What is Memory?

Memory is the mental capacity of retaining and storing facts, events, and impressions, or recalling or recognizing previous experiences. Memory, language, and thought all work together in an integrated process called cognition. Cognitive psychologists consider memory a system in an organism. There are three steps in the information-processing model, which enable us to do many different things dealing with memories. The first step occurs when a stimulus is selected, identified, and labeled; a process commonly referred to as encoding. The encoded information is then stored into long-term memory. The memory is later retrieved when it is needed. The memory is always there, although it may not be accessed easily. Infantile amnesia is the inability of adults to remember their early childhood, before 3 or 4. Déjà vu, (which translates to "already seen" in French) also called paramnesia or promnesia, is the experience of feeling that you have witnessed or experienced a situation before. For example, if you are walking through the mall and talking to friend and you have the feeling that you have done the same thing before. Jamais vu (which translates to "never seen" in French) is the feeling that something is new, even though you have been exposed to it repeatedly, and should be familiar with it. An example of this would be trying to solve a riddle, and you know you've heard it before and should know the answer but you can't remember it. Rarely, individuals can recall eidetic imagery, very detailed visual memories; this is also referred to as having a photographic memory. Memory is, however, far from flawless, and all memories can be distorted.

The Information-Processing Model: Three Memory Systems

To form memories, information goes through three stages called sensory memory, working memory, and long-term memory (LTM). Only the most meaningful information gets stored into the LTM. There are two parts of LTM, procedural memory and declarative memory. The procedural memory in LTM stores memories for how things are done, like tying your shoe. The declarative memory is further split in to two groups.The first is semantic memory which stores general knowledge, including meanings of words and concepts. The second is episodic memory which stores memory for personal events, or "episodes" in your life, such as your birthday party last year. Short term memories, or working memories, can become long term memories through the process of consolidation. A good way to remember a series of unrelated digits, letters, events, etc is through grouping them in sets; this method is known as chunking. The root word, "chunk," is a pattern or meaningful unit of information. Repetition of memory is part of maintenance rehearsal; it requires no active elaboration and keeps the memory from leaving the working memory. However, this is only useful for temporary remembering and is not efficient for committing information to long-term memory. For example, a student who "crams" will probably forget most of the information they were trying to remember. A better strategy for storing information into your LTM is elaborative rehearsal, because it actively views and connects the information to something already in the LTM. A person using letters on a phone to remember a number, or someone reading using echoic memory remembers those things better by using this technique. This is also called an auditory sensation. Another thing that deals with sound is acoustic encoding. Two cognitive psychologists, Fergus Craik and Robert Lockhart, came up with the "levels-of-processing theory."

How Do We Retrieve Memories?

The whole point of encoding and storing memories in meaningful categories is to facilitate their speedy and accurate retrieval. But have you ever had a memory that you didn't deliberately make it a point to remember? This is called an implicit memory, or a memory that affects behavior or mental processes without any awareness. It is usually caused by the technique of priming. Priming is a technique for cuing implicit memories by providing cues that stimulate a memory without awareness of the connection between the cue and the retrieved memory. The opposite of implicit memory is explicit memory, which involves awareness when memorizing things (through elaborative and maintenance rehearsal). Explicit memories involve consciousness during retrieval. For accurate retrieval of memories, whether implicit or explicit, a good cue must be used. A retrieval cue can be any form of stimulation that triggers a memory. A good cue allows a memory to be filed. Retrieval cues are the "search terms" used to activate a certain memory. The best way to "file" material into long-term memory is to associate it with material that is already stored, in a process called elaborative rehearsal. It allows you to have more than one way of accessing information. For explicit memories, recognition and recall are used to identify and apply stored information. Moreover, context, in relation to association, can affect the way a memory is stored. This is referred to as the encoding specificity principle, where a memory is encoded and stored in the context in which it was formed. In other words, it's easier to memorize when you understand the context. For example, recognizing someone based off something they said or an action, instead of remembering one's face. On the flip side, moods and feelings can control what memories we remember; this is supported by the idea of mood-congruent memory, which retrieves memories that match one's mood. This happens because processing isn't just about facts and events. Is information ever hidden from one's memories? At one point during an average person's hectic week, they may experience a "brain fart" or "senior moment." It's actually related to the TOT Phenomena, or "tip of your tongue" phenomenon. It can become frustrating, because although you feel like you know something ("IT'S ON THE TIP OF MY TONGUE!"), you cannot retrieve the information at that moment. Also remember, a person who experiences the TOT Phenomena is unable to recall a specific word or image, while knowing it is in their memory.

Why Does Memory Sometimes Fail Us?

