I'm about to send out surveys that I need for a project and these will be sent out every season - winter, spring, summer, fall - each supposedly having the same questions. It's quite likely some people partaking in these surveys will be those same people who partook in them before( previous seasons)

So I'm wondering whether a changed order of words, though not the meaning - in the questions, would result in it being harder( or not?) to remember having been asked this question before.

To put it in another way - how does word order in a question influence the ability of the person( who is being asked) to remember the question, provided it has been asked before?

I wasn't able to find StackExchange for Neuroscience, so I thought I'd ask here. Thanks in advance!

  • $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it should go to CogSci $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 21:33

2 Answers 2


No influence

There should be no influence given two text forms are semantically identical.

Our memory isn't a tape recorder

A tape recorder

Had our brain worked like tape-recorder, storing and retrieving information would be far less efficient - both in terms of resources (amount of neurons) and time (to store or retrieve). Remembering a full sentence gives us little - its meaning is what important.

It is associative

A network

So our brain and memory, being a network, is associative: Everything we remember is represented by a complex sub-network of links and neurons.

The exact words in a sentence quickly turn (as they move bottom up) into higher level verbal models which represent the actual semantics.

Try it yourself, 40 seconds later

You don't remember every word in this answer (doubt you remember the starting word in the previous sentence - 'So'), but you do remember its overall meaning.

So, any changes to the text form, particularly if the exposure time between them does not allow them to stay in our working memory, should have no influence.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any sources for your answer? Because my guess is it's false. $\endgroup$
    – jona
    Commented Dec 13, 2015 at 13:27

our brain maps out a series of keywords in any statement, and it is usually these keywords that we remember for a longer period of time. Given the parameters like, length of the sentence, audibility etc, the results may vary.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Cogsci.SE! Some references for you answer would be appreciated. (: $\endgroup$
    – Seanny123
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 15:44

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