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

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

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Exploring Psychology: Perceiving and Understanding

Chapter 7, on Perceiving and understanding the social world runs to about 50 pages and
starts the second volume of the first book. The first option of TMA4 is based on this.
There’s a change in emphasis in this chapter from considering the individual in isolation to looking at their interactions within society. It starts off with looking at how our knowledge shapes our view of the world, moving on to consider common-sense explanations of behaviour, then considering how accurately we use information in forming judgements, finishing off with a look at how different groups judge the risk of HIV/AIDS. This area looks at the attitudes that people hold and the attributions that they assign even to abstract objects like the box and circle animations that Heider and Simmel (1944) used which goes to show how greatly simplified experimental social psychology experiments can be yet still retain ecological validity.
Our knowledge of the world is viewed in light of the schemas which which we use to organise that knowledge and simplify our processing of it. Thus we see someone dressed in a particular manner and attribute them with all kinds of properties by way of schematic processing that may not apply to that individual (i.e. we generalise from our person schema). Similarly we also have event schemas (scripts) which we use to interpret sequences of events. This reduces the workload through simplification and reduces the issues of bottlenecks discussed in the previous chapter but can distort our view of reality and creates stereotypes e.g. rich children are judged as more bright and poor ones are judged as less bright yet there is a significant overlap in ability between the two groups (Darley and Gross 1983). Moreover, we tend to act as a cognitive miser i.e. using the minimum amount of information to come to a conclusion i.e. we use stereotypes but this depends on our motivation to be accurate e.g. Ruscher (2000) found that we seek out more information about someone when our success is dependent on them. Whilst we can be a motivated tactician, there is a degree of automaticity normally.
Attribution theories consider that when we attribute a cause to behaviour this is made up of internal/dispositional causes (i.e. within the person) and external/situational causes (i.e. in the environment). In general, internal causes are more useful as they apply to that person generally whereas external causes only apply in that situation. Kelley (1967) considered that we look at consistency (of that behaviour by that person), distinctiveness and consensus (does everyone else do that). So low consensus with low distinctiveness is attributed to an internal cause but high consensus with high distinctiveness is attributed to an external cause. Tests of this can be done using vignettes. We tend to favour internal attributions for others (the fundamental attribution error) but external causes to our own behaviour. However, we also have a self-serving bias in that we attribute our successes to internal causes but our failures to external ones. Why this should be so may be due to cognitive bias i.e. that we’ve worked hard so expect to succeed so failure is due to an external cause but there may be a motivational bias due to self-esteem and desire to present ourselves in the best possible light (people with high self-esteem tend to make more self-serving attributions than those with low self-esteem [Shrauger 1975]) but…
someone with high self-esteem would be more likely to expect to succeed.
In making judgements, we tend to make the judgement in light of the distribution of information which we have (availability heuristic) i.e. we assume that the new case is in proportion to the information which we have heard about in that area before or about a type of person before (representativeness heuristic). The level of calibration varies i.e. some people can judge what they don’t know better than others. In terms of risk, people in general feel that bad things won’t happen to them i.e. there is an optimistic bias (everyone thinks that they drive better than average). HIV/AIDS studies illustrate most of the above. Thus people consider that they are less likely than average to catch it even if they are in a high risk group, they attribute the causes to things outside their group (e.g. Africans blame western behaviours, westerners blame the Africans).
For the exam, the key topics for this chapter are:

Attribution theory
Self-serving bias
19 Of

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Exploring Psychology: Perception and Attention

Chapter 6, on Perception and attention runs to about 50 pages and starts the second volume of the first book. This is the third of the part 2 exam chapters but TMA3 also uses the background theory provided here.

This chapter starts starts by considering how the bottom-up information coming from our senses (i.e. sensations) direct our attention and then follows on to look at how these are perceived as top-down information in our brain. Thus the pattern of light and dark remained the same yet our perception of it changed this into the cow that we perceived later when the additional cues were added. How we perceive a journey is both in general terms (semantic memory) and the instance of a particular journey (episodic memory) hence we may know what usually happens on the way to work yet may not recall the specific details of the journey today.

