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Photographs, Souvenirs, and Mementos:
Memory and Meaning
n May 20, 2011, Joplin, Missouri, was struck by a tornado that killed 160 people and leveled a third of the city. Within
days of the storm, residents of Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and across Missouri started nding photos from
Joplin in unexpected places. Carried by the tornado’s 200 mph winds, these treasured mementos turned up in trees,
barns, yards, and barbed wire fences.
Oklahoman Angela Walters set up a Facebook page as a clearinghouse for people from Joplin to claim their lost pho-
tos. Eventually the page featured 27,000 images. Walters observed, “When a disaster happens, as soon as you hear a
family is safe, the next thing you always think about is photos. They’re irreplaceable. . . . They’re the record of our
lives” (Cohen, 2011). A woman who lost her home in the storm found comfort in a photo of her now 8-year-old son
taken when he was 2, mugging for the camera and pretending to shave. “It’s a day and a memory and a piece of
time.. . . All this other stuff is just stuff,” she said. “It’s the memories that count—and the photos” (Cohen, 2011).
Human beings naturally collect concrete evidence to support their
memories. When something important happens, we take a picture.
Visiting an unusual place, we might pick up a T-shirt, a coffee mug,
or a postcard. The preciousness of this material evidence of where
we have been, with whom, and what we did tells us two important
truths about memory: There are some things we want to remember
forever, and we are not sure that memory itself will suffi ce.
Certainly, memory provides crucial support for many mundane
activities—for example, it allows us to know what we were
looking for when we opened the fridge, where we left our
running shoes, and when we need to mail a birthday card.
But our memories are also precious because they repre-
sent a lasting imprint of our experiences, moments from
the past that give our lives meaning.
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202 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
There are few moments when your life is not steeped in memory. Memory is at work
with each step you take, each thought you think, and each word you speak. Through
memory, you weave the past into the present. In this chapter, we explore the key
processes of memory, including how information gets into memory and how it is stored,
retrieved, and sometimes forgotten. We also probe what the science of memory reveals
about the best way to study and retain course material, as well as how memory
processes can enrich our lives.
The Nature of Memory
into memory
over time
out of
FIGURE 6.1 Processing Information in Memory As you
read about the many aspects of memory in this chapter, think about the
organization of memory in terms of these three main activities.
T h e s t a r s a r e s h i n i n g a n d t h e m o o n i s f u l l . A b e a u t i f u l e v e n i n g i s c o m i n g t o a c l o s e .
You l ook at yo ur si gni cant other and think, “Ill never forget this night. How is it
possible that in fact you never will forget it? Years from now, you might tell your chil-
dren about that one special night so many years ago, even if you had not thought about
it in the years since. How does one perfect night become a part of your enduring life
P s y c h o l o g i s t s d e ne memory as the retention of information or experience over
time. Memory occurs through three important processes: encod-
ing, storage, and retrieval. Memory requires taking in infor-
mation (encoding the sights and sounds of that night),
storing it or representing it (retaining it in some mental
storehouse), and then retrieving it for a later purpose
(recalling it when someone asks, So, how did you two
end up together?”). In the next three sections, we focus
on these phases of memory: encoding, storage, and
retrieval (Figure 6.1).
Except for the annoying moments when your memory
fails or the upsetting situation where someone you know
experiences memory loss, you most likely do not con-
sider how much everything you do and say depends on
the smooth operation of your memory systems (Schacter,
2001, 2007). Think about asking someone for his or her
phone number when you have no pencil, paper, or cell
phone handy. You must attend to what the person tells
you and rehearse the digits in your head until you can
store them someplace permanently. Then, when the time
comes to record the numbers, say, in your phone, you
have to retrieve the identity of the person and the reason
you got that phone number to begin with. Was it to ask
the person out or to borrow notes for your psychology
class? Human memory systems are truly remarkable con-
sidering how much information we put into memory and
how much we must retrieve to perform life’s activities
(Kahana, 2012; Lieberman, 2012).
The retention of information
or experience over time as
the result of three key pro-
cesses: encoding, storage,
and retrieval.
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Memory Encoding // 203
1. Memory is the _________ of information
or experience over a period of time.
A. rehearsal
B. intake
C. association
D. retention
2. When we take in information in the
course of daily life, such as the words
and diagrams presented during a
lecture, we are using the memory
process of
A. retention.
B. encoding.
C. retrieval.
D. xation.
3. The three processes of memory are
encoding, _________, and retrieval.
A. storage
B. rehearsal
C. recollection
D. xation
APPLY IT! 4. James and Adam are very
good friends and often sit next to each
other in Intro Psych. James spends a lot of
time in class working on homework for his
biology lab, while Adam listens to the lec-
ture and takes lots of notes. Before the first
exam, James asks to borrow Adam’s note-
book from Intro and studies those notes
very carefully. In fact, both James and
Adam study for 10 hours for the test. After
the exam, James finds out he got a C , while
Adam got an A . James cannot understand
how they could have studied the same
notes yet gotten such different grades.
The most likely, most accurate explanation
is that
A. James and Adam encoded the informa-
tion differently.
B. Adam simply has a better memory than
C. James is taking too many hard courses
and could not retrieve the information
as well as Adam because of stress.
D. Adam probably gave James fake notes to
torpedo his work.
The rst step in memory is encoding , the process by which information gets into mem-
ory storage. When you are listening to a lecture, watching a play, reading a book, or
talking with a friend, you are encoding information into memory. Some information gets
into memory virtually automatically, whereas encoding other information takes effort.
Let’s examine some of the encoding processes that require effort. These include attention,
deep processing, elaboration, and the use of mental imagery.
T o b e g i n t h e p r o c e s s o f m e m o r y e n c o d i n g , w e h a v e t o p a y a t t e n t i o n t o i n f o r m a t i o n
(Chun, Turk-Browne, & Golomb, 2011; Flom & Bahrick, 2010). Recall from Chapter 3
that selective attention involves focusing on a speci c aspect of experience while ignor-
ing others. Attention is selective because the brain’s resources are limited—they cannot
attend to everything. These limitations mean that we have to attend selectively to some
things in our environment and ignore others (Matzel & Kolata, 2010). So, on that special
night with your romantic partner, you never noticed the bus that roared by or the people
whom you passed as you strolled along the street. Those details
did not make it into your enduring memory.
In addition to selective attention, psychologists have described
two other ways that attention may be allocated: divided attention
and sustained attention (Robinson-Riegler & Robinson-Riegler,
2012). Divided attention involves concentrating on more than one
activity at the same time. If you are listening to music or the tele-
vision while you are reading this chapter, you are dividing your
attention. Sustained attention ( a l s o c a l l e d vigilance ) is the ability
to maintain attention to a selected stimulus for a prolonged period
of time. For example, paying close attention to your notes while
studying for an exam is a good application of sustained attention.
Divided attention can be especially detrimental to encoding.
Multitasking, which in some cases involves dividing attention not
just between two activities but among three or more (Lin, 2009),
may be the ultimate in divided attention. It is not unusual for
The fi rst step in memory;
the process by which infor-
mation gets into memory
divided attention
Concentrating on
more than one
activity at the
same time.
The ability to
maintain atten-
tion to a selected
stimulus for a
prolonged period
of time.
Memory Encoding
How many times a day do you fi nd yourself
multitasking like this individual?
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204 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
high school and college students simultaneously to divide their attention among home-
work, instant messaging, web sur ng, and looking at an iTunes playlist. Multitaskers are
often very con dent in their multitasking skills (Pattillo, 2010). However, a recent
study revealed that heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-
switching ability, apparently because of their decreased ability to lter out interfer-
ence from the irrelevant task (Ophir, Nass, & Wagner, 2009). Such research indicates
that trying to listen to a lecture in class while texting or playing a game on your
cell phone is likely to impede your ability to pay adequate attention to the lecture
(Glenn, 2010).
Levels of Processing
Another factor that in uences memory is whether we engage with information super -
cially or really get into it. Fergus Craik and Robert Lockhart (1972) rst suggested that
encoding can be in uenced by levels of processing. The term levels of processing refers
to a continuum from shallow to intermediate to deep, with deeper processing producing
better memory.
Imagine that you are asked to memorize a list of words, including the word mom.
Shallow processing includes noting the physical features of a stimulus, such as the shapes
of the letters in the word mom. Intermediate processing involves giving the stimulus a
label, as in reading the word mom. The deepest level of processing entails thinking about
the meaning of a stimulus—for instance, thinking about the meaning of the word mom
and about your own mother, her face, and her special qualities.
The more deeply we process, the better the memory (Howes, 2006; Rose & Craik,
2012). For example, researchers have found that if we encode something meaningful
about a face and make associations with it, we are more likely to remember the face
(Harris & Kay, 1995). The restaurant server who strives to remember the face of the
customer and to imagine her eating the food she has ordered is using deep processing
(Figure 6.2).
E f f e c t i v e e n c o d i n g o f a m e m o r y d e p e n d s o n m o r e t h a n j u s t d e p t h o f p r o c e s s i n g . W i t h i n
deep processing, the more extensive the processing, the better the memory (Terry, 2009).
Elaboration refers to the formation of a number of different connections around a
stimulus at any given level of memory encoding. Elaboration is like creating a huge
spider web of links between some new information and everything one already knows,
levels of processing
A continuum of memory
processing from shallow to
intermediate to deep, with
deeper processing produc-
ing better memory.
The formation of a number
of different connections
around a stimulus at any
given level of memory
Level of
Shallo w
Physical and perceptual
features are analyzed.
The lines, angles, and contour that make up
the physical appearance of an object, such
as a car, are detected.
Deep Semantic, meaningful,
symbolic characteristics
are used.
Associations connected with car are brought
to mind—you think about the Porsche or
Ferrari you hope to buy or the fun you and
friends had on spring break when you drove
a car to the beach.
Stimulus is recognized
and labeled.
The object is recognized as a car.
Depth of Processing
FIGURE 6.2 Depth
of Processing According
to the levels of processing
principle, deeper processing
of stimuli produces better
memory of them.
Re membe r t ha t t he
nex t t i me you si t down t o
st udy i n f r ont of the TV
or a comput er .
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Memory Encoding // 205
and it can occur at any level of processing. In
the case of the word mom, a p e r s o n c a n e l a b o -
rate on mom even at a shallow level—for
example, by thinking of the shapes of the let-
ters and how they relate to the shapes of other
letters, say, how an m l o o k s l i k e t w o n s . A t a
deep level of processing, a person might focus
on what a mother is or might think about var-
ious mothers he or she knows, images of moth-
ers in art, and portrayals of mothers on
television and in lm. Generally speaking, the
more elaborate the processing, the better mem-
ory will be. Deep, elaborate processing is a
powerful way to remember.
F o r e x a m p l e , r a t h e r t h a n t r y i n g t o m e m o -
rize the de nition of memory, you would do
better to weave a complex spider web around
the concept of memory by coming up with a
real-world example of how information enters
your mind, how it is stored, and how you can retrieve it. Thinking of concrete exam-
ples of a concept is a good way to understand it. Self-reference —relating material to
your own experience—is another effective way to elaborate on information, drawing
mental links between aspects of your own life and new information (Hunt & Ellis,
2004) (Figure 6.3).
T h e p r o c e s s o f e l a b o r a t i o n i s e v i d e n t i n t h e p h y s i c a l a c t i v i t y o f t h e b r a i n . N e u r o s c i -
ence research has shown a link between elaboration during encoding and brain activity
(Han & others, 2012; Holland, Addis, & Kensinger, 2011). In one study, researchers
placed individuals in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines (see Chapter 2) and
ashed one word every 2 seconds on a screen inside (Wagner & others, 1998). Initially,
the individuals simply noted whether the words were in uppercase or lowercase letters.
As the study progressed, they were asked to determine whether each word meant some-
thing concrete, such as chair or book, or abstract, such as love or democracy. The par-
ticipants showed more neural activity in the left frontal lobe of the brain during the
concrete/abstract task than they did when they were asked merely to state whether the
words were in uppercase or lowercase letters. Further, they demonstrated better memory
in the concrete/abstract task. The researchers concluded that greater elaboration of infor-
mation is linked with neural activity, especially in the brain’s left frontal lobe, and with
improved memory.
One of the most powerful ways to make memories distinctive is to use mental imag-
ery (Keogh & Pearson, 2011; Scholl, 2013). Mental imagery entails visualizing
material that we want to remember in ways that create a lasting portrait. Imagery
functions as a powerful encoding tool for all of us, certainly including the world
champions of memory listed in Figure 6.4. Consider, for instance, Akira
H a r a g u c h i , w h o i n 2 0 0 5 r e c i t e d t h e d i g i t s o f p i t o t h e rst 83,431 decimal
places (BBC News, 2005). Think about memorizing a list of over 80,000
numbers. How would you go about it? One way would be to use mental
imagery to create a kind of visual mental walk through the digits. To memo-
rize the rst 8 digits of pi (3.1415926), one might say, “3 is a chubby fellow
who walks with a cane (1), up to a take-out window (4), and orders 15 ham-
burgers. The cook (9), who has very large biceps (2), slips on his way to deliver
the burgers (6).
