PSYCH – Week 12 Online Readings
Week 12: Memory
Focus Question: How are we able to use information we have encountered in the past to
guide our behaviour?
What is memory and how is it encoded?
Memory is the ability to use or reproduce knowledge, skills, or behaviours learned in the
past. It is not a uniform phenomenon – there are different types of memory. Still, all
memory tasks involve the basic processes of encoding, storage, and retrieval, and those
we shall focus on.
Method of loci: Method of memory enhancement that uses visual information (like
maps, locations) to organize and recall information. Items are remembered based on
association with specific locations and a mental "walk" is established, moving from one
memory/location to the next.
EX:An orator giving a speech from memory would put the key elements into his
“memory palace” and then simply walk through it to hit each point or bring out each
piece of evidence in turn.
Metaphors for Memory include: treasure house, mechanical piano, phonograph,
photograph, tape recorder, filing cabinet, hologram, and computer.
Encoding, Storage and Retrieval
Memory is broken down into three components, or steps:
Encoding: The process by which perceptions, thoughts, and feelings are transformed into
Storage: The process of maintaining information in memory over time.
Retrieval: The process by which information that was previously encoded and stored is
brought to mind.
Penfield (the neurosurgeon in the Montreal procedure)
The detail and vividness of the memories recalled during the procedure convinced
Penfield that memory was like a tape recorder recording all experience. He believed that
somewhere in the brain such a trace, or faint record, existed, although it might not be
accessible with ordinary recall processes.
Construction and Elaboration
Penfield‟s work built on research by Hermann Ebbinghaus and Sir Frederic Bartlett.
Ebbinghaus studied the creation and loss of memory in a controlled fashion, focusing on
lists of words and the use of nonsense sounds to examine brand new memories. Most of
our knowledge of memory – and the way we study it – comes from Ebbinghaus. Bartlett
emphasized the revisionary nature of memory. From his work came the ideas of
construction and elaboration.
Construction: Creation of a new story from an original story. Elaboration: The degree to which information is specified, described, and/or related to
other information in memory.
Bartlett proposed that memories are not records of events, but often reconstructions that
are guided to some extent by his listeners‟ “commonsense” knowledge or preconceived
ideas (their schema.)
Schema: Mental framework or body of knowledge that organizes and synthesizes
information about a person, place, or thing.
What is Encoding?
Encoding does work to ‘record’ experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Importantly, we
generally encode only material we pay some attention to.
The more you process information, the more ‘deeply’ you encode it and the easier it is to
Levels of Processing
In a classic study, Canadian psychologists Craik and Tulving
(1975) presented participants with a series of words and asked
them to make one of three types of judgements about each word.
For some words, participants were asked to think about their
meaning: “Is a hat a type of clothing?” For other words,
participants were asked to think about their sound: “Does hat rhyme with cat?” Finally,
for the third set of words, participants were asked about the words’ appearance: “Is HAT
in upper or lowercase letters?”
The kind of processing that participants were asked to do on each word had a marked
influence on their memory for the words – memory was much better for the words
processed semantically (when participants thought about their meaning) than for the
words processed structurally (when participants thought about their appearance), with
sound (acoustic) processing in between. This levelsofprocessing effect demonstrates
that elaborative encoding – actively relating new knowledge to knowledge already in
memory – greatly enhances retention.
Levelsofprocessing effect: The strength of the memory trace (the degree to which it is
encoded so as to be stored and retrieved later) depends on how extensively the
information is processed at encoding.
Coding and Chunking
Most people can remember 57 things at once. Others need to make a list for 3 items.
People can remember more things if they chunk information together into five to seven
lumps and by categorizing and organizing information by the relationship. Coding and The Brain
Mnemonics: Special techniques or strategies consciously employed in an attempt to
Conscious coding, such as how restaurant workers organize orders by category, is an
important part of maintaining a working memory. People with prodigious memories like
the memory experts in this video make effective use of mnemonics – memory ‘tricks’ –to
encode what they need to remember.
Many experiments have now demonstrated that using visual imagery to encode
information (as in the method of loci) is indeed effective – people remember twice as
many words from a word list when they create visual images as compared to when they
simply rehearse the words in their head. This memory enhancement method can be
considered a type of elaborative encoding.
It is very hard to remember things that we don’t perceive as important and we remember
better if we pay careful attention.
How is memory stored in the brain and how does this affect our daily lives?
Storage refers to the maintenance of information over time.
