The memory chapter often proves to be one of the most useful for students new to psychology. While some of the information is technical, most of it has direct application to our lives and we can use much of the information immediately. Other aspects of memory such as amnesia and other memory disorders are fascinating.
The current models of memory are analogous to a computer. In our sensory memory (which is super short-lived) we encode the input we receive from the world around us. One of the fascinating new avenues of research regarding schizophrenia revolves around the problems of encoding and filtering the sensory input received in this stage.
Information then passes to our short-term memory where we must process the information if it is to pass to long-term memory. Failure to process the information, often by rehearsal of some type, means that the information never gets to our long-term (hard drive) storage.
Theoretically, everything we have ever learned is in our long-term memory. Of course, retrieval can be a problem and as a practical matter, if we can't retrieve it, the information is of little value.
There are many strategies mentioned in the text that can help us retrieve information more efficiently. There are also many strategies mentioned for better processing in that short-tem area. Paying attention is the first skill in memory development. Frequently when we forget something, we never really remembered it in the first place because we didn't really pay attention. Remember the last time that you forgot someone's name to whom you had just been introduced. Chances are that you didn't really pay attention in the first place. Thus you didn't truly forget. You never remembered.
The size limits of the short-term memory are also pertinent when studying. We can only hold 7 bits of information (plus or minus 2). Thus we need to group information or chunk it in order to better remember. Why are phone numbers only seven digits? And what happened in Maryland when we had to dial the area code as well, making 10 digits to remember.
Giving an item meaning by associating it with something we already know is another device for improving memory. What's your favorite memory trick?
One of the most interesting aspects of memory to me is what is called a FLASHBULB MEMORY. Flashbulb memories are those moments that are captured in our memory much like a photograph from our camera. People think that they remember vivid details about these events. Some flashbulb moments studied by researchers include the Kennedy assassination and the Challenger disaster. People will swear that they remember exactly where they were and all the details. Yet when researchers look at people's flashbulb memories, they tend to be unreliable. Instead what we remember is formed by what we see on television or hear in the news. The question then becomes whether or not these are actual memories or whether they are reconstructions.
What is your earliest memory? Is it really a memory or have you constructed a memory from family pictures and stories? Interesting questions. How could we test this?