Physical Acoustic
Type of processing task
Semantic Self-reference
Average number of words recalled
FIGURE 6.3 Memory Improves When Self-Reference Is
Used In one study, researchers asked participants to remember lists of words
according to the words’ physical, acoustic (sound), semantic (meaning), or
self-referent characteristics. As the gure illustrates, when individuals generated
self-references for the words, they remembered them better.
The Gui nness
Book of Wor l d Recor ds
has not r ecogni z ed t hi s f eat
just yet . The current record
hol der i s Chao L u , wh o
recited pi to 67, 8 90 di gi t s.
No smal l pot at oes. L u used
me n t a l i ma g e r y t o c o mp l e t e
the task.
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206 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
1. Shane is studying for a vocabulary test.
When he studies the word braggart, he
thinks of how his friend Bill acts when-
ever Bill wins a tennis match. Shane is
processing this word at a(n)
A. shallow level.
B. intermediate level.
C. deep level.
D. personal level.
2. The extensiveness of processing infor-
mation at a given level is called
A. scope of processing.
B. depth of processing.
C. span of memory.
D. elaboration.
3. One of the most effective ways to make
our memories distinctive is to use
A. cues.
B. rehearsal.
C. imagery.
D. concentration.
APPLY IT! 4. Linus and Polly are argu-
ing over the best way to study for an up-
coming psychology exam. Polly tries to tell
Linus that the best way to remember things
is to use flashcards, but Linus, an astro-
physics major, spends a lot of time jotting
down the connections between his psychol-
ogy class and concepts from astrophysics.
Polly warns him, “You are wasting your
time. You’re just going to get confused.”
What do you think of Polly’s warning?
A. Linus should listen to Polly. There truly
is one best way to remember things.
B. Polly should back off. Linus is elaborat-
ing on the material at a deep level, and
this approach will probably pay off on
the exam.
C. Linus is likely to get confused when the
exam has no astrophysics questions.
D. Polly will do better because fl ashcards
require shallow processing.
Record H old er YearMemorization of
Gunther Karsten
Simon Reinhard Germany
Johannes Mallow Germany 2011
Simon Reinhard Germany 2010
Johannes Mallow
Written numbers in 1 minute,
no errors
Spe e d t o re call a sing le d e ck
of 52 shuffled playing cards,
no errors
Abstract images in 15 minutes
Random w ords in 1 5 minut es*
Historic dates in 5 minutes Germany 2010
102 numbers
21.19 seconds
385 images
300 words
120 dates
*Participants view random words in columns of 25 words. Scoring is tabulated by column:
one point for each word. One mistake reduces the score for that column by half, and the
second mistake reduces the score for that column to zero.
FIGURE 6.4 World
Champions of Memory
For memorization wizards such
as these world record holders,
imagery is a powerful encoding
Mental imagery comes in handy in everyday life. Think about a
restaurant server. After reciting your rather complicated order to a
server, you notice that he is not writing anything down. Waiting patiently
through your friends’ orders, you wonder, “How can he possibly
remember all this?” When the meal arrives, however, everything is
exactly right. Waiters seem to commit remarkable acts of memory rou-
tinely. How do they do it? Asked to share his secrets, a college student
who moonlights in food service explained: “I always try to remember
the persons face and imagine him eating the food he’s ordered.
Classic studies by Allan Paivio (1971, 1986, 2007) have docu-
mented how imagery can improve memory. Paivio argues that mem-
ory is stored in one of two ways: as a verbal code (a word or a
label) or an image code. Paivio thinks that the image code, which
is highly detailed and distinctive, produces better memory than the
verbal code. His dual-code hypothesis claims that memory for pic-
tures is better than memory for words because pictures—at least
those that can be named—are stored as both image codes and verbal
codes (Paivio & Sadoski, 2011; Welcome & others, 2011). Thus,
when we use imagery to remember, we have two potential avenues
by which we can retrieve information.
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Memory Storage // 207
The quality of encoding does not alone determine the quality of memory. A memory also
needs to be stored properly after it is encoded. Storage encompasses how information
is retained over time and how it is represented in memory.
We remember some information for less than a second, some for half a minute, and
some for minutes, hours, years, or even a lifetime. Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin
(1968) formulated an early popular theory of memory that acknowledged the varying life
span of memories (Figure 6.5). The Atkinson-Shiffrin theory s t a t e s t h a t m e m o r y s t o r a g e
involves three separate systems:
Sensory memory: time frames of a fraction of a second to several seconds
Short-term memory: time frames up to 30 seconds
Long-term memory: time frames up to a lifetime
As you read about these three memory storage systems, you will nd that time frame
is not the only thing that makes them different from one another. Each type of memory
also operates in a distinctive way and has a special purpose.
Sensory Memory
Sensory memory holds information from the
world in its original sensory form for only an
instant, not much longer than the brief time it
is exposed to the visual, auditory, and other
senses. Sensory memory is very rich and
detailed, but we lose the information in it
quickly unless we use certain strategies that
transfer it into short-term or long-term memory.
Think about the sights and sounds you
encounter as you walk to class on a typical
morning. Literally thousands of stimuli come
into your eld of vision and hearing—cracks in
the sidewalk, chirping birds, a noisy motorcycle, the blue sky, faces and voices of hun-
dreds of people. You do not process all of these stimuli, but you do process a number
of them. In general, you process many more stimuli at the sensory level than you con-
sciously notice. Sensory memory retains this information from your senses, including a
The retention of information
over time and how this
information is represented
in memory.
Atkinson-Shiffrin theory
Theory stating that memory
storage involves three sepa-
rate systems: sensory mem-
ory, short-term memory, and
long-term memory.
sensory memory
Memory system
that involves
holding informa-
tion from the
world in its origi-
nal sensory form
for only an in-
stant, not much
longer than the
brief time it is
exposed to the
visual, auditory,
and other senses.
Memory Storage
Long -Ter m
input Attention
St o r ag e
FIGURE 6.5 Atkinson and Shiffrin’s Theory of Memory In this model, sensory input goes
into sensory memory. Through the process of attention, information moves into short-term memory, where
it remains for 30 seconds or less unless it is rehearsed. When the information goes into long-term memory
storage, it can be retrieved over a lifetime.
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208 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
FIGURE 6.6 Auditory and Visual
Sensory Memory If you hear this bird’s
call while walking through the woods, your
a u d i t o r y s e n s o r y m e m o r y h o l d s t h e i n f o r m a t i o n
for several seconds. If you see the bird, your
visual sensory memory holds the information
for only about ¼ of a second.
Sperling’s Sensory
Memory Experiment
This array of stimuli is similar
to those ashed for about
of a second to the participants
in Sperling’s
Sper l i ng’ s sol ut i on
is t ruly remarkable. He
realized that by giving the
par t i ci pant s t he si gnal , he
coul d hel p t hem t o scan t hei r
me n t a l i ma g e q u i c k l y s o t h a t
they could find specific pieces
of t he i nf or mat i on t hat i t
con t ai ned i n v ar i ous pl aces.
Thei r abi l i t y t o d o so
demons t r at es t hat al l
the material was actually
there. Fantastic!
Type of sensory register
Auditory Visual
Up to several
large portion of what you think you ignore. However, sensory memory does
not retain the information very long.
Echoic memory (from the word echo ) refers to auditory sensory mem-
ory, which is retained for up to several seconds. Imagine standing in an
elevator with a friend who suddenly asks, “What was that song?”
about the piped-in tune that just ended. If your friend asks his ques-
tion quickly enough, you just might have a trace of the song left
in your sensory registers.
Iconic memory ( f r o m t h e w o r d icon, w h i c h m e a n s
“image”) refers to visual sensory memory, which is
retained only for about ¼ of a second (Figure 6.6). Visual
sensory memory is responsible for our ability to “write” in the
air using a sparkler on the Fourth of July—the residual iconic
memory is what makes a moving point of light appear to be a
line. The sensory memory for other senses, such as smell and
touch, has received little attention in research studies.
The rst scienti c research on sensory memory focused on iconic mem-
ory. In George Sperling’s (1960) classic study, participants viewed patterns
of stimuli such as those in Figure 6.7. As you look at the letters, you have
no trouble recognizing them. However, Sperling ashed the letters on a
screen for very brief intervals, about
/20 of a second. Afterward, the
participants could report only four or ve letters. With such a short expo-
sure, reporting all nine letters was impossible.
Some participants in Sperlings study reported feeling that for an instant,
they could see all nine letters within a brie y ashed pattern. They ran into
trouble when they tried to name all the letters they had initially seen. One
hypothesis to explain this experience is that all nine letters were initially
processed as far as the iconic sensory memory level. This is why all nine
letters were seen. However, forgetting from iconic memory occurred so rap-
idly that the participants did not have time to transfer all the letters to short-term memory,
where they could be named.
Sperling reasoned that if all nine letters are actually processed in sensory memory,
they should all be available for a brief time. To test this possibility, Sperling sounded a
low, medium, or high tone just after a pattern of letters was shown. The participants were
told that the tone was a signal to report only the letters from the bottom, middle, or top
row. Under these conditions, the participants performed much better, and this outcome
suggests a brief memory for most or all of the letters in the display. Sperling showed
that an entire array of information is brie y present in iconic memory. To experience
this phenomenon, glance at this page for just a second. All of the letters are present
in your sensory memory for an instant, creating a mental image that momentarily
exists in its entirety.
Short-Term Memory
Much information goes no further than the stage of auditory and visual sensory
memory. We retain this information for only a brief instant. However, some informa-
tion, especially that to which we pay attention, proceeds into short-term memory.
Short-term memory i s a l i m i t e d - c a p a c i t y m e m o r y s y s t e m i n w h i c h i n f o r m a t i o n i s
usually retained for only as long as 30 seconds unless we use strategies to retain it lon-
ger. Compared with sensory memory, short-term memory is limited in capacity, but it
can store information for a longer time.
G e o r g e M i l l e r ( 1 9 5 6 ) e x a m i n e d t h e l i m i t e d c a p a c i t y o f s h o r t - t e r m m e m o r y i n t h e
classic paper “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two.Miller pointed out that
on many tasks individuals are limited in how much information they can keep track of
memory system
in which informa-
tion is usually
retained for only
as long as 30 sec-
onds unless strat-
egies are used to
retain it longer.
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Memory Storage // 209
without external aids. Usually the limit is in the range of 7 ! 2 items. The most
widely cited example of this phenomenon involves memory span, the number of
digits an individual can report back in order after a single presentation of them. Most
college students can remember eight or nine digits without making errors (think
about how easy it is to recall a phone number). Longer lists pose problems because
they exceed short-term memory capacity. If you rely on simple short-term memory to
retain longer lists, you probably will make errors.
C H U N K I N G A N D R E H E A R S A L Two ways to improve short-term memory are
chunking and rehearsal. Chun k ing i n v o l v e s g r o u p i n g o r p a c k i n g i n f o r m a t i o n t h a t
exceeds the 7 ! 2 m e m o r y s p a n i n t o h i g h e r - o r d e r u n i t s t h a t c a n b e r e m e m b e r e d a s
single units. Chunking works by making large amounts of information more manageable
(Gobet & Clarkson, 2004).
To get a sense of chunking, consider this word list: hot, city, book, forget, tomorrow,
and smile . Hold these words in memory for a moment; then write them down. If you
recalled the words, you succeeded in holding 30 letters, grouped into six chunks, in
memory. Now hold the following list in memory and then write it down:
How did you do? Do not feel bad if you did poorly. This string of letters is very dif cult
to remember, even though it is arranged in chunks. The problem is that the chunks lack
meaning. If you re-chunk the letters to form the meaningful words “Old Harold and
Young Ben,they become much easier to remember.
Another way to improve short-term memory involves rehearsal, t h e c o n s c i o u s r e p -
etition of information (Theeuwes, Belopolsky, & Olivers, 2009). Information stored
in short-term memory lasts half a minute or less without rehearsal. However, if
rehearsal is not interrupted, information can be retained inde nitely. Rehearsal is often
verbal, giving the impression of an inner voice, but it can also be visual or spatial,
giving the impression of a private inner eye (Guérard, Tremblay, & Saint-Aubin,
Rehearsal works best when we must brie y remember a list of numbers or items such
as entrées from a dinner menu. When we need to remember information for longer
periods of time, as when we are studying for a test coming up next
week or even an hour from now, other strategies usually work better.