There are three main types of memory storage: sensory, shortterm, and longterm. The
three types are distinguished by how long they retain information.
Sensory Memory: AudioVisual
Sensory memory holds sensory information for a brief time after the stimulus causing
the sensation is removed. If you hear a sound, you may find that you are able to ‘replay’ it
for a brief time after the actual sound occurred – this is an example of a sensory memory.
There are two main types of sensory memory – auditory (echoic) and visual (iconic)
Short Term Memory and Working Memory
The idea that we can distinguish between shortterm storage (for a few or several
seconds) and longterm storage (where, for example, memories of your childhood are
kept) goes back to William James.
James referred to a primary memory, which used to hold information temporarily, and
secondary memory, which holds information for long periods. This distinction essentially
remains, although it has been refined over the 120 years since James‟s work. We now
distinguish between shortterm storage and longterm storage. Shortterm storage
holds information for a short time – long enough to look up a phone number and dial it,
The concept of working memory is closely related to shortterm storage. It comes
from the work of Alan Baddeley, who initially proposed that shortterm memory is used
to “work on” or use information for current goals (hence the name “working memory”).
Working memory is the active maintenance of information in shortterm storage. You
use working memory when you try to memorize something like a phone number after you
look it up and find yourself repeating the information over and over. This is referred to as
maintenance rehearsal. Working memory includes different subsystems for maintenance, mental
manipulation, and storage of different kinds of information, including visual and verbal
information. Phonological shortterm (or phonological working) memory, discussed
in your text on p. 237, is working memory for verbal information.
Span and Verbal Memory
Span: The longest string of information that a person can immediately recall.
Chunking and categorizing can help people recall a word list that is within their span.
But what happens if the information exceeds their span? Chances are you’ll remember
the information at the beginning and end of whatever it is you’re trying to learn, like
names at a party for example.
The tendency to recall the first few items you were told or the first few people you met
is called the primacy effect; the tendency to recall the last few items you encountered is
the recency effect.
The dip in the middle of the serial position curve is caused by interference – the
items you learned first and last are interfering with your ability to recall the items in the
Nback task: Task in which items (e.g., letters) are presented one at a time and
participants must identify each item that repeats relative to the item that occurred "n"
items before its onset. They require more than simply maintaining information – you
have to be constantly updating so that you can compare the current stimulus with the
correct past stimulus.
The second type of working memory is visual shortterm memory: Memory of visual
information obtained from nonverbal (information communicated without words)
Longterm memory holds a lot of information in a very durable manner. The term
“longterm memory” covers many very different kinds of phenomena that we can classify
into different types. Your memory for how to do things, like ride a bike, touch type, or sign your name, is
called procedural memory.
In contrast, your knowledge of facts and concepts – the capital of France or the
meaning of the word s – is a different kind of memory, called semantic memory.
The network of facts and concepts that make up your knowledge of the world is your
semantic memory. This is not just an impersonal encyclopaedia, however – your semantic
memory would also include important information like your father‟s birthday, which is
your sister’s favourite kind of chocolate, and where you keep the baking powder in your
There is another type of longterm memory that is of personal experience called
episodic memory. The distinguishing characteristic of episodic memories is that they are
associated with a particular time and place.
Connections and Storage – and Sleep
Memory is strengthened by repetition and by multiple connections.
Procedural memory seems to benefit more from REM sleep while episodic and semantic
memory seems to benefit more from slowwave sleep. However, there are also studies
that lead researchers to think otherwise for some types of sleep and memory.
Explicit vs. Implicit
Explicit: Memory that can be fully described verbally, and of which a person is
consciously aware. Semantic and episodic memories are explicit – you can retrieve the
memories and put them into words.
Implicit: Memory that cannot be fully described verbally, and of which a person may be
completely or partially unaware. EX: a native English speaker might not be able to tell
you the rules of English grammar, but they can use them perfectly well. It is a lack of
awareness. Another example: hearing a song makes you happy; your brain knows you
listened to that song during a period of happiness in your life and therefore the song
triggers a conditioned association with happy feelings.
Another example of implicit memory is the phenomenon of priming. In priming, your
experience influences your response to, or perception of, a stimulus.
Priming: Change in reaction time produced by prior presentation of a related stimulus.
EX: trying to solve a word puzzle; you are presented with a list of words; it so happens
that the word puzzle word is one from the list, and you cut your response time that way.
Priming is visual, not just auditory or verbal.