CHAPTER 5: MEMORY TRACES AND MEMORY SCHEMAS
5.1 – Schema Theories of Memory
Memory traces are like replicas of previous experiences.
o Like a recording device.
o An event can be replayed back from memory traces an unlimited amount of times.
o After a while, there might be decay in the quality of playback.
o This model only works if it is true that recall of previous experiences is accurate.
Mystic Writing Pad: A model of memory based on a children‟s toy writing tablet that
allows new messages to be written on one level, while fragments of old messages
accumulate on another level.
o It‟s made up of a plastic layer that covers a layer of wax. When you write on the
plastic, it remains on the wax but disappears from the plastic.
o Memories are similar to what remains on the wax after we lift the plastic.
o Thus, memories are after-effects of perception, but they tend to run into one
o After writing on the pad a lot of times, you will see numerous overlapping lines.
o You need to make inferences and reconstruct what you see on the wax and this is
very prone to errors.
Reappearance Hypothesis: The hypothesis that memory is a re-experiencing of the past.
o So memories are not altered.
If memory is schematic, then it relies on fragments to make new constructions.
5.1.1 – Flashbulb Memories
Flashbulb Memories: Vivid, detailed memories of significant events.
o This is evidence for the pure trace memory.
o Assassinations of important people are good to study this.
Kennedy‟s Assassination – people tend to report the following:
Their location when they found out about it
What they were doing
Who told them
How they felt (affect)
Aftermath – what they did afterwards.
Finding: the more consequential the event was rated, the more often it had
been rehearsed (discussed with others).
Now Print Theory: The theory that a specific process, similar to xerography, lays down
in memory copes of especially significant experiences.
o This can produce flashbulb memories.
o Info is processed in the following sequence: rd
o The focus of this theory is on the 3 stage = producing the memory.
o It‟s like we can save a copy of the experience the same way a photocopier copies
o Flashbulb memories are an example of highly detailed memory traces.
o This Now Print mechanism may be a primitive for of memory, which would have
been useful when there were no records or events in books/other mediums.
o The evolution of memory would be towards memory schemas and away from
memory traces because of memory aids.
5.1.2 – Is There a Flashbulb Memory Mechanism?
Natural Experiment: The Challenger space shuttle explosion
o Participants were given questionnaires 3 days and 9 months after the event.
o The 2 accounts weren‟t always consistent.
o The 9-month account was more general. But it was inconsistent in the same ways
that ordinary memories (not flashbulb) are usually inconsistent.
o This means that some missing info was filled though inferences and guesswork. o Conclusion: flashbulb memories can have inaccuracies if info cannot be retrieved
from memory. This would be due to inferences and guesswork.
o McCloskey‟s suggestion: we remember the details of a flashbulb event because
those details are the links between our own histories and the history of the world.
Other similar experiments show that both flashbulb and everyday memories show a
decline in consistency and an increase in inconsistency.
o However, we believe that our flashbulb memories are more accurate than our
ordinary memories (even though they‟re not).
5.2 – Are Memory Traces Permanent?
Consolidation (strengthening) theory: The theory that memory traces of an event are not
fully formed immediately after that event, but take some time to become complete.
o This is a classical approach to memory traces.
o This process of consolidation can be disrupted by events that occur afterwards,
and this is called retroactive interference.
It is the decline in the recall of one thing experienced as a result of later
experiencing something else.
o Rest from other events allows for full consolidation of the traces. Mental work at
this time can weaken the memory traces.
o Even if the intervening study material is not related to the original learning, the
new learning draws on a limited pool of resources that may have otherwise been
available to consolidate the original learning.
This is one explanation of why cramming isn‟t as effective even if the
same amount of time is spent learning the material. Info gets all mixed up
and confusing because we haven‟t given our brains enough time to
consolidate (or “digest”) the info. (This might not be true… it‟s not from
Hippocampus: A site in the brain crucial for the consolidation of memory traces.
o Converts immediate memories into long-term ones.
o Greek = “sea horse” because it looks like one.
They used to think that once consolidation is complete, then the memory is permanent.
o Now they know that when the trace is re-activated, it can change.
Reconsolidation: The hypothetical process whereby a memory trace is revised and
undergoes consolidation again.