A main reason rehearsal does not work well for retaining informa-
tion over the long term is that rehearsal often involves just mechan-
ically repeating information, without imparting meaning to it. The
fact that, over the long term, we remember information best when
we add meaning to it demonstrates the importance of deep, elaborate
Though useful, Atkinson and Shiffrin’s theory of the three time-
linked memory systems fails to capture the dynamic way short-term
memory functions (Baddeley, 2008, 2012). Short-term memory is
not just about storing information; it is about attending to informa-
tion, manipulating it, and using it to solve problems (Cowan & oth-
ers, 2011a, 2011b). How can we understand these processes? The
concept of working memory is one way psychologists have addressed
this question.
W O R K I N G M E M O R Y Working memory r e f e r s t o a c o m b i -
nation of components, including short-term memory and attention,
that allow us to hold information temporarily as we perform cogni-
tive tasks (Cowan, 2008; Cowan & others, 2012). Working memory
is not the same thing as short-term memory. For instance, a person
can hold a list of words in short-term memory by rehearsing them
over and over. A measure of short-term memory capacity, then,
working memory
A combination
of components,
including short-
term memory
and attention,
that allow indi-
viduals to hold
information tem-
porarily as they
perform cogni-
tive tasks; a kind
of mental work-
bench on which
the brain manip-
ulates and
assembles infor-
mation to guide
decision making,
and problem
And tomorrow we will be having a surprise test.”
Reprinted by permission of Jason Love,
Wh a t a r e s o m e
import ant numbers in your
life? Do t hey follow t he
7 ! 2 rule?
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210 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
might simply involve counting how many words in the list the person can remember.
Working memory capacity is separable from short-term memory capacity. We cannot
be rehearsing information while we are working on solving a problem. This may be
why measures of short-term memory capacity are not strongly related to cognitive apti-
tudes, such as intelligence, while working memory capacity is (Cowan, 2008). Because
short-term memory capacity can rely on rehearsal, 7 ! 2 c h u n k s a r e g e n e r a l l y m a n a g e -
able. However, in working memory, if the chunks are relatively complex, most young
adults can remember only 4 ! 1 , t h a t i s , t h r e e t o ve chunks (Cowan, 2010). Working
memory is not a passive storehouse with shelves to store information until it moves to
long-term memory, but rather it is an active memory system.
W o r k i n g m e m o r y c a n b e t h o u g h t o f a s a m e n t a l b l a c k b o a r d , a p l a c e w h e r e w e c a n
imagine and visualize. In this sense, working memory is the context for conscious thought
(see Chapter 4). Anthropologists, archaeologists, and psychologists have been interested
in understanding how working memory evolved. For example, prehistoric tools (Haidle,
2010) and works of art (Wynn, Coolidge, & Bright, 2009) reveal how early humans
thought. Consider the Lion Man, a n i v o r y s c u l p t u r e a r c h a e o l o g i s t s f o u n d i n a c a v e i n
Germany. The 28-cm gurine, with the head of a lion and the body of a man, is believed
to have been created 32,000 years ago (Balter, 2010). This ancient work of art must have
been the product of an individual who had the capacity to see two things and, in working
memory, ask something like, “What would they look like if I combined them?” Some
commentators have suggested that working memory lays the foundation for creative
c u l t u r e ( H a i d l e , 2 0 1 0 ) . R e c e n t l y , w o r k i n g m e m o r y h a s b e e n p r o p o s e d a s a k e y a s p e c t o f
explaining the difference between Neanderthal man and Homo sapiens ( W y n n & C o o l i d g e ,
W o r k i n g m e m o r y h a s s e r v e d a s a h e l p f u l f r a m e w o r k f o r a d d r e s s i n g p r a c t i c a l p r o b l e m s
outside the laboratory (Baddeley, 2012). For example, advances in understanding working
memory have allowed researchers to identify students at risk for academic underachieve-
ment and to improve their memory (Gathercole & Alloway, 2008; Roberts & others, 2011).
Working memory also has been bene -
cial in the early detection of Alzheimer
disease (Foley & others, 2011; Kaschel
& others, 2009).
How does working memory work?
British psychologist Alan Baddeley
(1993, 1998, 2003, 2008, 2012) has
proposed an in uential model of work-
ing memory featuring a three-part sys-
tem that allows us to hold information
temporarily as we perform cognitive
tasks. Working memory is a kind of
mental workbench on which the brain
manipulates and assembles informa-
tion to help us understand, make deci-
sions, and solve problems. If, say, all
of the information on the hard drive of
your computer is like long-term mem-
ory, then working memory is compa-
rable to what you have open and active
at any given moment. Working mem-
ory has a limited capacity, and, to take
the computer metaphor further, the
capacity of the working memory is
like RAM.
Figure 6.8 shows Baddeley’s view
of the three components of working
memory. Think of them as a boss (the
Input via
sensory memory
Working Memory
Execut ive
FIGURE 6.8 Baddeley’s View of Working Memory In Baddeley’s working
memory model, working memory consists of three main components: the phonological loop,
the visuo-spatial sketchpad, and the central executive. The phonological loop and the visuo-
spatial sketchpad serve as assistants, helping the central executive do its work. Input from
sensory memory goes to the phonological loop, where information about speech is stored
and rehearsal takes place, and to the visuo-spatial sketchpad, where visual and spatial
information, including imagery, is stored. Working memory is a limited capacity system, and
information is stored there only brie y. Working memory interacts with long-term memory,
drawing information from long-term memory and transmitting information to long-term
memory for longer storage.
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Memory Storage // 211
central executive) who has two assistants (the phonological loop and the visuo-spatial
sketchpad) to help do the work.
1. The phonological loop is specialized to brie y store speech-based information about
the sounds of language. The phonological loop contains two separate components:
an acoustic code (the sounds we heard), which decays in a few seconds, and
rehearsal, which allows us to repeat the words in the phonological store.
2. The visuo-spatial sketchpad stores visual and spatial information, including visual
imagery. As in the case of the phonological loop, the capacity of the visuo-spatial
sketchpad is limited. If we try to put too many items in the visuo-spatial sketchpad,
we cannot represent them accurately enough to retrieve them successfully. The
phonological loop and the visuo-spatial sketchpad function independently. We can
rehearse numbers in the phonological loop while making spatial arrangements of
letters in the visuo-spatial sketchpad.
3. The central executive integrates information not only from the phonological loop
and the visuo-spatial sketchpad but also from long-term memory. In Baddeley’s
(2008, 2012) view, the central executive plays important roles in attention, planning,
and organizing. The central executive acts like a supervisor who monitors which
information deserves our attention and which we should ignore. It also selects
which strategies to use to process information and solve problems. Like the phono-
logical loop and the visuo-spatial sketchpad, the central executive has a limited
capacity. If working memory is like the les you have open on your computer, the
central executive is you. You pull up information you need, close out other things,
and so forth.
Though it is compelling, Baddeley’s notion of working memory is merely a concep-
tual model describing processes in memory. Neuroscientists have only just begun to
search for brain areas and activity that might be responsible for these processes (Rissman
& Wagner, 2012).
Long-Term Memory
Long-term memory is a relatively permanent type of memory that stores huge amounts
of information for a long time. The capacity of long-term memory is staggering. John
von Neumann (1958), a distinguished mathematician, put the size at 2.8 " 10
quintillion) bits, which in practical terms means that our storage capacity is virtually
unlimited. Von Neumann assumed that we never forget anything; but even considering
that we do forget things, we can hold several billion times more information than a large
A n i n t e r e s t i n g q u e s t i o n i s h o w t h e a v a i l a b i l i t y o f i n f o r m a t i o n o n t h e I n t e r n e t h a s
in uenced memory. If we know we can look something up on the web, why bother stor-
ing it in our head? A recent series of studies by Betsy Sparrow and her colleagues
(Sparrow, Liu, & Wegner, 2011) demonstrated that in the face of dif cult memory tasks,
people are likely to think immediately of looking to the computer for the answer rather
than doing the hard work of remembering.
C O M P O N E N T S O F L O N G - T E R M M E M O R Y Long-term memory is complex,
as Figure 6.9 shows. At the top level, it is divided into substructures of explicit memory
and implicit memory (Kuper & others, 2012). Explicit memory can be further subdivided
into episodic and semantic memory. Implicit memory includes the systems involved in
procedural memory, classical conditioning, and priming.
In simple terms, explicit memory has to do with remembering who, what, where,
when, and why; implicit memory has to do with remembering how. To explore the
distinction, let’s look at the case of a person known as H. M. Af icted with severe
epilepsy, H. M. underwent surgery in 1953, when he was 27 years old, that involved
long-term memory
A relatively permanent type
of memory that stores huge
amounts of information for a
long time.
Three Stages of Memory
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212 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
removing the hippocampus and a portion of the temporal lobes of both hemispheres
in his brain (Carey, 2009). (We examined the location and functions of these brain
areas in Chapter2.) H. M.s epilepsy improved, but something devastating happened
to his memory. Most dramatically, he developed an inability to form new memo-
ries that outlive working memory. H. M.’s memory time frame was only a few
minutes at most, so he lived, until his death in 2008, in a perpetual present and
could not remember past events (explicit memory). In contrast, his memory of
how to do things (implicit memory) was less affected. For example, he could
learn new physical tasks, even though he had no memory of how or when he
learned them.
H. M.s situation demonstrates a distinction between explicit memory, which
was dramatically impaired in his case, and implicit memory, which in his case was
less in uenced by his surgery. Let’s explore the subsystems of explicit and implicit
memory more thoroughly.
Explicit Memory Explicit memory (declarative memory) is the conscious recol-
lection of information, such as speci c facts and events and, at least in humans, informa-
tion that can be verbally communicated (Tulving, 1989, 2000). Examples of using
explicit, or declarative, memory include recounting the events in a movie you have seen
and recalling which politicians are in the president’s cabinet.
How long does explicit memory last? Explicit memory includes things you are
learning in your classes even now. Will this information stay with you? Research by
Harry Bahrick has examined this question. Ohio Wesleyan University, where Bahrick
is a professor of psychology, is a small (about 1,800 students) liberal arts school that
boasts very loyal alumni who faithfully return to campus for reunions and other events.
Bahrick (1984) took advantage of this situation to conduct an ingenious study on the
retention of course material over time. He gave vocabulary tests to individuals who
had taken Spanish in college as well as to a control group of college students who had
not taken Spanish in college. The individuals chosen for the study had used Spanish
very little since their college courses. Some individuals were tested at the end of an
academic year ( just after having taken their Spanish courses), but others were tested
years after graduation—as many as 50 years later. When Bahrick assessed how much
the participants had forgotten, he found a striking pattern (Figure 6.10): Forget-
ting tended to occur in the rst three years after taking the classes and then
leveled off, so that adults maintained considerable knowledge of Spanish vocab-
ulary words up to 50 years later.
explicit memory (declarative
The conscious recollection
of information, such as spe-
cifi c facts or events and,
at least in humans, informa-
tion that can be verbally
Implicit memory
(nondeclarative memory)
Explicit memory
(declarative memory)
Priming Classical
memory (skills)
Ep iso d ic
Long-Term Memory Systems
FIGURE 6.9 Systems of Long-Term Memory Long-term memory stores huge amounts of
information for long periods of time, much like a computer’s hard drive. The hierarchy in the gure shows
the division of long-term memory at the top level into explicit memory and implicit memory. Explicit memory
can be further divided into episodic and semantic memory; implicit memory includes procedural memory,
priming, and classical conditioning.
H. M. spent most
of hi s l i f e i n t he pr esent
mo me n t . Hi s l e g a c y t o c o g n i t i v e
sci ence is unf or get t abl e. When
he di ed, many of t he psychol ogi st s
who had st ud i ed h i s c ase f el t
as i f t hey had l os t a f r i end
even i f a f r i end who had never
been abl e t o r emember t hem.
Wh a t c o u r s e m a t e r i a l
do you t hi nk you wi l l
nev er f or get ?
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Memory Storage // 213
Bahrick (1984) assessed not only how long ago the adults had
studied Spanish but also how well they did in Spanish during college.
Those who had earned an A in their courses 50 years earlier remem-
bered more Spanish than adults who had gotten a C grade when tak-
ing Spanish only one year earlier. Thus, how well students initially
learned the material was even more important than how long ago they
had studied it. Bahrick (2000) calls information that is retained for
such a long time “permastore” content. Permastore memory represents
that portion of original learning that appears destined to be with the
person virtually forever, even without rehearsal. In addition to focus-
ing on course material, Bahrick and colleagues (1974) probed adults’
memories for the faces and names of their high school classmates.
Thirty- ve years after graduation, the participants visually recognized
90 percent of the portraits of their high school classmates, with name
recognition being almost as high. These results held up even in rela-
tively large classes (the average class size in the study was 294).
Canadian cognitive psychologist Endel Tulving (1972, 1989, 2000)
has been the foremost advocate of distinguishing between two sub-
types of explicit memory: episodic and semantic. Episodic memory
is the retention of information about the where, when, and what of
life’s happenings—how we remember life’s episodes. Episodic mem-
ory is autobiographical. For example, episodic memory includes the
details of where you were when your younger brother or sister was
born, what happened on your rst date, and what you ate for breakfast
this morning. To read about the ways culture can in uence episodic
memory, check out the Intersection.
