Cognition Chapter 6
Learning as Preparation for Retrieval
- Why should there be any relationship between the way you put info into memory & the
way you retrieve it?
When you are learning, you making connections between the new material & prior
memories, which help make the new material “findable” later on – serving as retrieval
- What if you had a path that led you from point A to point B? What if you needed to get
from point B to somewhere else, or to point B from somewhere far from point A?
- e.g. asked scuba divers to learn various materials; some divers learned on land, while
others learned 20 ft. underwater. Half of each group were tested above water & below
water. Underwater, if divers are cold, they may form some memory connections between
cold thoughts & the material to be learned. Therefore, data show that divers taught on
land remember the material better on land, and divers taught underwater recall best
Same results for students who study in quiet vs. noise.
- Same pattern with rooms; but when tested in a different room but told to recall the
details/smells/emotions from the initial room right before testing, participants performed
as well as those tested in the same room. Therefore what matters is not the physical
context but the psychological context.
Changes in Your Approach to the Memory Materials
- In many settings, recall performance is best if your state at the time of testing matches
your state at the time of learning.
Context reinstatement: improved memory performance if we re-create the context that
was in place during learning. Only has an effect because it influences how you think
about the materials to be remembered; it’s these thoughts & the perspective taken during
learning, that matter for memory – not the physical environment per se.
- e.g. participants shown word pairs; supposed to use first word as an aid to remember the
second. Half of the participants were shown words that related (cat & dog) & the other
half were shown rhyming words (cat & hat). At test time, they were given a hint (a
retrieval cue) to help them recall each word. In some trials the questions focused on
meaning, & in others the cue concerned sound.
Results: thinking about meaning over all led to better memory. If the person
thought about meaning at the time of learning, they did better with questions that
asked about meaning. If they thought about sound, they did better with questions
asking about sound.
** Therefore, this shows 2 separate influences on memory working at the same
time: an advantage for thinking about meaning (overall better for memory) & an
advantage for matched learning & test conditions. The advantage for deep
processing is overturned in the case of unmatched vs. matched. Encoding Specificity
- Scuba diver experiment: didn’t just remember the words, also remembered something
about the context in which the learning took place. Of course, if the context had left no
trace in memory, there’d be no way for a return to the context to influence the
participants later on.
- The connections that help you retrieve memories can change the meaning of what is
remembered because “memory + this set of connections” has a different meaning from
“memory + that set of connections”
- Exp: participants read target words (e.g. piano) in 2 contexts (the man lifted the
piano/the man tuned the piano); recording it in memory as either an instrument or a heavy
object. Later, participants were more likely to remember the word if “lifted” had been
used when given the cue “something heavy”, & “something with a nice sound” helped
them remember the word if “tuned” had been used
This is called encoding specificity: what you place into memory is specific to the
stimulus encountered and the context.
- If you’re presented with the stimulus in some other context, you will not be able
to match it with anything you have previously learned – which is actually correct
(like learning “other” & asked later if you were shown the word “the”)
The word “piano” was contained in what the participants learned (like “the”
was contained in “other”), but what was learned was not just the word, it was the
broader, integrated experience: the word as it was understood by the perciever.
The Memory Network
- Nodes are connected in a network via assocations/associative links (lightbulbs turned on
by incoming electricity carried by the wires)
- Nodes receive activation from their neighbours, & as more & more activation arrives at
a particular node, the activation level rises – eventually reaching its response threshold.
At this point the node fires, becoming a source of activation itself & sending energy to
activate its neighbours. This firing causes the node to be “found” within the network.
- Activation is assumed to accumulate, so that 2 subthreshold inputs may summate &
bring the node to threshold. Likewise, if a node has been partially activated recently, it is
already “warmed up” & so a weak input will bring it to threshold.
The process of nodes activating other nodes is known as spreading activation.
