Memory can be defined as ‘the mental faculty that enables one to retain and recall previously experienced sensations, impressions, information, and ideas’ (Farlex, c.2011). Memories give meaning to our lives and are one of the most important ways by which our histories animate our current actions and experiences. Remembering is often suffused with emotion, and is closely involved in both extended affective states such as love and grief, and socially significant practices such as promising and commemorating. Memory is essential for much reasoning and decision-making, both individual and collective (Ornstein & Carstensen, 1991).
The subject of memory has intrigued psychologists for over a ...view middle of the document...
The recency effect states that we can recall a word at the beginning of a list 70% of the time, words in the middle less than 20% and words at the end almost 100% (Loftus and Loftus, 1975). It is said, however, that counting backwards from 10 between the end of the presentation of the list and the start of recall inhibits the recency effect. Counting backwards may be a source of interference, or it may divert attention away from the information in short term memory (Reitman, 1974).
In 1924 Jenkins & Dallenbach used Ebbinghaus’ curve as the basis for an experiment relating to memory and sleep. Following the memorisation of a list of nonsense syllables one group was allowed to sleep, while the second was required to stay awake. Both groups were tested for recall at the same time. The results showed that the group which slept retained more of the nonsense syllables than those who stayed awake. The most likely explanation for this is that the group who stayed awake had experiences which interfered with retention. In this case, new information interfered with previous memories. This is called retroactive interference. Proactive interference, on the other hand, occurs when previous knowledge interferes with present memory. Generally, there are two factors relating to interference. Firstly, the more similar the items are the more interference will occur and secondly the longer the interval between the events, the less interference will occur (Ornstein & Carstensen, 1991).
Declarative or explicit memory contains information about which we can verbalize our belief that is true or false (Tulving, 1984). For example, you could say that you did play sport as a child or, no, you did not. Declarative memory can be further broken down into Episodic Memory and Semantic memory. Episodic memory stores autobiographical information such as thoughts, feelings and things that happen to us, whereas Semantic Memory is more like an encyclopaedia - it consists of the symbols we use to think and communicate, for example the meaning of words (Johnston, 2006) Dissimilarly, semantic memory stores our knowledge independent of context, while episodic memory is based on time and context (Tulving, 1972). Procedural or implicit memory is also contained in the memory system and consists of the rules for operating, for example how to cycle a bike or tie your shoelaces. Procedural memory, unlike declarative memory is not easily verbalised. In other words, it is easier said than done.
One is more likely to remember a higher amount of detail about their circumstances in a dramatic, life-altering or life-threatening situation than usual. These vivid memories are called flashbulb memories (Brown & Kulik, 1977). The first explanation for this is that the strength of the memory of the person involved increases because of the heightened amount of stress at the time of the event (Craik, 1989). The second proposed mechanism is that we recall these memories with such detail because...