Semantic memory i s a p e r s o n s k n o w l e d g e a b o u t t h e w o r l d . I t
includes one’s areas of expertise, general knowledge of the sort learned
in school, and everyday knowledge about the meanings of words,
famous individuals, important places, and common things. For example, semantic memory
is involved in a person’s knowledge of chess, of geometry, and of who the Dalai Lama,
Lebron James, and Lady Gaga are. An important aspect of semantic memory is that it
appears to be independent of an individual’s personal identity with the past. You can
access a fact—such as the detail that Lima is the capital of Peru—and not have the
foggiest notion of when and where you learned it.
The difference between episodic and semantic memory is also demonstrated
in certain cases of amnesia (memory loss) (Moscovitch, 2013). A person with
amnesia might forget entirely who she is—her name, family, career, and all other
vital information about herself—yet still be able to talk, know what words mean,
and have general knowledge about the world, such as what day it is or who currently
holds the of ce of U.S. president (Rosenbaum & others, 2005). In such cases, episodic
memory is impaired, but semantic memory is
Figure 6.11 summarizes some aspects of the
episodic/semantic distinction. The differences
that are listed are controversial. One criticism
is that many cases of explicit, or declarative,
memory are neither purely episodic nor purely
semantic but fall in a gray area in between.
Consider your memory for what you studied
last night. You probably added knowledge to
your semantic memory—that was, after all, the
reason you were studying. You probably
remember where you were studying, as well as
about when you started and when you stopped.
You probably also can remember some minor
episodic memory
The retention
of information
about the where,
when, and what
of life’s happen-
ings—that is,
how individuals
remember life’s
semantic memory
A person’s knowl-
edge about the
Percentage of original vocabulary
1 3 6 10 15 3525 50
Number of years since
Spanish was learned
Performance of people
with no Spanish courses
FIGURE 6.10 Memory for Spanish
as a Function of Age Since Spanish
Was Learned An initial steep drop over about
a three-year period in remembering the vocabulary
learned in Spanish classes occurred. However, there
was little dropoff in memory for Spanish vocabulary
from three years after taking Spanish classes to
50 years after taking them. Even 50 years after
taking Spanish classes, individuals still remembered
almost 50 percent of the vocabulary.
Episodic Memory Semantic Memory
Emo t ion
Retrieval process
Retrieval report
Legal testimony
Events, episodes
More important
Deliberate (effortful)
I remember”
Admissable in court
Facts, ideas, concepts
Less important
I know”
Inadmissable in court
FIGURE 6.11 Some Differences Between Episodic and
Semantic Memory These characteristics have been proposed as the main
ways to differentiate episodic from semantic memory.
Your r ecol l ect i on
of your f i r s t day on campus i s
an epi s odi c memor y. I f you
take a history class, your
me mo r y o f the information
you need t o know f or a
test involves semantic
me mo r y .
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214 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
f you asked ve people the
same question—for exam-
ple, “What did you do last
night?”—you would prob-
ably nd great variation in the
ways people described their epi-
sodic memories for the previous
night. One might regale you with
his or her exciting adventure
at a party, while another who
attended the very same shindig
might simply answer, “I went to
a party.” Episodic memory can
be very speci c or quite gen-
eral. Further, cultural differences
have been observed in the vivid-
ness and detail included in epi-
sodic memory. Westerners tend to have very speci c episodic
memories compared to East Asians and Asian Americans
(Dritschel & others, 2011; Wang, 2009). These differences apply
to the ways individuals imagine future episodes too (Wang &
others, 2011).
Culture can in uence episodic memory in other ways as well.
For example, when asked to share the rst memory they can think
of, Westerners typically recall a memory that happened earlier in
their lives, compared to East Asians (Wang, 2006; Wang & others,
2011). One factor that may play
a role in the timing of rst mem-
ories is memory socialization,
the ways parents reminisce with
their children about past events.
Western parents tend to be
elaborate in their reminiscences
with children, while East Asian
parents are more likely to be
directive and repetitive (Wang,
Telling other people about
our experiences involves retriev-
ing episodic memories. Our
conversations reveal what our
culture nds interesting, which
topics are important to share,
and what kinds of social goals we are trying to accomplish. It is
no surprise, then, that culture would in uence the ways we re-
member the episodes of our lives. We walk around our social
world collecting episodic memories to
share, and we encode those experi-
ences in ways that t our culture’s ex-
pectations. We all have the capacity
to think episodically, but culture may
shape the way we use that capacity.
Cognitive and Cross-Cultural Psychology:
How Does Culture Infl uence Episodic Memory?
What did you do last
How is your culture
reflected in your answer?
occurrences, such as a burst of loud laughter from the room next door or the coffee you
spilled on the desk. Is episodic or semantic memory involved here? Tulving (1983, 2000)
argues that semantic and episodic systems often work together in forming new memories.
In such cases, the memory that ultimately forms might consist of an autobiographical
episode and semantic information.
I m p l i c i t ( N o n d e c l a r a t i v e ) M e m o r y In addition to explicit memory, there is a
type of long-term memory that is related to non-consciously remembering skills and
sensory perceptions rather than consciously remembering facts. Implicit memory
(nondeclarative memory) is memory in which behavior is affected by prior experience
without a conscious recollection of that experience. Implicit memory comes into play,
for example, in the skills of playing tennis and snowboarding, as well as in the
physical act of text messaging. Another example of implicit memory is the repeti-
tion in your mind of a song you heard playing in the supermarket, even though
you had not noticed that song playing.
Three subsystems of implicit memory are procedural memory, classical condi-
tioning, and priming. All of these subsystems refer to memories that you are not
aware of but that in uence behavior (Slotnick & Schacter, 2006).
implicit memory
Memory in which
behavior is af-
fected by prior
experience with-
out a conscious
recollection of
that experience.
Thi s i s al so why y ou
mi g h t f i n d y o u r s e l f k n o w i n g
the words to a song you hate.
You ve hear d i t s o many t i mes
that youve memorized it
wi t hout even want i ng t o.
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Memory Storage // 215
Procedural memory i s a t y p e o f i m p l i c i t m e m o r y p r o c e s s t h a t i n v o l v e s
memory for skills (Fietta & Fietta, 2011). For example, assuming that you are
an expert typist, when you type a paper you are not conscious of where the
keys are for the various letters; somehow, your well-learned, non-conscious
skill of typing allows you to hit the right keys. Similarly, once you have
learned to drive a car, you remember how to go about it: You do not have to
remember consciously how to drive the car as you put the key in the ignition,
turn the steering wheel, depress the gas pedal, and step on the brake pedal.
A n o t h e r t y p e o f i m p l i c i t m e m o r y i n v o l v e s c l a s s i c a l c o n d i t i o n i n g , a
form of learning discussed in Chapter 5. Recall that classical conditioning
involves the automatic learning of associations between stimuli, so that one
stimulus comes to evoke the same response as the other. Classically con-
ditioned associations involve non-conscious, implicit memory (L. R.
Johnson & others, 2012; Pearce & Hall, 2009). So, without realizing
it, you might start to like the person who sits next to you in your
favorite class, because she is around while you are feeling good.
A nal type of implicit memory process is priming. Priming is the
activation of information that people already have in storage to help them
remember new information better and faster (Schmitz & Wentura,
2012). In a common demonstration of priming, individuals study a list
of words (such as hope, walk, and cake ). Then they are given a standard
recognition task to assess explicit memory. They must select all of the
words that appeared in the list—for example, “Did you see the word
hope ? Did you see the word form ?” Then participants perform a stem-
completion task, which assesses implicit memory. In this task, they view
a list of incomplete words (for example, ho ___, wa ___, ca ___), called word stems, and
must ll in the blanks with whatever word comes to mind. The results show that indi-
viduals more often ll in the blanks with the previously studied words than would
be expected if they were lling in the blanks randomly. For example, they are more
likely to complete the stem ho ___ with hope than with hole . This result occurs
even when individuals do not recognize the words on the earlier recognition task.
Because priming takes place even when explicit memory for previous information
is not required, it is assumed to be an involuntary and non-conscious process
(Johnson & Halpern, 2012).
P r i m i n g o c c u r s w h e n s o m e t h i n g i n t h e e n v i r o n m e n t e v o k e s a r e s p o n s e i n m e m o r y
such as the activation of a particular concept. Priming a term or concept makes it more
available in memory (Thomson & Milliken, 2012). John Bargh and other social psy-
chologists have demonstrated that priming can have a surprising in uence on social behav-
ior (Bargh, 2005, 2006; Bargh & Morsella, 2009; McCulloch & others, 2008; P. K. Smith
& Bargh, 2008). For example, in one study, college students were asked to unscramble a
series of words to make a sentence (Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996). For some of the
participants, the items in the series included such words as rude, aggressively, intrude,
and bluntly . F o r o t h e r s t u d e n t s , t h e w o r d s i n c l u d e d polite, cautious, a n d sensitively .
U p o n c o m p l e t i n g t h e s c r a m b l e d s e n t e n c e s , p a r t i c i p a n t s w e r e t o r e p o r t t o t h e e x p e r -
imenter, but each participant encountered the experimenter deep in conversation with
another person. Who was more likely to interrupt the ongoing conversation? Among
those who were primed with words connoting rudeness, 67 percent interrupted the
experimenter. Among those in the “politecondition, 84 percent of the participants
waited the entire 10 minutes, never interrupting the ongoing conversation.
P r i m i n g c a n a l s o s p u r g o a l - d i r e c t e d b e h a v i o r . F o r e x a m p l e , B a r g h a n d c o l -
leagues (2001) asked students to perform a word- nd puzzle. Embedded in the
puzzle were either neutral words ( shampoo, robin ) o r a c h i e v e m e n t - r e l a t e d w o r d s
( compete, win, achieve ) . P a r t i c i p a n t s w h o w e r e e x p o s e d t o t h e a c h i e v e m e n t - r e l a t e d
words did better on a later puzzle task, nding 26 words in other puzzles, while those
with the neutral primes found only 21.5. Other research has shown that individuals
primed with words like professor a n d intelligent p e r f o r m e d b e t t e r a t a g a m e o f T r i v i a l
Memory for skills.
The activation of
information that
people already
have in storage
to help them re-
member new in-
formation better
and faster.
u are
ave to
To g r a s p t h e d i f f e r e n c e
be t wee n e xpl i ci t a nd pr oce dur al
me mo r y , i ma g i n e t r y i n g t o
descr i be i n wor ds how t o t i e
a s hoe—a pr ocedur e you can
eas i l y pe r f or mwi t hout
havi ng a shoe ar ound.
Not e t hat t h i s
st udy was an exper i ment .
Par t i ci pant s wer e r andoml y
as s i gned t o t he t ypes of
pr i mes t hey saw. So, we know
that the primes are what
caused d i f f er en ces bet ween
the groups. What were
the independent and
dependent var i abl es?
Thanks to implicit memory,
we can perform a learned
skill, such as playing tennis,
without thinking about it
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216 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
Pursuit than those primed with words like stupid a n d hooligan (Dijksterhuis & Van
Knippenberg, 1998). These effects occur without awareness, with no participants report-
ing suspicion about the effects of the primes on their behavior.
H O W M E M O R Y I S O R G A N I Z E D Explaining the forms of long-term memory
does not address the question of how the different types of memory are organized for
storage. The word orga n ized i s i m p o r t a n t : M e m o r i e s a r e n o t h a p h a z a r d l y s t o r e d b u t
instead are carefully sorted.
Here is a demonstration. Recall the 12 months of the year as quickly as you can. How
long did it take you? What was the order of your recall? Chances are, you listed them
within a few seconds in chronological order (January, February, March, and so on). Now
try to remember the months in alphabetical order. How long did it take you? Did you
make any errors? It should be obvious that your memory for the months of the year is
organized in a particular way. Indeed, one of memory’s most distinctive features is its
Researchers have found that if people are encouraged to organize material simply,
their memories of the material improve even if they receive no warning that their mem-
ories will be tested (Mandler, 1980). Psychologists have developed a variety of theories
of how long-term memory is organized. Let’s consider two of these more closely: sche-
mas and connectionist networks.
Schemas You and a friend have taken a long drive to a new
town where neither of you has ever been before. You stop at the
local diner, have a seat, and look over the menu. You have never
been in this diner before, but you know exactly what is going to
happen. Why? Because you have a schema for what happens in
a restaurant. When we store information in memory, we often t
it into the collection of information that already exists, as you do
even in a new experience with a diner. A schema is a preexisting
mental concept or framework that helps people to organize and
interpret information. Schemas from prior encounters with the
environment in uence the way we handle information—how we
encode it, what inferences we make about it, and how we retrieve
it (Kahana, 2012).
