Set #4 (Lectures 9, 10 & 11)
February 4 , 2010
CHAPTER FIVE: MEMORY
In our book there are two chapters about memory. The one that we will deal with today is memory
traces and memory schemas, and the next one is memory systems (or something like that). Today
we will talk about traces versus schemas. We are going to try and distinguish between physical
traces of memory and recollection of memory, and how we remember events. In the next class, we
will deal with memory systems and hopefully amnesias. We can look at the dissociations of
different memory systems.
Before we start, we saw a short video (the significance of this will be described later):
Defining memory is not that difficult. We do not have the same problem that we had with attention.
Memory is the study of how we encode information, retrieve it and remember past events. Memory
is also about remembering future events, for example remembering that the next midterm is on
March 2 . This is forward memory. It is also the study of forgetting. How do we forget? How fast
do we forget? What do we retain? Related to forgetting are amnesias, what contributes to them,
what kind of memory systems we have.
Before starting, we need to look at a history of memory and memory research.
One of the most prominent figures in memory research Is Herman Ebbinghaus. He was a part of
associationalism. This was in the 1980s. They were concerned with how events become associated
with one another to result in learning. Ebbinghaus was the first to start examining memory
experimentally. He developed a tool for studying memory called the nonsense syllable method. In
those days, they didnt have large subject participation pools, so he basically studied himself. He developed a list of nonsense syllables that could be something like hun, veg, zaf, her.
He used nonsense syllables because he was interested in studying things that were novel to us, that
have no semantic meaning. He gave himself a list of these syllables and studied them, and then
attempted to recall them.
One of the main contributions of this method is that it helped establish experimental methodology
of memory. He varied the number of syllables on the list, and introduced a retention interval. A
retention interval is the time interval between when you learn a list and when you are asked to recall
it. Using these simple tasks, some of the key properties of memory were established back in the
Difficulty will increase disproportionately with list length. When you have a short list it is easy
to remember. When you have a longer list its more difficult. When you have extremely long
lists, these are even hard to remember. That was one of they key findings.
Amount of retention. How much you actually remember. Depends on the level of learning. If
you read the list once, your retention will not be very good. If you learn it over and over
again, your retention is going to be much better for that list of items. In the book, this is
related to the concept of levels of processing that was put forward a number of years later
where they proposed that the more deeply encoded the information is, the more easily it is
remembered. (See textbook p. 131) Its called exceptional memory by professor Aitken; he
was a brilliant mathematician as well as an accomplished violinist. He could remember all
kinds of things. We should read this. The mechanism by which he was able to remember a
number of information was deep encoding. He would allow himself to become extremely
interested in the material he was learning, or he would force himself to become interested in
the material he was learning. Not all material is interesting. For example, the nonsense syllabi are very boring. If you can make it interesting for yourself that will aid your retention; you
will remember it better.
Postulated that distributed learning = better retention. You will remember much more if you
learn over time versus if you cram. Thats another good aid for studying in exams. This is
what professors try to do in courses by giving you midterms, forcing distributed learning.
Your retention would be better once you have gone through the material repeatedly over
Based on these findings, he also established:
The forgetting curve. This was done in 1885 and it still holds quite nicely and can be
replicated. (See textbook fig 5.12). What you see on the y-axis is what people remember. On
the x-axis is the interval between original learning. What you can see is that there is rapid
forgetting within the first hour, but then the curve gradually tapers off. If you retain
something 8 hours after learning, there is a good chance that its going to last. This is
Ebbinghaus. He is widely considered as the father of memory and memory research.
One of his main view is that he viewed memory as storage. Memories are entities that exist
somewhere, and all we need to do is go and retrieve them. Throughout the years, there were a
number of metaphors that were put forward to help us understand how to study memory. We have
been there in attention, and seen that they are metacognition about what our cognitive processes are,
and shaped how we study it and approach it experimentally. In terms of metaphors of memory, most
that have been developed are:
Spatial metaphors of memory. Memories are stored in this space. There is an entity where they
are and we use terms like search, as if we physically search through them. We organize our
memories; we store them. When something is remembered, there is a specific place where