If in Rhyme, Preserved in Time: Rhyming Contexts as Memory Enhancers


  • Klára Enikő Finta University of Vienna



Rhyme is a poetic device that enhances cognitive mechanisms, especially mnemonic processes. Rhyme is almost omnipresent: it appears in poetry, infant-directed speech, as well as in rites and plays, having an impact on emotional involvement and aesthetic appreciation [1]. The focus of previous studies was mainly on rhyme-perception development in infancy, and although several studies examined the rhyme–memory relation in the adult population [2], there is still room for novel exploration. Rhyme is a significant device, from both a social and cultural perspective, emphasizing the need for analyzing the memory–rhyme relationship.


The present study aims to empirically investigate whether words that rhyme are easier to recall than non-rhyming words in the case of an adult population (N = 38). Participants read multiple couplets and completed two word-recognition tasks (for short-term and long-term memory assessment). Given that word recall is a complex cognitive procedure, the study also explores the semantic dimension of real words and pseudowords, comparing their recall rates in the rhyming conditions. It also examines the animacy effect [3] in word recall by comparing whether animate words are more likely to be recalled than inanimate words. All analyses are conducted for both short- and long-term memory (STM and LTM) processes to allow for comparison. The study also includes explorative analyses of phonological structure and recall rates of rhyming words. Results are analyzed and discussed in the framework of cognitive psychology and poetics.

Interpretation of Results

In general, words in rhyming contexts had higher recall rates than non-rhyming words. The study takes an interdisciplinary approach to interpreting this result: it intertwines cognitive psychology, cognitive linguistics, cognitive biology, and cognitive poetics to elucidate the relationship between rhyme processing and memory. However, the results not only contribute to the exploration of the memory–rhyme relationship but also to the broader context of human cognition by offering insight into the potential mechanisms of information organization and retrieval.


[1] C. Obermeier et al., “Aesthetic and emotional effects of meter and rhyme in poetry,” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 4, 2013. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00010

[2] D. C. Rubin, Memory in Oral Traditions: The Cognitive Psychology of Epic, Ballads, and Counting-Out Rhymes. Oxford: University Press, 1995.

[3] M. J. Serra, “Animate and inanimate words demonstrate equivalent retrieval dynamics despite the occurrence of the animacy advantage,” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 12, Jun. 2021. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.661451