Schemas can also be at work when we recall information. Schema theory holds that
long-term memory is not very exact. We seldom nd precisely the memory that we want,
or at least not all of what we want; hence, we have to reconstruct the rest. Our schemas
support the reconstruction process, helping us ll in gaps between our fragmented memories.
We have schemas for lots of situations and experiences—for scenes and spatial layouts
(a beach, a bathroom), as well as for common events (playing football, writing a term
paper). A script is a schema for an event (Schank & Abelson, 1977). Scripts often have
information about physical features, people, and typical occurrences. This kind of infor-
mation is helpful when people need to gure out what is happening around them. For
example, if you are enjoying your after-dinner coffee in an upscale restaurant and a man
in a tuxedo comes over and puts a piece of paper on the table, your script tells you that
the man probably is a waiter who has just given you the check. Scripts help to organize
our storage of memories about events.
Connectionist Networks Schema theory has little or nothing to say about the role
of the physical brain in memory. Thus, a new theory based on brain research has generated
a wave of excitement among psychologists. Connectionism , o r parallel distributed process-
ing (PDP) , is the theory that memory is stored throughout the brain in connections among
neurons, several of which may work together to process a single memory (McClelland,
2011). We initially considered the concept of neural networks in Chapter 2 and the idea of
parallel sensory processing pathways in Chapter 3. These concepts also apply to memory.
A preexisting
mental concept
or framework
that helps people
to organize and
interpret informa-
tion. Schemas
from prior en-
counters with the
environment in-
uence the way
individuals en-
code, make infer-
ences about, and
A schema for an event,
often containing information
about physical features,
people, and typical
processing: PDP)
The theory that
memory is stored
throughout the
brain in connec-
tions among neu-
rons, several of
which may work
together to pro-
cess a single
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Memory Storage // 217
Shown here are representative scripts from a Japanese tea ceremony, a Western dinner, and an
Ethiopian meal. With which script do you feel most comfortable?
In the connectionist view, memories are not large knowledge structures (as in
schema theories). Instead, memories are more like electrical impulses, organized only
to the extent that neurons, the connections among them, and their activity are orga-
nized. Any piece of knowledge—such as your dogs name—is embedded in the
strengths of hundreds or thousands of connections among neurons and is not limited
to a single location.
How does the connectionist process work? A neural activity involving memory, such
as remembering your dog’s name, is spread across a number of areas of the cerebral
cortex. The locations of neural activity, called nodes, are interconnected. When a node
reaches a critical level of activation, it can affect another node across synapses. We know
that the human cerebral cortex contains millions of neurons that are richly interconnected
through hundreds of millions of synapses. Because of these synaptic connections, the
activity of one neuron can be in uenced by many other neurons. Owing to these simple
reactions, the connectionist view argues that changes in the strength of synaptic connec-
tions are the fundamental bases of memory (McClelland & others, 2010). From the
connectionist network perspective, memories are organized sets of neurons that are rou-
tinely activated together.
Part of the appeal of the connectionist view is that it is consistent with what we know
about brain function and allows psychologists to simulate human memory studies using
computers (Marcus, 2001). Connectionist approaches also help to explain how priming
a concept (rudeness) can in uence behavior (interrupting someone). Furthermore, insights
from this connectionist view support brain research undertaken to determine where mem-
ories are stored in the brain (McClelland, 2011; McClelland & Rumelhart, 2009), another
fascinating and complex topic.
Indeed, so far we have examined the many ways cognitive psychologists think about
how information is stored. The question remains, where? Although memory may seem
to be a mysterious phenomenon, it, like all psychological processes, must occur in a
physical place: the brain.
W H E R E M E M O R I E S A R E S T O R E D Karl Lashley (1950) spent a lifetime look-
ing for a location in the brain in which memories are stored. He trained rats to discover
the correct pathway in a maze and then cut out various portions of the animals’ brains
and retested their memory of the maze pathway. Experiments with thousands of rats
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218 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
showed that the loss of various cortical areas did not affect rats’ ability to remember the
pathway, leading Lashley to conclude that memories are not stored in a speci c location
in the brain. Other researchers, continuing Lashley’s quest, agreed that memory storage
is diffuse, but they developed additional insights. Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb
(1949, 1980) suggested that assemblies of cells, distributed over large areas of the cere-
bral cortex, work together to represent information, just as the connectionist network
perspective would predict.
Neurons and Memory Today many neuroscientists believe that memory is located
in speci c sets or circuits of neurons. Brain researcher Larry Squire, for example, says
that most memories are probably clustered in groups of about 1,000 neurons (1990,
2007). At the same time, single neurons are also at work in memory (Braun & others,
2012; Squire, 2007). Researchers who measure the electrical activity of single cells have
found that some respond to faces and others to eye or hair color, for example. Still, in
order for you to recognize your Uncle Albert, individual neurons that provide information
about hair color, size, and other characteristics must act together.
Researchers also believe that brain chemicals may be the ink with which memories
are written. Recall that neurotransmitters are the chemicals that allow neurons to com-
municate across the synapse. These chemicals play a crucial role in forging the connec-
tions that represent memory.
Ironically, some of the answers to complex questions about the neural mechanics
of memory come from studies on a very simple experimental animal—the inelegant
sea slug. Eric Kandel and James Schwartz (1982) chose this large snail-without-a-shell
because of the simple architecture of its nervous system, which consists of only about
10,000 neurons. (You might recall from Chapter 2 that the human brain has about
100 billion neurons.)
The sea slug is hardly a quick learner or an animal with a
good memory, but it is equipped with a reliable re ex. When
anything touches the gill on its back, it quickly withdraws it. First
the researchers accustomed the sea slug to having its gill prodded.
After a while, the animal ignored the prod and stopped withdraw-
ing its gill. Next the researchers applied an electric shock to its
tail when they touched the gill. After many rounds of the shock-
accompanied prod, the sea slug violently withdrew its gill at the
slightest touch. The researchers found that the sea slug remem-
bered this message for hours or even weeks. They also deter-
mined that shocking the sea slug’s gill releases the
neurotransmitter serotonin at the synapses of its nervous system,
and this chemical release basically provides a reminder that the
gill was shocked. This “memory” informs the nerve cell to send
out chemical commands to retract the gill the next time it is
touched. If nature builds complexity out of simplicity, then the mechanism used by the
sea slug may work in the human brain as well.
R e s e a r c h e r s h a v e p r o p o s e d t h e c o n c e p t o f long-term potentiation to explain how
memory functions at the neuron level. In line with connectionist theory, this concept
states that if two neurons are activated at the same time, the connection between
them—and thus the memory—may be strengthened (Grigoryan, Korkotian, &
Segal, 2012). Long-term potentiation has been demonstrated experimentally by
administering a drug that increases the ow of information from one neuron to
another across the synapse, raising the possibility of someday improving memory
through drugs that increase neural connections (Zorumski & Izumi, 2012).
Brain Structures and Memory Functions Researchers are intensively study-
ing the links between memory and the brain (Bastin & others, 2012; Stevens & others,
Imagine that what
we exper i en c e as memor y i s
act ual l y a col l ect i on of wel l -
wor n pat hways i n our br ai n.
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Memory Storage // 219
Frontal lobes
(episodic memory)
(explicit memory, priming)
(implicit memory)
Temporal lobes
(explicit memory, priming)
(emotional memories)
Structures of the Brain
Involved in Different
Aspects of Long-Term
Memory Note that explicit
memory and implicit memory
appear to involve different
locations in the brain.
2012; Wixted & Squire, 2011). Whereas some neuroscientists are unveiling the cellular
basis of memory, others are examining its broad-scale architecture in the brain. Many
different parts of the brain and nervous system are involved in the rich, complex process
that is memory (Rissman & Wagner, 2012). Although there is no one memory center in
the brain, researchers have demonstrated that speci c brain structures are involved in
particular aspects of memory.
Figure 6.12 shows the location of brain structures active in different types of long-term
memory. Note that implicit memory and explicit memory appear to involve different
locations in the brain.
Explicit memory: Neuroscientists have found that the hippocampus, the temporal lobes
in the cerebral cortex, and other areas of the limbic system play a role in explicit
memory (Ramponi & others, 2011). In many aspects of explicit memory, information
is transmitted from the hippocampus to the frontal lobes, which are involved in both
retrospective (remembering things from the past) and prospective (remembering things
we need to do in the future) memory (McDaniel & Einstein, 2007). The left frontal
lobe is especially active when we encode new information into memory; the right
frontal lobe is more active when we subsequently retrieve it (Babiloni & others, 2006).
In addition, the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system, is involved in emotional
memories (Ries & others, 2012).
Implicit memory: The cerebellum (the structure at the back and toward the bottom of
the brain) is active in the implicit memory required to perform skills (Bussy & others,
2011). Various areas of the cerebral cortex, such as the temporal lobes and hippocam-
pus, function in priming (Kim, 2011).
Neuroscientists studying memory have bene ted greatly from the use of MRI scans,
which allow the tracking of neural activity during cognitive tasks (Khare & others, 2012;
Nett & others, 2012). In one study, participants viewed color photographs of indoor and
outdoor scenes while in an MRI machine (Brewer & others, 1998). The experimenters
told them that they would receive a memory test about the scenes. After the MRI scans,
the participants were asked which pictures they remembered well, vaguely, or not at all.
The researchers compared their memories with the brain scans and found that the greater
the activation in both prefrontal lobes and a particular region of the hippocampus during
viewing, the better the participants remembered the scenes.
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220 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
1. You tell your friends about the great
time you had at the local Six Flags
amusement park. Most of the informa-
tion that you have forgotten about this
experience was most likely processed in
A. personal memory.
B. short-term memory.
C. long-term memory.
D. sensory memory.
2. Short-term memory has a _________
capacity than sensory memory and a
_________ duration.
A. more limited; longer
B. less limited; longer
C. larger; shorter
D. more limited; shorter
3. According to the connectionist network
view of memory, memories are
_________, and according to the
schema theory of memory, memories are
A. abstract concepts; large knowledge
B. neural connections; large knowledge
C. parallel concepts; electrical impulses
D. concurrent concepts; nodes of
APPLY IT! 4. Before an exam, Professor
Sweetheart tells the class how brilliant they
are. She tells the students that she has
seen them learning the concepts in class
and feels confident that everyone can
remember the material. In contrast, Professor
Meanie tells her class that she realizes they
have been bored most of the time, probably
cannot remember most of the material, and
that she does not expect much from this
group of uninspired pupils. Although the
material is the same and the tests are the
same, Professor Sweetheart’s students per-
form better on the test. What basic memory
process might explain this difference?
A. The professors are classically condition-
ing the students in their classes.
B. The professors are priming different
behavior, so that concepts related to
learning and brilliance are more avail-
able to Professor Sweetheart’s students.
C. The professors are infl uencing the
semantic memory of the students.
D. The professors are infl uencing the
episodic memory of the students.
Remember that unforgettable night of shining stars with your romantic partner? Let’s
say the evening has indeed been encoded deeply and elaborately in your memory.
Through the years you have thought about the night a great deal and told your best
friends about it. The story of that night has become part of the longer story of your life
with your signi cant other. Fifty years later, your grandson asks, “How did you two end
up together?” You share that story you have been saving for just such a question. What
are the retrieval processes that allow you to do so?
Retrieval takes place when information that was retained in memory comes out of
storage. You might think of long-term memory as a library. You retrieve information in
a fashion similar to the process you use to locate and check out a book in an actual
library. To retrieve something from your mental data bank, you search your store of
memory to nd the relevant information.
The ef ciency with which you retrieve information from memory is impressive. It
usually takes only a moment to search through a vast storehouse to nd the information
you want. When were you born? What was the name of your rst date? Who developed
the rst psychology laboratory? You can, of course, answer all of these questions instantly.
Retrieval of memory is a complex and sometimes imperfect process (Robertson, 2012).
Before examining ways that retrieval may fall short, let’s look at some basic concepts
and variables that are known to affect the likelihood that information will be accurately
encoded, stored, and ultimately retrieved. As we will see, retrieval depends heavily on
the circumstances under which a memory was encoded and the way it was retained
(Pierce & Gallo, 2011).
Serial Position Effect
The serial position effect is the tendency to recall the items at the beginning and end
of a list more readily than those in the middle. If you are a reality TV fan, you might
notice that you always seem to remember the rst person to get voted off and the last
few survivors. All those people in the middle, however, are a blur. The primacy effect
refers to better recall for items at the beginning of a list; the recency effect refers to
better recall for items at the end. Together with the relatively low recall of items from
the middle of the list, this pattern makes up the serial position effect (Laming, 2010).
The memory process that
occurs when information
that was retained in memory
comes out of storage.
serial position effect
The tendency to recall the
items at the beginning and
end of a list more readily
than those in the middle.
Memory Retrieval
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Memory Retrieval // 221
See Figure 6.13 for a typical serial position
effect that shows a weaker primacy effect and
a stronger recency effect.
