Exploring Psychology: Memory, Structures, Processes and Skills

Chapter 8, on Memory: structures, processes and skills runs to about 50 pages. The second option of TMA4 is based on this.

As well as being of interest to psychology, this chapter has a lot of information that is quite useful for studying in general covering everything from how memory works, the processes by which we remember information and how we go about retrieving that information before finishing up with some illustrations on the effect on people with unusual memory abilities.

Memory is quite difficult to study as we cannot do so directly but rather assume that we have something called “memory” because we don’t need to be constantly told the same information. Conceptually, we break it down into encoding processes, storage processes and retrieval processes. Retrieval processes are further subdivided into recognition (searching for a match to something external) and recall (searching for something stored). Good retrieval cues can help in the recall of poorly encoded or stored information i.e. the three processes are not entirely independent. There are different levels of memory ranging from sensory memory, through short term (working memory few seconds) to long term memory. In remembering sequences, the primacy effect means that you recall the first few whilst the recency effect means that you recall the last few with the ones in the middle being lost if the list is too long. As with all brain operations the study of memory is aided by examples of brain damage and scanning techniques.
So how do these processes work, and what can be done to help them along? Improving the encoding is the first step and this can be done by engaging more levels of processing thus rather than just copy text, you should deepen the processing by considering the meaning of the text (semantic processing) which involves elaborative rehearsal through linking to other pieces of information. Just repeating the information without this interpretation is maintenance rehearsal and doesn’t work nearly as well e.g. test yourself rather than just read the notes. Experiments can be based around incidental learning (where people aren’t told that they’ll be tested) or intentional learning (where they know they’ll be tested) and the generation effect where they’re asked to generate words that rhyme with those on a list which engages deep processing. Repetition of learning helps as Mayer (1983) suggests that the structure of the learning changes with repetition and there’s a spacing effect i.e. don’t revise in one big chunk because elaborative rehearsal is quite tiring. Ebbinghaus found that you forget most early on but after a period the rate of memory loss drops dramatically. Restructuring notes helps by deepening the processing and we tend to cluster recall rather than using free recall.
Methods of enhancing retrieval include context reinstatement (imagine you’re in the situation right now), recalling everything (one memory can trigger another), recalling in different temporal orders and changing perspective. These are based on the encoding specificity principle. There’s indirect access e.g. where you can remember something about a word but not the word itself and direct access where the information is immediately available.
Our ability to construct new memories and retrieve old ones is affected by the knowledge that we already have as illustrated by Bartlett’s (1932) experiments on remembering the facts of a story outside our own culture. This leads on the the experiments on leading questions by Loftus and Palmer in 1974 and the misinformation effect. Bahrick (1975) went on to examine enduring memories showing that some memories can last a very long time indeed through the mechanisms of repeated exposure over a long period as described above. Autobiographical memories are those from our own past and Conway (1996) showed that these included both location and temporal information but are our interpretations of the events rather than being strictly accurate. Linton (1982) looked at diary studies and found that memories of real-life events fade at around 5% per year; oddly the importance of the event did not dictate whether or not it was remembered.
Flashbulb memories are autobiographical memories around striking events e.g. the death of Kennedy for those for whom this was particularly relevant i.e. Americans. Collective memories can be created within families recalling the events early in the life of one of the children for example and which can later be adopted by that child as things which they believe that they remember.
Everyone doesn’t remember in the same way and impairments recognise that there is a localisation of function. This can also help identify episodic memory which can be affected by damage to the hippocampus showing that there is episodic and semantic memory. There’s also a separate procedural memory function which usually isn’t consciously available. At the other extreme, there are mnemonists who can remember lots of things and synaesthesia where someone can, for example, hear colours or see
sounds.

For the exam, the key topics for this chapter are:
Autobiographical memory
Flashbulb memory
Encoding
Specificity principle
Episodic memory
Levels of processing
Collective memories

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