Memory traces and memory schemas
Schema theories of memories
Memory traces often conceived of as replicas of previous experiences.
Recording device: works as long as the recall of previous experiences is accurate.
Mystic writing pad: a model of memory based on a children’s toy writing tablet that allows messages to be written on
one level, while fragments of old messages accumulate on another.
Our perceptions are transitory.
Memories are after effects of perception, but they tend to run into one another.
if inferences, memory would be a reconstruction of the past and prone to error
The analogy helps make a distinction between memory traces and schemas.
Reappearance hypothesis: The hypothesis that memory is a re-experiencing of the past.
Flashbulb memories: vivid, detailed memories of significant events.
Our recollection of particularly important events. E.g. 9/11,
Brown and Kulik (1977): asked undergrads to recall the circumstances under which they heard of the death of
wrote a free recall account and estimated how consequential they felt the event was and how frequently
they talked about it.
They almost all had vivid, detailed memories of the event.
Their reports included: place, what they were doing, informant, how they felt, the aftermath
the more consequential the event was rated, the more often it had been rehearsed (discussed).
Now print theory: The theory that a specific process, similar to xerography lays down in memory copies of especially
1. Suprisingness: quite extraordinary=tend to pay very close attention to the event
2. Consequentiality: how important we consider the event
3. Formation of flashbulb memory if the event is both surprising and important.
4. Rehearsal: tend to think about FM more than to other memories
5. Flashbulb account of our memories: what we tell other people
Focus is the 3 stage. Mechanism of laying down in memory an enduring record of an experience, including the
context in which it occurred?
Example of highly detailed memory traces for certain kinds of events.
Might be a primitive form of memory
Is there a flashbulb memory mechanism?
Other historically important events have been investigated (Challenger explosion).
All participants remembered something about the circumstances in which they heard about it.
++ info lost over time (specific → more general). Some accounts were not consistent.
None was wildly inconsistent with earlier descriptions: errors were the same sort that seems to occur with “ordinary”
FM not necessarily more accurate than normal memories, no need for a special mechanism to account for them.
Consequences of some factors that influence normal memories.
Weaver (1993): similarities and differences between FM and normal memories.
Next time they saw a friend, they had to remember all the circumstances surrounding the event.
Filled questionnaires dealing with their memories of both the friend meeting and the bombing of Iraq.
Same thing a few months later.
Result: Both events were recalled with +/- same accuracy BUT more confidence about the bombing in Iraq.
Confidence comes from the fact that a historically important event was witnessed. Talarico and Rubin (2003): 9/11 study.
Describe 9/11 and an ordinary event on the previous day.
re-tested either 1 week, 6 weeks or 32 weeks later.
Result: both flashbulb and ordinary memories show ↘ in consistency and ↗ in inconsistency over time
FM have more emotion associated with them, but no more accurate than normal memories in terms of
Are memory traces permanent?
Consolidation theory: The theory that memory traces of an event are not fully formed immediately after the event, but
take some time to become complete.
Retroactive interference: decline in the recall of one thing experienced as a result of later experiencing something else.
Rest right after learning allow for full consolidation of the traces.
New learning draws on limited pool of resources that may otherwise have been available to consolidate the original
Hippocampus: A site in the brain crucial for the consolidation of memory traces.
Converts immediate memories into long-term memories.
Once the memory trace is stored, it becomes changeable. Recall of a previous experience places it in working memory
where it is in contact with other experiences= opportunity for the memory trace to be revised.
Reconsolidation: The hypothetical process whereby a memory trace is revised and undergoes consolidation again.
Memories = fundamentally dynamic processes.
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 he can recall. A’s
version is given to participant B. He reads it and tries to recall it. B writes down what he can remember and the version is
given to participant C and so on.
As reproductions progress, they become less like the original. Shows what happens to memories over time according to
Rationalization: The attempt to make memory as coherent and sensible as possible.
Material that doesn’t fit is dropped out. Unfamiliar material is transformed into more familiar content.
Bergman and Roediger (1997): reproduced the results.
Schema: An active mass of organized past reactions that provide a setting that guides our behaviour.
Flexible, useful organization (e.g. tennis stroke)
Bartlett never denied the existence of memory traces.
Phantom limb and the body schema
Body schema/body image: One’s schematic representation of one’s body.
Phamtom limb: After a sudden loss of a body part, the feeling that it is still there.
Vivid, but false memory, often intense pain associated with it. Consequence of the way the body schema represents the
parts of our bodies and their relationships.
If loss is slow, ↘ likelihood of a phantom limb (e.g. leprosy). Schema better able to change?
Penfield homunculus: A part of the brain that maps the parts of the sensory cortex that represents the various parts of
Each body part area is proportional to the area of cortex that represents it.
Plasticity: Our schemas are not fixed but show considerable flexibility.
Research based on schema theory
Most schema theories assume that memory is best described in terms of 4 processes
Selection: The hypothesis that we interpret information by making inferences, and then remember the
inferences as part of the original information
Anderson and Pichert (1978): We select info both as we receive it and as we recall it. Read a narrative from the point of view of a burglar or a prospective home buyer
Then they have to try to remember the story
Result: remember more info relevant to the point of view they had to take while reading the story.
It means that they selected information while reading the story.
Ask participants to switch their point of view
Result: They can remember details they couldn’t recall before.
It suggests that people do acquire info that is irrelevant to the perspective from which they read the
The process of selection can occur when people try to remember what they have read.
It implies that the active schema may not determine all the info that a person ends up being able to remember.
The schema reorganizes previously encountered material into new structures and new retrievals.
Abstraction: The hypothesis that we tend to remember only the gist, rather than the particular, of what we
Sachs (1967): people remember the meaning of a sentence they hear, but forget the actual wording.
Listen to a recorded story. A sentence occurred either at the beginning, middle or end of the story.
Participants were given another sentence and had to tell whether it was identical or not.
Result: memory for the original sentence was good if it occurred at the end of the story. They were
usually able to detect change in the meaning of the sentence.
Interpretation: The hypothesis that we interpret information by making inferences, and then remember the
inferences as part of the original information.
French and Richards (1993): inference can distort memory
Look at a clock with roman numerals for 1 minute. Then they are asked to draw it.
Result: most draw a clock face with “IV” instead of “IIII”.
Powerful evidence th