- e.g. If asked to recall the capital of South Dakota (Pierre), you may not be able to
remember because you may not be familiar with South Dakota or you may not have
thought about the capital for some time. This weak connection will do a poor job of
carrying the activation, resulting in a weak level of activation at the “Pierre” node, & it
will not reach threshold, & therefore will not be “found”. However, if given the hint “It’s
a man’s name”, this will activate the man’s name node, spreading out from the South
Dakota nodes. Therefore, the Pierre node will now receive more activation & this will
likely be enough to reach threshold. Context Reinstatement
- Underwater example: being underwater will trigger more certain thoughts that may
remind you of learning the list of words, compared to not being underwater. So when
underwater, the nodes for each word will receive more activation (activation from trying
to remember the list + activation from certain thoughts associated with being
- All the above explanations rest on a key assumption: the summation of subthreshold
- Lexical-decision task: participants shown a series of letter sequences on a screen; some
words, some aren’t (e.g. blar or plome). Must hit yes/no depending on whether it is a
word or not. Presumably, they “look up” these letter strings in their “mental dictionary”,
& base their reponse on whether or not they find it. Speed therefore indicates how
quickly they can locate the word in their memory.
e.g. shown a pair of letter strings, yes if both are words & no otherwise. Additionally,
if both were words, sometimes the words were semantically related (nurse, doctor) &
sometimes they were not. For related words, activation of the first word (bread) would
sent some activation to the second (butter). In order to select a response after the first
word, a participant must locate the second word in memory, and the process would be
faster for 2 related words because the 2 word has already received some activation. This
prediction is called semantic priming. The results confirm this.
- However, spreading activation is not the whole story for memory search. First, people
have some degree of control over the starting points for their memory searches, relying
on reasoning processes & executive control. People can also “shut down” some spread of
activation if they are convinced the wrong nodes are being activated.
Different Forms of Memory Testing
- Important implication: retrieval paths will be helpful only if you’re at the appropriate
starting point – this is the basis for context reinstatement.
- In some cases, we want to recall information; we are presented with a retrieval cue that
broadly identifies the info we seek & we need to come up with the info on our own. In
other cases, you draw from your memory via recognition – info presented to you & you
must decide if it is the info you seek or not. (e.g. “I’m sure I’ll recognize the street when I
get there”). - Recall involves memory search, & therefore depends on memory connections.
- Recognition is a “hybrid”. E.g. you’re taking a recognition test, & the 4 word is
“loon”, you might say ‘I remember seeing this word because I remember the image that
came to mind when I saw this word. This is a recognition judgement, but you’re actually
basing your judgement on recall of the earlier episode, therefore it is more likely that you
formed the relevant connections during learning. This is source memory.
Sometimes recognition works differently though – you may instead think “I
don’t recall seeing this word, but it feels very familiar, so I must have seen it
recently & it must have been on the list”. In this case, you do not have source
memory, but you do have a strong sense of familiarity, & you are willing to make
an inference about the source of the info – you atrribute the familiarity to the test.
Familiarity & Source Memory
- Source memory depends on the connections we have talked about all along, & it is
independent of familiarity (e.g. familiarity w/o source memory recognize someone & can
remember how you know them).
Source memory without familiarity: e.g. Capgras syndrome – patient has accurate
memories but no familiarity.
- Also distinguishable biologically: recognition test, participants had to make
“remember/know” distinction by pressing a “remember” button if they recall
encountering the item or pressing a “know” button if they don’t recall the encounter but
just have a feeling that the item must have been on the earlier list. fMRI’s make it clear
that “remembering” an item shows activity in the hippocampus (crucial for memory);
“knowing” an item shows activity in the anterior parahippocampus (crucial for
- Also distinguished during learning – if certain areas (e.g. rhinal cortex) are especially
active during learning, then the stimulus is likely to seem familiar later on. If other areas
(e.g. hippocampal region) are active during learning – high probability of remembering-
Memory Without Awareness
- We can find out if someone remembers a previous event by re-exposing them to the
same event later & assessing whether their response is different than in the first
encounter; specifically we can see whether the first primed the person for the second. If
so, the person must have some sort of memory of the first.
- Participants told to read a list of words w/o knowing they would later be tested, then
later given a lexical-decision task (shown letter strings & told to indicate whether each is
a word or not). Some of these