Psychologists explain these effects using
principles of encoding. With respect to the pri-
macy effect, the rst few items in the list are
easily remembered because they are rehearsed
more or because they receive more elaborative
processing than do words later in the list
(Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968; Craik & Tulving,
1975). Working memory is relatively empty
when the items enter, so there is little compe-
tition for rehearsal time. Moreover, because the
items get more rehearsal, they stay in working
memory longer and are more likely to be
encoded successfully into long-term memory.
In contrast, many items from the middle of the
list drop out of working memory before being
encoded into long-term memory.
A s f o r t h e r e c e n c y e f f e c t , t h e l a s t s e v e r a l
items are remembered for different reasons.
First, when these items are recalled, they might
still be in working memory. Second, even if
these items are not in working memory, the
fact that they were just encountered makes
them easier to recall. Interestingly, both pri-
macy and recency can in uence how we feel about stimuli as well. In one study, wine
tasters were more likely to prefer the rst wine they sipped, an outcome demon-
strating primacy (Mantonakis & others, 2009). In another study, participants felt
that the best was saved for last when they evaluated paintings and American Idol
audition tapes, an outcome demonstrating recency (Li & Epley, 2009).
Retrieval Cues and the Retrieval Task
Two other factors are involved in retrieval: the nature of the cues that can prompt your
memory and the retrieval task that you set for yourself. We consider each in turn.
If effective cues for what you are trying to remember do not seem to be available,
you need to create them—a process that takes place in working memory (Carpenter &
DeLosh, 2006). For example, if you have a block about remembering a new friend’s
name, you might go through the alphabet, generating names that begin with each letter.
If you manage to stumble across the right name, you will probably recognize it.
We can learn to generate retrieval cues (Allan & others, 2001). One good strategy is
to use different subcategories as retrieval cues. For example, write down the names of
as many of your classmates from middle or junior high school as you can remember.
When you run out of names, think about the activities you were involved in during those
school years, such as math class, student council, lunch, drill team, and so on. Does this
set of cues help you to remember more of your classmates?
A l t h o u g h c u e s h e l p , y o u r s u c c e s s i n r e t r i e v i n g i n f o r m a t i o n a l s o d e p e n d s o n t h e r e t r i e v a l
task you set for yourself. For instance, if you are simply trying to decide whether some-
thing seems familiar, retrieval is probably a snap. Let’s say that you see a short, dark-
haired woman walking toward you. You quickly decide that she is someone who shops
at the same supermarket as you do. However, remembering her name or a precise detail,
such as when you met her, can be harder. Such distinctions have implications for police
investigations: A witness might be certain she has previously seen a face, yet she might
have a hard time deciding whether it was at the scene of the crime or in a mug shot.
Probability of recall
1 5 10 15 20
Serial position of items
FIGURE 6.13 The Serial Position Effect When a person
is asked to memorize a list of words, the words memorized last usually are
recalled best, those at the beginning next best, and those in the middle least
ef ciently. > What is the probability that the item presented in the 15th
position will be remembered? > Which is stronger—primacy or recency?
Why? > Using the information in the graph, if it is the end of a semester
and you are studying for nals, which information would it be best to
brush up on, and why?
Ev er t r i ed s p eed
dat i ng? How di d t he ser i al
posi t i on ef f e ct i nf l ue nce t he
per son you l i ked t he best ?
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222 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
R E C A L L A N D R E C O G N I T I O N The presence or absence of good cues and
the retrieval task required are factors in an important memory distinction: recall
versus recognition. Recall i s a m e m o r y t a s k i n w h i c h t h e i n d i v i d u a l h a s t o
retrieve previously learned information, as on essay tests. Recognition i s a
memory task in which the individual only has to identify (recognize) learned
items, as on multiple-choice tests. Recall tests such as essay tests have poor
retrieval cues. You are told to try to recall a certain class of information (“Dis-
cuss the factors that caused World War I”). In recognition tests such as multiple-
choice tests, you merely judge whether a stimulus is familiar (such as that
Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914).
You probably have heard some people say that they never forget a face. However,
recognizing a face is far simpler than recalling a face “from scratch,as law enforcement
of cers know. In some cases, police bring in an artist to draw a suspect’s face from wit-
nesses’ descriptions (Figure 6.14). Recalling faces is dif cult, and artists’ sketches of
suspects are frequently not detailed or accurate enough to result in apprehension.
E N C O D I N G S P E C I F I C I T Y Another consideration in understanding retrieval is the
encoding speci city principle, which states that information present at the time of encoding
or learning tends to be effective as a retrieval cue (Unsworth, Brewer, & Spillers, 2011).
For example, you know your instructors when they are in the classroom setting—you see
them there all the time. If, however, you run into one of them in an unexpected setting and
in more casual attire, such as at the gym in workout clothes, the person’s name might escape
you. Your memory might fail because the cues you encoded are not available for use.
C O N T E X T A T E N C O D I N G A N D R E T R I E V A L An important consequence of
encoding speci city is that a change in context between encoding and retrieval can
cause memory to fail (Boywitt & Meiser, 2012). In many instances, people remember
better when they attempt to recall information in the same context in which they
learned it—a process referred to as context-dependent memory . This better recollection
FIGURE 6.14 Remembering Faces (Left) The FBI artist’s sketch of Ted Kaczynski. Kaczynski,
also known as the Unabomber, is a serial killer who conducted a sequence of mail bombings targeting universities
and airlines beginning in the late 1970s. (Right) A photograph of Kaczynski. The FBI widely circulated the artists
sketch, which was based on bits and pieces of observations people had made of the infamous Unabomber, in
the hope that someone would recognize him. Would you have been able to recognize Kaczynski from the artists
sketch? Probably not. Although most people say they are good at remembering faces, they usually are not as
good as they think they are.
Some peopl e say
they ar e bet t er at es s ay
tests, and s ome pr ef er
mu l t i p l e c h o i c e . Wh i c h t y p e
of p er s on ar e you? Fr om a
me mo r y p e r spect i ve, mul t i ple-
choi ce tests should be easier
they rely on recognition.
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Memory Retrieval // 223
Write down a memory that you feel
has been especially important in
making you who you are. What are
some characteristics of this self-
defi ning memory? What do you think
the memory says about you? How
does it relate to your current goals
and aspirations? Do you think of the
memory often? You might fi nd that
this part of your life story can be
inspiring when things are going
poorly or when you are feeling down.
is believed to occur because people have encoded features
of the context in which they learned the information along
with the actual information. Such features can later act as
retrieval cues (Eich, 2007).
In one study, scuba divers learned information on land
and under water (Godden & Baddeley, 1975). Later they
were asked to recall the information when they were either
on land or under water. The divers’ recall was much better
when the encoding and retrieval contexts were the same
(both on land or both under water).
Special Cases of Retrieval
We began this discussion by likening memory retrieval to
looking for and nding a book in the library. However, the process of retrieving information
from long-term memory is not as precise as the library analogy suggests. When we search
through our long-term memory storehouse, we do not always nd the exact “book” we
want—or we might nd the book but discover that several pages are missing. We have to
ll in these gaps somehow.
O u r m e m o r i e s a r e a f f e c t e d b y a n u m b e r o f t h i n g s , i n c l u d i n g t h e p a t t e r n o f f a c t s w e
remember, schemas and scripts, the situations we associate with memories, and the per-
sonal or emotional context. Certainly, everyone has had the experience of remembering a
shared situation with a particular individual, only to have him or her remind us, “Oh, that
wasn’t me!” Such moments provide convincing evidence that memory may well be best
understood as “reconstructive.This subjective quality of memory certainly has implica-
tions for important day-to-day procedures such as eyewitness testimony (Garrett, 2011).
While the factors that we have discussed so far relate to the retrieval of generic infor-
mation, various kinds of special memory retrieval also have generated a great deal of
research. These memories have special signi cance because of their relevance to the self,
to their emotional or traumatic character, or because they show unusually high levels of
apparent accuracy (Piolino & others, 2006). Researchers in cognitive psychology have
debated whether these memories rely on processes that are different from those already
described or are simply extreme cases of typical memory processes (Lane & Schooler,
2004; Schooler & Eich, 2000). We now turn to these special cases of memory.
R E T R I E V A L O F A U T O B I O G R A P H I C A L M E M O R I E S Autobiographical
memory , a special form of episodic memory, is a person’s recollections of his or her
life experiences (Fivush, 2011). An intriguing discovery about autobiographical memory
is the reminiscence bump, the effect that adults remember more events from the second
and third decades of life than from other decades (Copeland, Radvansky, &
Goodwin, 2009). This reminiscence bump may occur because these are the
times in our life when we have many novel experiences or because it is dur-
ing our teens and 20s that we are forging a sense of identity (Berntsen &
Rubin, 2002). Generally, the very rst few years of life are not characterized
by many autobiographical memories. Also, researchers have found that the
reminiscence bump holds for positive memories but not negative memories
(Dickson, Pillemer, & Bruehl, 2011; Thomsen, Pillemer, & Ivcevic, 2011).
To read about cultural differences in early memories, see the Intersection.
Autobiographical memories are complex and seem to contain unending
strings of stories and snapshots, but researchers have found that they can be
categorized (Roediger & Marsh, 2003). For example, based on their research,
Martin Conway and David Rubin (1993) sketched a structure of autobio-
graphical memory that has three levels (Figure 6.15). The most abstract level
consists of life time periods; for example, you might remember something
about your life in high school. The middle level in the hierarchy is made up
A special form of
episodic memory,
consisting of a
person’s recollec-
tions of his or her
life experiences.
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224 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
Lab e lLevel
Level 1
Life time periods
Long segments of time measured in
years and even decades
Level 3 Event-specific
Individual episodes measured in
seconds, minutes, or hours
Level 2 General events Extended composite episodes
measured in days, weeks, or months
FIGURE 6.15 The Three-Level Hierarchical Structure of
Autobiographical Memory When people relate their life stories, all three
levels of information are typically present and intertwined.
of general events, such as a trip you took with
your friends after you graduated from high
school. The most concrete level in the hierarchy
is composed of event-speci c knowledge; f o r
example, from your postgraduation trip, you
might remember the exhilarating experience
you had the rst time you jet-skied. When peo-
ple tell their life stories, all three levels of infor-
mation are usually present and intertwined.
Most autobiographical memories include
some reality and some myth. Personality psy-
chologist Dan McAdams (2001, 2006) argues
that autobiographical memories are less about
facts and more about meanings. They provide a
reconstructed, embellished telling of the past that connects the past to the present. We will
explore McAdamss approach to autobiographical memory in more detail in Chapter 10.
R E T R I E V A L O F E M O T I O N A L M E M O R I E S When we remember our life
experiences, the memories are often wrapped in emotion. Emotion affects the encoding
and storage of memories and thus shapes the details that are retrieved. The role that
emotion plays in memory is of considerable interest to contemporary researchers and has
echoes in public life.
Flashbulb memory is the memory of emotionally signi cant events that people often
recall with more accuracy and vivid imagery than everyday events (Kulkofsky & others,
2011). Perhaps you can remember, for example, where you were when you rst heard
of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. An intriguing dimen-
sion of ashbulb memories is that several decades later, people often remember where
they were and what was going on in their lives at the time of such an emotionally charged
event. These memories seem to be part of an adaptive system that xes in memory the
details that accompany important events so that they can be interpreted at a later time.
Most people express con dence about the accuracy of their ashbulb memories. How-
ever, ashbulb memories probably are not as accurately etched in our brain as we think.
One way to gauge the accuracy of ashbulb memories is to probe how consistent the
details of these memories remain over time. Research on memories of the 9/11 terrorist
attacks shows that the accuracy of memory was predicted by people’s physical proximity
to the event; for instance, the memories of individuals in New York were more accurate
than the recollections of those in Hawaii (Pezdek, 2003). In another study, Canadian
ashbulb memory
The memory of emotionally
signifi cant events that peo-
ple often recall with more
accuracy and vivid imagery
than everyday events.
Many people have fl ashbulb
memories of where they
were and what they were
doing when terrorists
attacked the World Trade
Center towers in New York
City on September 11, 2001.
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Memory Retrieval // 225
students’ memories for 9/11 were tested one week following the tragedy; they were tested
again six months after the attacks. At six months after the events, students were better at
remembering details about their own experience of hearing about the event than they
were at recalling details of the event itself (Smith, Bibi, & Sheard, 2003). These ndings
re ect our subjective experience of ashbulb memories. We might say, “I will never
forget where I was when I heard about [some important event].Such a statement sup-
ports research showing that we may be more likely to remember our personal experiences
of an event rather than the details of the event itself.