According to Daniel Schacter, our memory has "seven sins" that cause failure: transcience, the idea that long-term memories fade away over time, absent-mindedness, forgetting of a memory, blocking, when an item in memory can't be accessed or retrieved, misattribution, memories that are associated with the wrong time, place, or person, suggestibility, the process of memory distortion, bias, which can vary, and unwanted persistence, which memories cannot be put out of mind. These "seven sins" are problems that occur as "side effects" of some very useful features of the human memory. A forgetting curve maps out, on a graph, the amount of retention and forgetting over time of a particular piece of information since the first time a memory was acquired. There are things that block or interfere with your ability to recall information. One type of blocking occurs when old memory disrupts the learning of new information (proactive interference). Another occurs when new information prevents you from retrieving previously stored information (retroactive interference). An acronym to help you remember this is P.O.R.N, which stands for Proactive, Old (the old memories external image arrow-10x10.png over the new), Retroactive, and New (the new memories win over the old). You might find that it is harder to recognize items in the middle of a list than it is to remember what is at the beginning or end of the list (serial position effect). Sometimes memories are retrievable, but they are associated with the wrong time, place, or person; this error in your memory is called misattribution. Memory distortion as the result of deliberate or inadvertent suggestion is called suggestibility. Sometimes, you can't rid yourself of memories you don't want to remember (persistence). The misinformation effect is when a memory is distorted through suggestion or misinformation. Memories can also be distorted by our beliefs, attitudes, or opinions. Some of the things that contribute to this distortion are things that we want to fit our expectations (expectancy bias), or when we make the memory consistent with our attitudes, opinions, or beliefs (self-consistency bias).
A commonly used example of expectancy bias is when one student on one side of the room hears a word, such as 'Goose', the word will transfer all the way to the other side of the class room and becomes a different word like 'goof '. A good trick that helps to avoid memory failure is using mnemonics. Methods of mnemonics help external image arrow-10x10.png when making connections between new material and information in long-term memory. Included in this method are the method of loci and natural language mediators.
An example of how memory can be damaged, or even lost, is the tragic case of H.M. and his anterograde amnesia. Anterograde amnesia is the inability to form new memories or process new information. H.M. could remember things from before he developed his amnesia, but could not form new memories; he was permanently "living in the present." Another type of amnesia is retrograde amnesia, where a person loses already-stored memories, but can remember things after they have developed the amnesia. Flashbulb memory (part of episodic memory) is a clear long-term memory of a meaningful and emotional event; an example of a flashbulb memory could be if you remembered exactly where you were and what you had been doing when you were told your mom was in a car crash. Flashbulb memories also happen when you see or read something that pulls your brain into a actual event that happened to you when you smelled or read the certain word, another example is when you threw up on the ride in six flags so every time you walk past it you remember exactly how it felt to come off that ride and imagine yourself on it as well. Another type of Amnesia is Infantile Amnesia, where you can't remember any thing that happened before about the age of 4 (example is that most people don't remember when they are born).

How Do Children Acquire Language?

The ability to communicate through speaking is one of the many special characteristics that humans possess. An infant knows no words at birth, but, within a few short years, they become fluent in the language they are surrounded by. Developmental specialists believe that infants possess an innate ability that helps them acquire these languages quickly. However, learning new languages normally results in grammatical errors, the most common is overregularization; when a child applies a grammatical rule that doesn't belong which then creates an incorrect form of language. Children are believed to have a speech-enabling structure in their cerebral cortex, which psycholinguists such as Noam Chomsky refer to as a language acquisition device (LAD). He proves this theory by explaining an experiment he had knowledge on that showed people use gestures that are similar to movements of sign language. The LAD, like a computer chip, helps children understand the basic rules of languages. Psychologists also believe that children are born with innate "programs" necessary for language development.

Memory: the state of the art

There are three different ways designed for memorizing texts and general topics. When studying, try using the mnemonic strategies such as the whole method which is learning someone "as a whole", distributed learning which is learning something over time, and overlearning which is repeatedly learning something even after mastering it.
Another memorizing technique that is recommended involves distributed learning. Researchers conclude that people have a stronger memory if the individual goes over the material frequently instead of going over it in one large portion.
The final mnemonic strategy that is helped to unblock memory when it is needed, is to use the strategy of overlearning. It is better to relearn material and rehearse it once more because the terms maybe so complex that you might understand it once you've read it, but refreshing your memory will help as well.

Other Resources


Chapter 7 Quizlet Game (Click here for the test, choose Multiple Choice only)

See Chapter 7 for Ciccarelli-White in Testing and Intelligence