Attention is the process by which we allocate cognitive processing resources. We tend not to notice everything (e.g. the change in the person asking directions) and Kahneman (1973) suggests that we have a limited-capacity central processor i.e. that we have a limited capacity attention. However, there appear to be more specialised processing units around as Navon and Gopher (1979) found in their multiple-resources theory of attention. Whatever their number, Posner (1980) recognised that there is still a limited capacity and therefore our attention is directed in the manner of an attentional spotlight which acts to reduce the amount of processing undertaken (albeit this selective attention means that we ignore things outside the spotlight). This spotlight acts in the form of attentional tunnelling when there’s too much to consider and we are forced to ignore things or stimulus-induced shifts of attention (e.g. a loud bang). Broadbent (1954) suggested a bottleneck theory of attention that reduced the amount of information early on thus allowing for the limited processing power, the snag with this being that it doesn’t allow for contextual processing at higher levels of perception and in practice it appears that where the filtering is applied varies depending on the processing load. This all presupposes that everything is conscious i.e. that they are controlled processes but there are also automatic processes which avoid the issues around the limited processing capacity but at the expense of losing the detail. The Stroop test is one example of this and hence people find it difficult to read the colour when the word printed is at odds with the colour that it is printed in.

As with attention, there are a number of different theories of perception. The chapter first looks at Gregory’s (1966) constructivist theory of perception which considers that as we don’t use all of the sensory information to begin with, we are therefore assembling our perception from incomplete information and in doing so we construct hypotheses that are subsequently proven or disproven as more information arrives. This explains a number of optical illusions and the way that those in different cultures perceive these but it is not a complete explanation. Gibson’s (1950) idea of direct perception considers that everything is already there in the sensory information and that we perceive the world as a whole and moreover that we perceive it dynamically rather than as a series of static images (e.g. most visual illusions only work as static images); no hypotheses are required.

Phenomenological experience considers the whole area of perception to be a fusion of our prior experience, our current understanding and the context and tries to understand not only how we perceive things but what the experience of perception is like (e.g. a cube is a building block to a child but a dice to a gambler). Images are considered as consisting of a figure and ground (the background). Gestalt  psychology considers the identification of whole objects and challenges the idea of an attentional  spotlight.

In the real world there’s a lot of research in, for example, traffic collisions considering such things as the sensory conspicuity (will it flash out at you) and attention conspicuity (will you actually notice it).

For the exam, the key topics for this chapter are:

Attentional spotlight
Bottleneck theories of attention
Topdown processing
Limited capacity attention

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

DXR222 Exploring Psychology Project: Day 7

As usual with the final day there was lot of packing going on before breakfast.

The first task was to organise a group presentation of our results which went surprisingly well as indeed did the ur presentation to three other groups. Breaking the presentations into smaller units made for a much more satisfying pace to the morning.

The final presentation by the tutors was a mix of the serious and the comical. It was a little sad too as this was the final presentation of the module after what has been decades for some of the he tutors.

After that it was time for farewells before we went our separate ways. In my case it’s a very long drawn out trip that’ll take getting on for ten hours due mainly to a lot of sitting around between legs of the journey.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

DXR222 Exploring Psychology Project: Day 6

The final working day was a rather busy and stressful one. We spent the first hour assembling a list of newspaper articles for our thematic analysis but also had to “volunteer” an hour each to be participants in the experiments other groups were conducting (seemingly mainly on variations of memory).

With overlapping volunteering, our momentum was lost to an extent and it seemed to take quite long to get our first order coding done (although it was based on nearly 60 pages of articles) and we didn’t really get into 2nd order coding until well after lunch with sorting themes out running into the evening.

In the midst of that we had the tutorial on the report that we’ve to write for the course.

The schizophrenic lecture was fascinating and the only downside is that we only had the abbreviated version (it used to run well over two hours) but we have a video on it to look forward to later.

Finally there was the final performance of the DXR222 panto as, sadly, it’s “RIP DXR222 2002-2015”.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.