S t i l l , o n t h e w h o l e , ashbulb memories do seem more durable and accurate than
memories of day-to-day happenings (Davidson, Cook, & Glisky, 2006). One possible
explanation is that ashbulb memories are quite likely to be rehearsed in the days fol-
lowing the event. However, it is not just the discussion and rehearsal of information that
make ashbulb memories so long-lasting. The emotions triggered by ashbulb events
also gure in their durability. Although we have focused on negative news events as
typical of ashbulb memories, such memories can also occur for positive events. An
individual’s wedding day and the birth of a child are events that may become milestones
in personal history and are always remembered.
M E M O R Y F O R T R A U M A T I C E V E N T S I n 1 8 9 0 , t h e A m e r i c a n p s y c h o l o g i s t
and philosopher William James said that an experience can be so emotionally arousing
that it almost leaves a scar on the brain. Personal traumas are candidates for such emo-
tionally stirring experiences.
S o m e p s y c h o l o g i s t s a r g u e t h a t m e m o r i e s o f e m o t i o n a l l y t r a u m a t i c e v e n t s a r e a c c u r a t e l y
retained, possibly forever, in considerable detail (Langer, 1991). There is good evidence
that memory for traumatic events is usually more accurate than memory for ordinary
events (Boals & Rubin, 2011; Rubin, 2011; Schooler & Eich, 2000). Consider the trau-
matic experience of some children who were kidnapped at gunpoint on a school bus in
Chowchilla, California, in 1983 and then buried underground for 16 hours before escaping.
The children had the classic signs of traumatic memory: detailed and vivid recollections.
However, when a child psychiatrist interviewed the children four to ve years after
the chilling episode, she noted striking errors and distortions in the memories of half of
them (Terr, 1988). How can a traumatic memory be so vivid and detailed yet at the same
time have inaccuracies? A number of factors can be involved. Some children might have
made perceptual errors while encoding information because the episode was so shocking.
Others might have distorted the information and recalled the episode as being less trau-
matic than it was in order to reduce their anxiety about it. Other children, in discussing
the terrifying event with others, might have incorporated bits and pieces of these people’s
recollections of what happened.
U s u a l l y , m e m o r i e s o f r e a l - l i f e t r a u m a s a r e m o r e a c c u r a t e a n d l o n g e r - l a s t i n g t h a n m e m -
ories of everyday events. Where distortion often arises is in the details of the traumatic
episode. Stress-related hormones likely play a role in memories that involve personal
trauma. The release of stress-related hormones, signaled by the amygdala and regulated by
the hippocampus (see Figure 6.12), likely accounts for some of the extraordinary durabil-
ity and vividness of traumatic memories (Bucherelli & others, 2006; Goosens, 2011).
R E P R E S S E D M E M O R I E S Can an individual forget, and later recover, memories
of traumatic events? A great deal of debate surrounds this question (Bruck & Ceci, 2012;
Klemfuss & Ceci, 2012a, 2012b)? Repression is a defense mechanism by which a person
is so traumatized by an event that he or she forgets it and then forgets the act of forget-
ting. According to psychodynamic theory, repression’s main function is to protect the
individual from threatening information.
The prevalence of repression is hotly contested. Most studies of traumatic memory
indicate that a traumatic life event such as childhood sexual abuse is very likely to be
remembered. However, there is at least some evidence that childhood sexual abuse may
not be remembered. Linda Williams and her colleagues have conducted a number
of investigations of memories of childhood abuse (Banyard & Williams, 2007; Liang,
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226 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
Williams, & Siegel, 2006; L. M. Williams, 2003, 2004). One study involved 129 women
for whom hospital emergency room records indicated a childhood abuse experience
(L.M. Williams, 1995). Seventeen years after the abuse incident, the researchers contacted
the women and asked (among other things) whether they had ever been the victim of
childhood sexual abuse. Of the 129 women, most reported remembering and never hav-
ing forgotten the experience. Ten percent of the participants reported having forgotten
about the abuse at least for some portion of their lives.
If it does exist, repression can be considered a special case of motivated forget-
ting , which occurs when individuals forget something because it is so painful or
anxiety laden that remembering is intolerable (Fujiwara, Levine, & Anderson, 2008).
This type of forgetting may be a consequence of the emotional trauma experienced
by victims of rape or physical abuse, war veterans, and survivors of earthquakes, plane
crashes, and other terrifying events. These emotional traumas may haunt people for
many years unless they can put the details out of mind. Even when people have not
experienced trauma, they may use motivated forgetting to protect themselves from
memories of painful, stressful, or otherwise unpleasant circumstances (Shu, Gino, &
Bazerman, 2011).
Cognitive psychologist Jonathan Schooler suggested that recovered memories are bet-
ter termed discovered memories b e c a u s e , r e g a r d l e s s o f t h e i r a c c u r a c y , i n d i v i d u a l s d o
experience them as real (Garaets & others, 2009; Schooler, 2002). Schooler and his col-
leagues (1997) investigated a number of cases of discovered memories of abuse, in which
motivated forgetting
Forgetting that occurs when
something is so painful or
anxiety laden that remem-
bering it is intolerable.
n 2001, when she was 11 years old, Cassandra
Kennedy accused her father of sexually
abusing her. Based on her testimony, her
father, Thomas Edward Kennedy, was
convicted and sentenced to over
15 years in prison. In 2012,
Cassandra, now an adult, admitted
that she had never been abused
but was simply upset with her
father after her parents’ divorce
(Associated Press, 2012). Her father
was freed after spending 10 years of
his life in prison. This tragic case
casts doubt on the reliability of child
witnesses, but it contrasts with another tragic case, one involving
the murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion.
In the summer of 2002, Samantha and a friend were playing
outside their southern California apartment complex. A man
pulled up in a car and asked the girls if they could help him nd
his lost Chihuahua. The man grabbed Samantha as she ap-
proached the car. He kidnapped the child and later sexually
abused and murdered her. Her 5-year-old friend provided police
with a remarkably accurate description of the man and his car.
The man was eventually arrested, tried, and found guilty. A few
years prior to Samantha Runnion’s slaying, two 9-year-olds had
accused Samantha’s murderer of sexually abusing them. He had
been arrested and tried, but the jury had not believed
his child accusers, and he went
free. More recently, sexual abuse
allegations against former Penn
State University assistant football
coach Jerry Sandusky by boys par-
ticipating in a program for troubled
youth suggest that the children’s
accounts were not taken as seri-
ously as they should have been by
the adults in their lives.
In considering the issue of chil-
dren testifying in cases of their own abuse, two important goals
must be balanced: ensuring that individuals who harm children
are brought to justice and protecting innocent individuals against
unjust treatment. What can psychological research tell us about
children’s reports of sexual abuse?
Over the last 30 years, Gail Goodman, a cognitive develop-
mental psychologist with expertise in legal issues, has pioneered
psychological research examining whether children are easily co-
erced and whether they are likely to make false claims (Chae &
others, 2011; Goodman, 1991, 2005, 2006; Goodman & others,
Can Children Be Reliable Eyewitnesses
to Their Own Abuse?
d, Cassandra
ny, her
years prior to Samantha Run
accused Samantha’s murder
been arrested a
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Memory Retrieval // 227
1997), Her studies have used research models in which children
undergo relatively traumatic events (for instance, getting vacci-
nated) or embarrassing experiences (for instance, having a geni-
tal exam as part of a physical at the doctor’s of ce) and in which
the kids are then interviewed about their experiences. The inter-
views follow procedures that mimic those in legal settings, includ-
ing the use of anatomically correct dolls, leading questions (such
as, “Did the doctor touch you here?”), and even criminal lineups
where the children are asked to identify the perpetrator of the
“crime” (“Who gave you the shot?”). The results of these studies
demonstrate that children over the age of 4 are very unlikely to
falsely report genital touching; only about 8 percent of children
gave such false reports.
Although Goodman’s research suggests that very few children
spontaneously (and falsely) report genital touching, consider that
even the low rate of 8 percent could lead to false accusations.
Surely, the case of Thomas Kennedy tells us that even one false
report can have tragic consequences. Importantly, children’s mis-
taken memories are problematic only if the fact nders in a case
(police, investigators, prosecutors, and jurors) are unable to deter-
mine whether children’s recollections are true or false. Can adults
determine if a child is telling the truth?
A recent study probed this key question. Goodman and her
colleagues (Block & others, 2012) showed adults videos in which
children were interviewed about memories for positive events
(for instance, getting a new toy, going to Disneyland) and negative
events (being punished for throwing a rock through a window,
having another child pull the child’s pants down in front of a store).
None of the children were told to lie, but some spontaneously
claimed that they had experienced events that they had not, and
some denied experiencing events that they had (based on the par-
ents’ reports). The researchers found that adults did a fairly good
job of recognizing true reports and rejecting false reports (Block &
others, 2012). However, they also discovered that adults were
likely to believe children who made false denials: If a child (falsely)
said that an event had not happened, adults generally thought the
child was telling the truth. This nding is especially troubling in
light of research showing that false denials may be a common
feature of child sexual abuse claims. Indeed, one study found that
even in cases in which there was substantial evidence of abuse—
for example, medical evidence, a perpetrator’s confession, or
multiple victim complaints against the accused—20 percent of
children denied at some point during the investigation that abuse
had occurred (Malloy, Lyon, & Quas, 2007).
Are children’s memories reliable?
How does stress in uence mem-
ory accuracy? Are children espe-
cially susceptible to coercion
and suggestion? Can adults dif-
ferentiate truth from falsehood
when listening to children’s ac-
counts? These are all important
topics of research in psychol-
ogy. The answers remain contro-
versial in both the scienti c
literature and the courtroom
(Bruck & Ceci, 2012; Klemfuss
& Ceci, 2012a, 2012b).
What Do You Think?
If a child told you about an
experience of sexual abuse,
what would you do? Why?
Should children’s accounts
of sexual abuse be believed
more often than not?
they sought independent corroboration by others. They were able to identify actual cases
in which the perpetrator or some third party could verify a discovered memory. For
example, Frank Fitzpatrick forgot abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest, but his report
of the abuse, years later, was corroborated by witnesses who had also been abused ( Com-
monwealth of Massachusetts v. Porter, 1993). The existence of such cases suggests that
it is inappropriate to reject all claims by adults that they were victims of long-forgotten
childhood sexual abuse.
How do psychologists consider these cases? Generally, there is consensus on a few
key issues (Knapp & VandeCreek, 2000). First, all agree that child sexual abuse is an
important and egregious problem that historically has not been acknowledged. Second,
psychologists widely believe that most individuals who were sexually abused as children
remember all or part of what happened to them and that these continuous memories are
likely to be accurate. Third, there is broad agreement that it is possible for someone who
was abused to forget those memories for a long time, and it is also possible to construct
memories that are false but that feel very real to an individual. Finally, it is highly dif-
cult to separate accurate from inaccurate memories, especially if methods such as hyp-
nosis have been used in the “recovery” of memories. We might think that a great deal
of mystery would be removed if only cases of abuses were reported immediately rather
than many years later. In such cases, very often children’s accounts of their memories
for the abuse serve as a crucial piece of evidence. Are their memories likely to be accu-
rate? Challenge Your Thinking reviews these complex issues.
When Eyes Deceive
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228 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
Cognitive psychologist Sam Sommers
blogged about his experiences as an
expert witness in an armed robbery
case. He used his expertise on
eyewitness memory in the case.
Check out his account by googling
“Sam Sommers eyewitness.”
Faulty memories complicated the search for the perpetrators in the
sniper attacks that killed 10 people in the Washington, DC, area in
2002. Police released photos of the type of white truck or van that
witnesses said they saw fl eeing some of the crime scenes (right). In
the end, however, the suspects were driving a blue car when law
enforcement offi cials apprehended them (above).
To test your ability to be a good
eyewitness, visit one of the
following websites:
Did this exercise change your
opinion of the accuracy of
eyewitness testimony? Explain.
E Y E W I T N E S S T E S T I M O N Y By now, you should realize that memory is not a
perfect re ection of reality. Understanding the distortions of memory is particu-
larly important when people are called on to report what they saw or heard in
relation to a crime. Eyewitness testimonies, like other sorts of memories,
may contain errors, and faulty memory in criminal matters has especially
serious consequences (Frenda, Nichols, & Loftus, 2011). When eyewitness
testimony is inaccurate, the wrong person might go to jail or even be put
to death, or the perpetrator of the crime might not be prosecuted. It is
important to note, however, that witnessing a crime is often traumatic for
the individual, and so this type of memory typically ts in the larger
category of memory for highly emotional events.
Much of the interest in eyewitness testimony focuses on distortion,
bias, and inaccuracy in memory (Frenda, Nichols, & Loftus, 2011). One
reason for distortion is that memory fades. In one study, people were able
to identify pictures with 100 percent accuracy after a 2-hour time lapse. How-
ever, four months later they achieved an accuracy of only 57 percent; chance alone
accounts for 50 percent accuracy (Shepard, 1967).
U n l i k e a v i d e o , m e m o r y c a n b e a l t e r e d b y n e w i n f o r m a t i o n ( S i m o n s & C h a b r i s , 2 0 1 1 ) .
