PSYCH 1X03 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Hermann Ebbinghaus, Long-Term Memory, Nonsense Word

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10 Feb 2016
Unit 1: Introduction to Memory
Common Memory Metaphors
-Perhaps memory acts like a video camera which accurately preserves images and
audio to be played back at a later time
-An older idea is to think of memory as a filing cabinet
-We create memory files that are stored in an organized folder system which can be
later accessed to remember something
-Another popular idea is a computer metaphor of memory, where specialized
components responsible for handling different memories at different times
Problems with Memory Metaphors
-The noted psychologist Frederic Barlett realized that all of these metaphors about
human memory have something in common
-While each does provide a useful way of thinking about memory in some regard,
in another important way they are misleading
-Each assumes that memory can store experiences in their original, undistorted
-Each also assumes that memory is retrieval is as simple as accessing a previously
stored item that has been kept in a specific place
-Although you may perceive memory to represent an objective undistorted
representation of events, a rich history of research reveals that memory is subject
to interpretation and reconstruction
Unit 2: The Basics of Memory
Types of Questions
-Psychologists have generally asked three types of questions about memory:
oQuestions about memory acquisition: what will be stored in memory?
oQuestions about memory storage: how and where will be stored?
oQuestions about memory retrieval: how can memories be returned to
Importance of Cues
-As two friends banter back and forth, one memory triggers another shaping the
flow of the conversation
-As Chris tells a funny story about his cute puppy, Greg is reminded of a similar
incident when his dog was an even cuter puppy
-In a sense, like the cue-response mechanism studied by behaviourists, one
memory acts as a cue to trigger another memory
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-Early researchers of memory were heavily influenced by the behaviourists, so its
not surprising that the early focus of memory research concerned how cues
interact with encoding and retrieval mechanisms of memory
-Let’s consider the pioneering work of Hermann Ebbinghaus who operationally
defined memory as a serial learning task
-As Ebbinghaus who memorized nonsense word lists, he suggested that each
word in the list served as a cue that triggered the memory of the word the
followed; like pearls linked in a necklace, each word connects to the word before
and after it
-As we will see later, cueing is an important concept in encoding specificity, by
which encoding and retrieval are linked through cues
Testing our Hypotheses
-Psychologists rely on cognitive models to understand a complex and abstract
process like memory
-Models describe and organize data and make specific, testable hypotheses that can
be studied in controlled experiments in the lab
-A basic memory task involves two phases
-During the encoding phase, a subject learns a list of items, words or pictures
-For example, in a simple experiment a researcher presents the same list of items
to two different groups
-She explicitly asks the experimental group to learn the presented items, while a
control group is distracted
-Later during the retrieval phase, subjects are tested for their memory of the items
presented during the encoding phase
Recall and Recognition
-During a recall test, a subject is asked to freely generate as many items as she can
-During a recognition test, a subject is shown several items and asked to judge
whether each item is “new” meaning it was not previously presented or “old”
meaning it was previously presented
Hermann Ebbinghaus
-Ebbinghaus used the basic encoding and retrieval design to learn about cueing and
forgetting of memories
-Using himself, as a subject, Ebbinghaus memorized lists of “nonsense words”
during the encoding phase and later tested his recall ability during the retrieval
-Importantly, Ebbinghaus chose to use nonsense words to minimize the influence
of his prior experience on his test results
-One of the research questions that interested Ebbinghaus was how long memories
could be maintained
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