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Chapter 6: Memory

Part One: From Ebbinghaus to Encoding

Part Two: Different Types of Memory

Part Three: Biological Perspectives on Memory

Part Four: Memory Improvement

Overview of Chapter 6: Memory

Memory feels like a dip into the past, but actually memory takes place in the present moment. It uses information stored in the past to attempt reconstructions of events from the past.

This is like baking a cake using a recipe. The result can be a reasonably good copy, or the product can be totally different. Mem­ory processes are creative processes, and memory errors are more common than most people think.

Memory research is one of the oldest forms of experimental research in psychology, going back to the 1880s. It played an important role in psychology in the 1960s and 1970s, ushering in a new era of cognitive psychology.

The encoding revolution in memory research marked the end of stimulus-response theories inherited from behaviorism. Encoding was a concept borrowed from computers, and this started the information processing approach in experimental psychology.

Another important influence on memory research was neuroscience in the 1980s and 1990s. Researchers now analyze synaptic mechanisms of learning. They can trace specific memories in mouse brains, and large scale memory processes can be visualized with brain scans.

In present-day psychology, memory is not regarded as a single process or a single system. It occurs in multiple systems all over the brain. To some extent, each system in the brain has its own memory, because each stores information for later use.

This contrasts with the assumption during psychology's first century (1860-1960) that memory was a single system producing "engrams" or memory traces. Large-scale, integrated, event memories are important, but they are only one type of memory.

The topic of memory has practical implications for college students. Research on memory can help students understand why some study habits work, while others do little good.

This chapter has two pages devoted to student memorization processes: "What Should a Student Do?" and "How to Study". We will review evidence that repetition and effort, by themselves, have little effect on memory. Much more important is the cultivation of interest and attention to detail, plus a good night's sleep after studying.

How this chapter is organized

The first section starts with the oldest tradition of memory research, that of Ebbinghaus. Ebbinghaus used language-related materials, nonsense syllables, starting the verbal learning tradition that dominated memory research up to the 1960s.

The encoding revolution in memory research focused new attention on how people manipulate information. Many different types of memory were documented by researchers. We will discuss semantic memory, procedural memory, episodic memory, and implicit memory.

The section titled "Biological Perspectives on Memory" examines research on the brain processes that influence memory. We will find that memory benefits from a little adrenaline...but not too much.

A section on memory improvement examines how memory is enhanced. Classic techniques include mnemonic systems, but other practical techniques are less gimmicky and involve cultivating interest and making connections between different ideas while studying.

Finally, we end the chapter with a look at people with fantastic memories of various types. Although each extraordinary memorist uses a different approach, there are common elements. All the extraordinary memorists adopt an attitude of interest in the inner details of a situation.

Related topics in other chapters

Chapter 3 (States of Consciousness) discusses hypnosis and memory. The Conditioning chapter (Chapter 5) discusses acquisition of classical and operant conditioned responses, a form of learning and memory.

Memory turns up in Chapter 11 (Personality Theories) in Freud's concept of repression and in Chapter 13 (Therapies) in Adler's diagnostic use of early memories. Chapter 14 (Frontiers of Psychology) discusses eyewitness testimony and cryptom­nesia (unconscious plagiarism) in the section on Psychology and Law.

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