number of messages, especially related to brand advertising. I learned that low levels of attention during advertising exposure are enough to increase brand liking, and wanted to test whether it was the visual nature of advertising that allowed for it to be stored in memory when no attention is paid to it.

What research did you conduct for this project?

I conducted an experiment during which 44 Colby-Sawyer students were divided into two equal groups, one of which was exposed to visual advertising while the other saw verbal advertising for the same brands embedded in three online magazine articles. A divided attention situation was created by having the participants read the articles and simultaneously count the number of bell sounds heard. There was no instruction to look at the brand advertising, which helped conceal the true nature of the study and allowed me to see how well the participants remembered the advertising without having paid any attention to it. Statistical analyses yielded support for the hypothesis: visual advertising images were significantly better recognized than verbal ad cues, which in turn supported the idea that a lot of our learning occurs implicitly. Visual images seem to be particularly effective in connecting with the viewer on an implicit level. However, I also discovered that in terms of brand name recognition visual advertising was counterproductive and participants exposed to verbal advertising remembered brand names better than the ones who saw visual ads. Future research could help understand the differences better.

What did you learn through your Capstone project, and in what ways is it a culmination of your learning experience at Colby-Sawyer?

Besides learning all the technical aspects related to conducting an experimental study, including submitting the IRB proposal and data analysis, I was very grateful for having had a chance to test something that I have always been interested in and see the results first hand. I chose to major in Psychology to better understand the workings of the human mind, and my Capstone experience allowed me to ask the questions that have not yet been answered and actively engage in finding answers to them.

In addition, to fulfill the Wesson Honors Capstone component requirement, I expanded the study and added the perspective of cognitive linguistics to the analysis of the three visual ads used in the study. Focusing on the conceptual metaphors inherent in the visual images allowed me to bring an interdisciplinary perspective to my study, which to me is exactly what a liberal arts education is about. Therefore, the psychology Capstone study coupled with the analytical research paper for the Honors component was indeed the culmination of my four years of study at Colby-Sawyer.

What was most fun and rewarding for you in the process of creating your Capstone?

I'd say the most fun for me was actually conducting the experiment - the time when the participants started showing up for the study, and I was able to start seeing the actual results of my research. Analysis of the findings was extremely rewarding, because that is when I started getting the answer to my hypothesis and start seeing what worked and what didn't work in the study. To me that part was the most rewarding, because getting the answers and expanding your knowledge is why you do research.

What did you find most challenging and difficult about the project?

I was not fully happy with my study design after its completion, and if I could do it again I would change some things to make the study more complete. Accepting the limitations of my study was probably the most difficult part.

What do you hope will be the lasting value of your Capstone project, both for you and others?

For me, an ideal outcome of this study would be further research to deepen the understanding of the topic and, even more importantly, an interdisciplinary perspective added to the study of cognitive response to advertising. Personally, this Capstone study helped me see that I do want to be involved with research in psychology and inspired me to plan to go to grad school to continue deepening my understanding of cognitive psychology.