In one study, researchers showed students a lm of an automobile accident and then asked
them how fast the white sports car was going when it passed a barn (Loftus, 1975).
Although there was no barn in the lm, 17 percent of the students mentioned the barn
in their answer.
Bias is also a factor in faulty memory (Brigham & others, 2007). Studies have shown
that people of one ethnic group are less likely to recognize individual differences
among people of another ethnic group (Behrman & Davey, 2001); Latino eyewit-
nesses, for example, may have trouble distinguishing among several Asian suspects.
In one relevant experiment, a mugging was shown on a television news program
(Loftus, 1993). Immediately after, a lineup of six suspects was broadcast, and
viewers were asked to phone in and identify which one of the six individuals they
thought had committed the robbery. Of the 2,000 callers, more than 1,800 iden-
ti ed the wrong person, and even though the robber was a non-Latino White
male, one-third of the viewers identi ed an African American or a Latino suspect
as the criminal. Importantly, too, witness con dence is not necessarily a good
indicator of accuracy of eyewitness accounts. One study showed that womens
accounts were more accurate than men’s but that men expressed greater
con dence in their memories (Areh, 2011).
Hundreds of individuals have been harmed by witnesses
who have made a mistake (Frenda, Nichols, & Loftus,
2011). One estimate indicates that each year approximately
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Memory Retrieval // 229
Using Psychological Research to Improve
Police Lineups
n his book Convicting the Innocent, law professor Brandon Garrett (2011) traced the rst
250 cases in the United States in which a convicted individual was exonerated—proved to be not
guilty—by DNA evidence. Of those cases, 190 (or 76 per-
cent) involved mistaken eyewitness identifi cation of the
accused. Every year, more than 75,000 individuals are asked
to identify suspects, and experts estimate that these identi-
cations are wrong one-third of the time (Schwartz, 2011).
To reduce the chances that innocent individuals will be
accused of crimes, law enforcement offi cials are applying
psychological research ndings to improve the way they
conduct criminal lineups. In such lineups, a witness views
a group of individuals in real time or looks at photos of
individuals, one of whom is the suspect. The witness is
asked to identify the perpetrator of the crime if he or she
is among those shown. Psychological research has infl u-
enced these procedures in two ways.
First, based on the suspicion that even very subtle bias can infl uence witness judgments, double-
blind procedures have been adopted by many jurisdictions (Brewer & Wells, 2011). Recall that in a
double-blind study, neither the participants nor the experimenter knows what condition the partici-
pants are in, to reduce the effects of bias on the results. The city of Dallas, for example, uses a
double-blind approach to police lineups. A specifi c unit conducts all lineups, and no one involved
in administering the lineup has any knowledge of the case or of which individual is suspected of
the crime (Goode & Schwartz, 2011).
Another procedure supported by research is the use of sequential rather than simultaneous pre-
sentation of individuals or photographs in a lineup. Showing individuals or their photos in a lineup
one at a time (sequentially) rather than all at once (simultaneously) is less likely to lead to false
identifi cations (Steblay, Dysart, & Wells, 2011). The reason for the difference is that when pre-
sented with a set of suspects simultaneously, victims tend to choose the person who looks the
most like their memory of the perpetrator. Studies show that when the actual perpetrator in a
simulated crime is removed from a simultaneous lineup, people will pick the “fi ller person”—an
individual who is not suspected of the crime and is simply lling up the lineup—who most closely
resembles the perpetrator (Wells, 1993).
A recent large-scale eld study, headed by Gary Wells (Wells, Steblay, & Dysart, 2011), examined
the effectiveness of double-blind sequential and simultaneous lineups in four different jurisdictions
in the United States in actual criminal investigations. The results showed that sequential presenta-
tion of photo lineups led to fewer mistaken identifi cations than did simultaneous presentation.
Wells and colleagues concluded that double-blind sequential lineups are a promising avenue for
improving the accuracy of eyewitness identifi cation.
CSI and other TV crime dramas might give the impression that DNA evidence is widely available
to protect innocent people from false accusations. However, researchers estimate that fewer than
5 percent of legal cases involving eyewitness identifi cations include biological evidence to potentially
exonerate mistakenly identifi ed convicts (Wells, Steblay, & Dysart, 2011). So, for many crimes, eye-
witness identifi cation remains an important piece of evidence—and improving the validity of these
identifi cations is thus a crucial goal.
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230 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
Human memory has its imperfections, as we have all experienced. It is not unusual
for two people to argue about whether something did or did not happen, each supremely
con dent that his or her memory is accurate and the other person’s is faulty. We all
have had the frustrating experience of trying to remember the name of some person
or some place but not quite being able to retrieve it. Missed appointments, misplaced
keys, the failure to recall the name of a familiar face, and inability to recall your
password for Internet access are everyday examples of forgetting. Why do we forget?
One of psychology’s pioneers, Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850–1909), was the rst person
to conduct scienti c research on forgetting. In 1885, he made up and memorized a list
of 13 nonsense syllables and then assessed how many of them he could remember as
time passed. (Nonsense syllables are meaningless combinations of letters that are unlikely
to have been learned already, such as zeq, xid, lek, and riy .) Even just an hour later,
Ebbinghaus could recall only a few of the nonsense syllables he had memorized. Figure
6.16 shows Ebbinghaus’s learning curve for nonsense syllables. Based on his research,
Ebbinghaus concluded that most forgetting takes place soon after we learn something.
1. The tendency to remember the items at
the beginning and end of a list more eas-
ily than the items in the middle is the
A. bookends effect.
B. serial cues effect.
C. serial position effect.
D. endpoints effect.
2. Carrie prides herself on “never forget-
ting a face,” although she frequently
cannot put the correct name with a spe-
cific face. Carrie is really saying that she
A. is better at recognition than at
B. is better at recall than at
C. is better at memory retrieval than at
memory reconstruction.
D. is better at memory reconstruction
than at memory recall.
3. Faulty memory can occur due to
A. bias.
B. receipt of new information.
C. distortion.
D. all of the above
APPLY IT! 4. Andrew is getting ready
for a group interview for a job he really
wants. The group session will take place at
the beginning of the day, followed by indi-
vidual interviews. When the manager who is
conducting the interviews calls Andrew, he
tells him that because he has not talked to
any of the other candidates yet, Andrew
can decide when he would like his individ-
ual interview to be. There are five candi-
dates. Which position should Andrew take?
A. Andrew should go third because that
way he will be right in the middle, and
the interviewer will not be too nervous
or too tired.
B. Andrew should go either fi rst or last,
to be the candidate most likely to be
C. Andrew should probably go second so
that he will not be sitting around feel-
ing nervous for too long—and besides,
asking to go fi rst might seem pushy.
D. It will not matter, so Andrew should just
pick a spot randomly.
Mor e r ecent ly,
researchers have suggested
that eyewitness accounts
can be mor e accur at e i f t he
wi t ness c l oses hi s or her
eyes . Why mi ght t hat hel p?
7,500 people in the United States are arrested for and wrongly convicted of serious
crimes (Huff, 2002).
F a u l t y m e m o r y i s n o t j u s t a b o u t a c c u s i n g t h e w r o n g p e r s o n . F o r e x a m p l e , f a u l t y
memories were evident in descriptions of the suspects’ vehicle in the sniper attacks that
killed 10 people in the Washington, DC, area in 2002. Witnesses reported seeing a white
truck or van eeing several of the crime scenes. It appears that a white van may have
been near one of the rst shootings and that media repetition of this information con-
taminated the memories of witnesses to later attacks, making them more likely to
remember a white truck or van. When caught, the sniper suspects were driving a
blue car.
Before police even arrive at a crime scene, witnesses talk among themselves,
and this dialogue can contaminate memories. This is why, during the DC sniper
attacks in 2002, law enforcement of cials advised any persons who might witness
the next attack to immediately write down what they had seen—even on their hands
if they did not have a piece of paper.
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Forgetting // 231
Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850–1909)
Ebbinghaus was the fi rst psychologist to
conduct scientifi c research on forgetting.
Percent retention
1 9 24 648 31
Time since original learning
FIGURE 6.16 Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve
This gure illustrates Ebbinghaus’s conclusion about forgetting.
> When is information most likely to be forgotten? > What
might explain differences in the slope of this curve for
different individuals and different material? > Based on this
graph, when is the best time to study new material to prevent
it from being forgotten?
I f w e f o r g e t s o q u i c k l y , w h y p u t e f f o r t i n t o l e a r n i n g s o m e t h i n g ? F o r t u -
nately, researchers have demonstrated that forgetting is not as extensive as
Ebbinghaus envisioned (Hsieh & others, 2009). Ebbinghaus studied meaning-
less nonsense syllables. When we memorize more meaningful material—such
as poetry, history, or the content of this text—forgetting is neither so rapid
nor so extensive. Following are some of the factors that in uence how well
we can retrieve information from long-term memory.
Encoding Failure
Sometimes when people say they have forgotten something, they have not
really forgotten it; rather, they never encoded the information in the rst
place. Encoding failure occurs when the information was never entered into
long-term memory.
A s a n e x a m p l e o f e n c o d i n g f a i l u r e , t h i n k a b o u t w h a t t h e U . S . p e n n y l o o k s
like. In one study, researchers showed 15 versions of the penny to participants
and asked them which one was correct (Nickerson & Adams, 1979). Look at
the pennies in Figure 6.17 (but do not read the caption yet) and see whether
you can tell which is the real penny. Most people do not do well on this task. Unless you
are a coin collector, you probably have not encoded a lot of speci c details about pennies.
Yo u ma y h ave e nc od e d ju st e nou gh i nfo rma ti on t o d is ti ng ui s h th em f rom o th er c oin s
(a) (b)
(e) (f) (g)
FIGURE 6.17 Which
Is a Real U.S. Penny?
In the original experiment,
participants viewed 15 versions
of pennies; only one version
was an actual U.S. penny. This
gure shows only 7 of the
15 versions, and as you likely
can tell, the task is still very
dif cult. Why? By the way, the
actual U.S. penny is (c).
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232 // CHAPTER 6 // Memory
Proactive Interference
Study for
biology test
Study for
psychology test
Old information interferes
with new information
psychology test
Retroactive Interference
Study for
psychology test
Study for
biology test
New information interferes
with old information
psychology test
Proactive and Retro-
active Interference
Pro- means “forward”; in
proactive interference, old
information has a forward
in uence by getting in the
way of new material learned.
Retro- means “backward”; in
retroactive interference, new
information has a backward
in uence by getting in the way
of material learned earlier.
(pennies are copper-colored, dimes and nickels are silver-colored; pennies fall between
the sizes of dimes and quarters).
The penny exercise illustrates that we encode and enter into long-term memory only
a small portion of our life experiences. In a sense, then, encoding failures really are not
cases of forgetting; they are cases of not remembering.
Retrieval Failure
Problems in retrieving information from memory are clearly examples of forgetting (Law
& others, 2011). Psychologists have theorized that the causes of retrieval failure include
problems with the information in storage, the effects of time, personal reasons for remem-
bering or forgetting, and the condition of the brain (Barrouillet, De Paepe, & Langerock,
2012; Oztekin & Badre, 2011).
I N T E R F E R E N C E Interference is one reason that people forget (Malmberg &
o t h e r s , 2 0 1 2 ) . A c c o r d i n g t o interference theory , p e o p l e f o r g e t n o t b e c a u s e m e m o r i e s
are lost from storage but because other information gets in the way of what they want
to remember.
There are two kinds of interference: proactive and retroactive. Proactive interference
occurs when material that was learned earlier disrupts the recall of material learned later
(Yi & Friedman, 2011). Remember that pro - means “forward in time. For example,
suppose you had a good friend 10 years ago named Prudence and that last night you
met someone named Patience. You might nd yourself calling your new friend Prudence
because the old information (Prudence) interferes with retrieval of new information
(Patience). Retroactive interference occurs when material learned later disrupts the
retrieval of information learned earlier (Solesio-Jofre & others, 2011). Remember that
retro - means “backward in time.Suppose you have lately become friends with Ralph.
In sending a note to your old friend Raul, you might mistakenly address it to Ralph
because the new information (Ralph) interferes with the old information (Raul). Figure
6.18 depicts another example of proactive and retroactive interference.
Proactive and retroactive interference might both be explained as problems with
retrieval cues. The reason the name Prudence interferes with the name Patience and the
name Ralph interferes with the name Raul might be that the cue you are using to remem-
ber the one name does not distinguish between the two memories. For example, if the
cue you are using is “my good friend,it might evoke both names. The result might be
interference theory
The theory that people for-
get not because memories
are lost from storage but
because other information
gets in the way of what they
want to remember.
Situation in which
material that was
learned earlier
disrupts the recall
of material that
was learned later.
retroactive interference
Situation in which material
that was learned later dis-
rupts the retrieval of infor-
mation that was learned
Memory Failure
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Forgetting // 233