Date of Submission


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)



Department Chair

Robert A DiTomasso, PhD, ABPP


Purpose: Little research has been done on American Sign Language (ASL) based list learning in deaf individuals. The present study examined the effect of elaboration and non-elaboration of sign list recall tasks on rate of learning in deaf individuals. One of the main approaches for instruction of deaf individuals is the use of elaboration, or the combination of visual with linguistic information in the classroom. Visual aids or visual representations of information are commonly recommended as an effective strategy for teaching deaf individuals (DeafTEC, 2014). The main reasons for this approach are the assumption that vision is a stronger more efficient channel for instruction, “sensory compensation,” and the documented benefits of associating verbal with visual information, also known as dual coding theory (DCT; Paivio, 1971). Functional MRI studies have provided evidence of left temporal activation in deaf signers using ASL (Pettito, 2000), further suggesting that right activation, noted in fMRI studies of DCT, through the addition of pictures should support recall of ASL signs much like English words. The goal of the current study was to investigate the effectiveness of pairing visual imagery with ASL as a common instructional recommendation. Method: Twenty deaf adults, whose primary mode of communication was ASL, were administered two modified versions of the Signed Verbal Learning Test (SVLT; Morere, 2013). One version included line drawings of objects embedded into the video and paired with their associated sign. The other included black screens where the pictures would have been. Session conditions were mixed and administered 3 weeks apart to reduce potential familiarity effects. Participants’ rates of learning over five trials on each version of the SVLT were recorded and statistically analyzed to determine potential effects of the added visual imagery. Results: To test the hypothesis that visual images presented with ASL signs on a list recall task will improve rate of learning in deaf subjects, a repeated measures analysis of variance was conducted. The results show that there was no significant effect of experimental condition, picture/nonpicture, on rate of learning, F(1.0, 20.0) = 2.75, p = .113. Conclusions: While the number of participants and use of adults rather than children in the process of learning language, as well as content, in this study limit the strength of validity, these results suggest that the addition of pictures does not increase rate of learning for ASL signs. This outcome raises further questions regarding the benefit of elaboration in the instruction of deaf individuals whose primary mode of communication is ASL. Additionally, future studies investigating the effectiveness of alternative memory accommodations and strategies for ASL-based list learning could provide valuable information for educators of deaf individuals.

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