Научная электронная библиотека
Монографии, изданные в издательстве Российской Академии Естествознания

Memory

Have you ever wondered how you manage to remember information for a test? The ability to create new memories, store them for periods of time and recall them when they are needed allows us to learn and interact with the world around us. The study of human memory has been a subject of science and philosophy for thousands of years and has become one of the major topics of interest within cognitive psychology. But what exactly is memory? How are memories formed?

What is Memory?

Memory refers to the processes that are used to acquire, store, retain and later retrieve information. There are three major processes involved in memory: encoding, storage and retrieval.

In order to form new memories, information must be changed into a usable form, which occurs through the process known as encoding. Once information has been successfully encoded, it must be stored in memory for later use. Much of this stored memory lies outside of our awareness most of the time, except when we actually need to use it. The retrieval process allows us to bring stored memories into conscious awareness.

The Stage Model of Memory

While several different models of memory have been proposed, the stage model of memory is often used to explain the basic structure and function of memory. Initially proposed in 1968 by Atkinson and Shiffrin, this theory outlines three separate stages of memory: sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory.

- Sensory Memory

Sensory memory is the earliest stage of memory. During this stage, sensory information from the environment is stored for a very brief period of time, generally for no longer than a half-second for visual information and 3 or 4 seconds for auditory information. We attend to only certain aspects of this sensory memory, allowing some of this information to pass into the next stage – short-term memory.

- Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory, also known as active memory, is the information we are currently aware of or thinking about. In Freudian psychology, this memory would be referred to as the conscious mind. Paying attention to sensory memories generates the information in short-term memory. Most of the information stored in active memory will be kept for approximately 20 to 30 seconds. While many of our short-term memories are quickly forgotten, attending to this information allows it to continue on the next stage – long-term memory.

Long-Term Memory

Long-term memory refers to the continuing storage of information. In Freudian psychology, long-term memory would be call the preconscious and unconscious. This information is largely outside of our awareness, but can be called into working memory to be used when needed. Some of this information is fairly easy to recall, while other memories are much more difficult to access.

The Organization of Memory

The ability to access and retrieve information from long-term memory allows us to actually use these memories to make decisions, interact with others and solve problems. But how is information organized in memory? The specific way information is organized in long-term memory is not well understood, but researchers do know that these memories are arranged in groups.

Clustering is used to organize related information into groups. Information that is categorized becomes easier to remember and recall. For example, consider the following group of words:

Desk, apple, bookshelf, red, plum, table, green, pineapple, purple, chair, peach, yellow

Spend a few seconds reading them, then look away and try to recall and list these words. How did you group the words when you listed them? Most people will list using three different categories: color, furniture and fruit.

One way of thinking about memory organization is known as the semantic network model. This model suggests that certain triggers activate associated memories. A memory of a specific place might activate memories about related things that have occurred in that location. For example, thinking about a particular campus building might trigger memories of attending classes, studying and socializing with peers.

Explanations for Forgetting

Reasons Why We Forget

What are some of the major reasons why we forget information? One of today’s best known memory researchers, Elizabeth Loftus, has identified four major reasons why people forget: retrieval failure, interference, failure to store and motivated forgetting.

1. Retrieval Failure

Have you ever felt like a piece of information has just vanished from memory? Or maybe you know that it’s there, you just can’t seem to find it. The inability to retrieve a memory is one of the most common causes of forgetting.

So why are we often unable to retrieve information from memory. One possible explanation of retrieval failure is known as decay theory. According to this theory, a memory trace is created every time. Decay theory suggests that over time, these memory traces begin to fade and disappear. If information is not retrieved and rehearsed, it will eventually be lost.

One problem with this theory, however, is that research has demonstrated that even memories which have not been rehearsed or remembered are remarkably stable in long-term memory.

2. Interference

Another theory known as interference theory suggests that some memories compete and interfere with other memories. When information is very similar to other information that was previously stored in memory, interference is more likely to occur.

There are two basic types of interference:

- Proactive interference is when an old memory makes it more difficult or impossible to remember a new memory.

Retroactive interference occurs when new information interferes with your ability to remember previously learned information.

3. Failure to Store

Sometimes, losing information has less to do with forgetting and more to do with the fact that it never made it into long-term memory in the first place. Encoding failures sometimes prevent information from entering long-term memory.

In one well-known experiment, researchers asked participants to identify the correct U.S. penny out of a group of incorrect pennies (Nickerson & Adams). Try doing this experiment yourself by attempting to draw a penny from memory, and then compare your results to an actual penny.

How well did you do? Chances are that you were able to remember the shape and color, but you probably forgot other minor details. The reason for this is that only details necessary for distinguishing pennies from other coins were encoded into your long-term memory.

4. Motivated Forgetting

Sometimes, we may actively work to forget memories, especially those of traumatic or disturbing events or experiences. The two basic forms of motivated forgetting are: suppression, a conscious form of forgetting, and repression, an unconscious form of forgetting.

However, the concept of repressed memories is not universally accepted by all psychologists. One of the problems with repressed memories is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to scientifically study whether or not a memory has been repressed. Also note that mental activities such as rehearsal and remembering are important ways of strengthening a memory, and memories of painful or traumatic life events are far less likely to be remembered, discussed or rehearsed.

1. Match the terms with their definitions

Memory

the action or method of storing something for future use

Retrieval

bring (a fact, event, or situation) back into one’s mind; remember

Storage

the process of breaking the information down into a form we understand

Encoding

organizing information in memory into related groups

Awareness

the faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information

To recall

a practice or trial performance of a play or other work for later public performance

clustering

the action of interfering or the process of being interfered with

interference

the process of getting something back from somewhere

decay theory

knowledge or perception of a situation or fact

rehearsal

theory which states that forgetting occurs as a result of the automatic decay or fading of the memory trace

2. Say if these statements are true or false

true

false

Short-term memory refers to the continuing storage of information.

Most of the information stored in active memory will be kept for approximately 20 to 30 seconds.

Initially proposed in 1968 by Wundt and Shiffrin, this theory outlines three separate stages of memory: sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory.

Some memories compete and interfere with other memories.

The semantic network model suggests that certain triggers activate associated memories.

The interference is one of the most common causes of forgetting.

Sometimes, we may actively work to forget memories, especially those of traumatic or disturbing events or experiences.

3. Match the words to build word partnerships

To solve

memory

cognitive

information

sensory

In groups

To trigger

problems

To retrieve

forgetting

proactive

psychology

To arrange

interference

motivated

memories


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