One of the best known psychologists of the 20th century was Jean Piaget. The memory he described was from when he was about 2 years old, a kidnapping attempt in which his nurse tried to protect him. According to the storehouse metaphor, memory is kind of a warehouse. When one remembers an event from one’s life, one looks through this warehouse. Remembering a past event is also a kind of simulation, a simulation of what happened in the past, rather than a veridical reproduction of the past. In fact, our best understanding is that brains are massively parallel simulation devices. Constructive theories deal with filling in gaps at encoding as the event transpires, whereas reconstructive theories deal with filling in gaps at retrieval as one tries to remember the event. When thinking about memory illusions it is important to make a similar distinction.
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To truly understand how important and central memory is to us, it is important to understand what life is like for people who experience memory loss, or amnesia. This chapter examines the amnestic syndrome, which has been widely studied and the knowledge of which has significantly influenced theories of memory. The abilities and nonabilities of those with amnestic syndrome demonstrate that there are multiple independent systems of memory. The chapter also examines two controversial diagnoses, the main feature of which is memory loss dissociative identity disorder (DID) and psychogenic or dissociative amnesia. It discusses a form of memory loss that does not fit the technical definition of amnesia because it eventually affects not just memory but all cognition: Alzheimer’s disease (AD). AD is common among older adults and demonstrates how a worsening loss of memory and cognition can lead to a complete disruption of everyday life.
In theory, the construction of an autobiographical memory begins with a retrieval model being generated in the brain. This retrieval model activates general knowledge about the self, which is used to retrieve episodic memory details consistent with the desired memory. Autobiographical memory is a complicated skill that results from the union of episodic memory and an abstract concept of self laid out over time. This transformation of episodic into autobiographical memories results in forgetting of some incidents, and mashups the details from two or more separate incidents into a single memory that feels like it happened to the self at a particular point in time. Autobiographical memory is said to serve at least three important functions: identity, directive, and social. Autobiographical memories also serve as guides for future behavior. A function of autobiographical memory is to create and strengthen bonds between people.
This introduction presents an overview of key concepts covered in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book discusses human memory: how it works, how it sometimes doesn’t work, why it’s important, and why it’s interesting. It explains the role of trauma in memory and the complex set of loss of function and preserved function that occurs in amnesia. The book talks about whether one really needs a superior memory in the first place. Memory is intrinsically interesting because it involves a re-experiencing of the past in the present. Researchers have found that many of the same brain regions involved in perceiving an event become active again when one remembers the event. Memory teaches us about other things and other human beings. Memories can serve to define ourselves to others. And memory can also serve as a kind of control on our emotions.
This chapter describes some research and theories dealing with prospective memory. Prospective memory is typically contrasted with retrospective memory memory for things in the past. The prospective memory is of two kinds they are time-based prospective memory (TBPM) and event-based prospective memory (EBPM). Rebekah Smith proposed a model that claims that focused attention is always needed to successfully use prospective memory. The theory is called the preparatory attention and memory (PAM) processes model. According to the theory, successful prospective memory retrieval can only happen when preparatory attention and memory processes are used. One of the more formal theories of prospective memory is called the multinomial model of prospective memory (MPT) model. The first key to improving our prospective memory is to create a strong mental association between the prospective memory cue and the intended action.
Contemporary research has found that memory is much more than the process for recalling information that has been learned and retained. Memory is central to all human endeavors. Memory is the sine qua non of human psychology. How humans process, store, retrieve, and use memory is intrinsically interesting. This book is about human memory: how it works, how it sometimes does not work, why it is important, and why it is interesting. It describes the major structural and functional theories that guide our understanding of memory. The modal model has three memory buffers: sensory information store, short-term memory and long-term memory. The book focuses on everyday functions of memory, including memorizing things, remembering to do things (prospective memory), and recalling how to do things, such as skills, procedures, and navigation. Disorders of memory including Alzheimer’s and amnesia are examined along with exceptional memory skills, such as the phenomenon of individuals with highly superior autobiographical memory. The book also addresses the intriguing and controversial topics of repressed and recovered memories, the validity of memory in courtroom testimony, and the effects of remembering traumatic events.
This chapter explores how memories for such traumatic experiences differ from memories for more mundane experiences, and what role the memories play in the development and maintenance of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When the memory refuses to fade and continues to intrude into daily experiences months or years later, PTSD may result. Those who have PTSD suffer through flashbacks, in which the memory for the event occurs without intention and feels like a reliving of the experience, and recurrent nightmares about the traumatic experience. Most people are convinced by their own experience that dramatic and traumatic events are better remembered than mundane or neutral ones. In fact, there is extensive evidence supporting this phenomenon of emotional enhancement of memory. People remember words on a list referring to emotional concepts better than neutral words and emotion-laden pictures better than neutral ones.
This chapter talks about different types of memory and outlines some of the basic theories of how memory is organized and how it functions. A direct measure of memory is one in which the person being tested is well aware that his or her memory, is being tested. Direct measures of memory can be further subdivided into two main categories: recall and recognition. In a recognition test, the person doesn’t have to produce an answer, but merely choose an answer that is right there in front of him or her, as in a multiple-choice or true-or-false question. In a free recall question, the person needs to produce a large amount of information in response to a question. In a cued recall question, the question requires a specific discrete answer. In addition to these direct measures of memory, there are also a number of different indirect measures of memory.
This chapter focuses on one particular type of eyewitness memory the memory of an eyewitness for the face of the perpetrator. Eyewitness identifications are crucial evidence in upward of 80,000 criminal cases per year. Accurate eyewitness memory can help police catch criminals and can help prosecutors bring solid cases against those criminals. The person accused of a crime also deserves to have justice done to not be falsely accused or wrongfully imprisoned. To understand eyewitness memory, one has to understand perceptual psychology, cognitive psychology, social psychology, motivation, emotion, reasoning, personality just about every kind of psychology we can imagine. Mistaken identifications are a memory problem. They involve a person retrieving details from memory but being mistaken in the recollection of those details. The good news is that cognitive and social psychologists have been hard at work in developing science-based approaches that can reduce the problem.
Memory is critical to the legal system, a system that is only just learning the facts about memory and therefore may unwittingly be leading to unjust verdicts. Memory can be haunting. It can either help us to transcend or make us stuck in the traumatic experiences of our lives. Memory is also a major contributor to intelligence. The influential Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory includes short-term and long-term memory as two of the defining components of intelligence. All major intelligence tests include tests of memory. Working memory in particular is closely related to intelligence. We are quite aware of the enthusiasm many students have for prescription stimulant drugs as memory enhancers. Some studies find small improvements in working memory in healthy young adults after taking prescription stimulants. For occasional bursts of enhanced memory, we can use over-the-counter energy drinks.