Memories are constrictive and always changing!
5.2.1 – Bartlett‟s Remembering (a book written by Bartlett)
Method of Repeated Reproduction: One participant is given multiple opportunities to
recall something over time. Method of Serial Reproduction: Participant A is given something to remember. A
writes down what they can recall and A‟s version if given to the next participant B. B
reads it and tries to recall it. B‟s version is given to C…. and so on.
o This leads to many omissions and the story becomes simplified.
o The omissions reflect a process of rationalization: the attempt to make memory
as coherent and sensible as possible.
In one experiment, unfamiliar material was transformed over time into
increasingly familiar material.
Schema (Bartlett): An active mass of organized past reactions that provides a setting
that guides our behavior.
o It‟s a standard that can be adjusted to fit changing circumstances. A flexible
5.2.2 – Phantom Limbs and the Body Schema
Body Schema: One‟s schematic representation of one‟s body. Aka Body Image.
Phantom Limbs: After a sudden loss of a body part, the feeling that it is still there.
o It is a vivid but false memory.
o 70% of amputees experience phantom limb pain for as long as 25 years.
o This occurs as a consequence of the way the body schema represents parts of our
bodies and their relationships.
o If the loss of a body part occurs slowly then it‟s less likely to experience a
Penfield Homunculus: A part of the brain that maps the parts of the sensory cortex that
represent the various parts of the body.
o The hands are represented in an area that‟s next to the face.
A man with an amputated arm developed a phantom limb. When his face
was stimulated with a Q-tip he felt parts of his missing hand stimulated!
This is because sensory input from the face now invades the adjacent
vacated territory that corresponds to the missing hand.
The body schema is plastic (flexible) and not fixed.
Some people with a phantom hand feel like their hand is clenched and their nails are
digging into their skin.
o Solution! the mirror image of the existing hand is shown in a way that creates
the illusion that the missing hand has returned.
o If the person unclenches his real hand, he also experiences his phantom hand as
unclenched and the pain goes away!
Normal person can experience something similar:
o Get a plastic hand or a glove.
o Put your left hand on your lap and right hand hidden from sight on the table. o Put the fake hand on the table and have someone repeatedly tap and stroke your
hidden hand and at the same time (and in perfect synchrony) tap and stroke the
visible fake hand.
o After a while, you will feel as if YOU are being touched on the dummy hand!
5.3 – Research Based on Schema Theory
Most schema theories assume that memory is best described in terms of the following 4
processes: selection; abstraction; interpretation; integration.
5.3.1 – Selection
Selection: The hypothesis that we select information both as we receive it and as we
Experiment: a description of a house if given to participants. Some were asked to read it
from the point of view of a burglar and others from that of prospective homebuyer.
o People recalled more of the info that was related to their view point.
o Then they were asked to switch their viewpoint and recall the house description.
o Now they were able to recall info that they weren‟t able to recall before switching
o This suggests that the process of selection can occur when people try to remember
what they have read.
o Implication: the active schema may not determine all the info that one ends up
being able to remember.
o The schema not only organizes material at the time of encounter (encoding) but
also reorganized previously encountered material into new structures and new
5.3.2 – Abstraction
Abstraction: The hypothesis that we tend to remember only the gist and not particulars
of what we experience.
We remember the meaning but forget the actual wording.
Experiment: participants heard a story and given a list of sentences. They were asked to
identify which were identical to those in the story.
o Results: memory for the original sentence was quite good if the original sentence
had come at the end of the story = they could remember the exact wording.
They were able to correctly detect any change in the meaning.
Even scientists tend of remember only the gist of scientific literature and lose important
details. 5.3.3 – Interpretation
Interpretation: The hypothesis that we interpret info by making inferences, and then
remember the inferences as part of the original info.
If you are told that Tom was in New York and later that he was in Toronto, then you may
infer that he moved from New York to Toronto.
o Then you may end up thinking that someone told you that Tom actually moved
(even though no one did and it was just an inference).
Experiment: participants were shown a clock with roman numerals. The 4 looked like
this: IIII and not IV.
o Most incorrectly drew the clock later with IV even when they were told before
seeing the clock that they woul