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Chapter 6: Memory Processes. Some Questions of Interest. What have cognitive psychologists discovered regarding how we encode information for storing it in memory? What affects our ability to retrieve information from memory? How does what we know or what we learn affect what we remember?

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Chapter 6: Memory Processes

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Chapter 6: Memory Processes

Some Questions of Interest

  • What have cognitive psychologists discovered regarding how we encode information for storing it in memory?

  • What affects our ability to retrieve information from memory?

  • How does what we know or what we learn affect what we remember?

  • How does memory develop with age?

Encoding Processes

  • Creating an acoustic code

    • What it sounds like

  • Creating a semantic code

    • What it means

  • Creating a visual code

    • What it looks like

Encoding Types and STM

  • Type of code may rely on type of task

  • Encoding in STM is primarily acoustic

    • although semantic and visual encoding can occur

Evidence for Acoustic Encoding in STM

  • Conrad (1964)

    • Visually present a series of letters briefly

    • Immediately write the letters viewed once series is complete (try it; starts on next click)

Write down










Results: Conrad (1964)

  • You viewed: B C F M N P N S T V

  • What errors did you make?

    • F for S

    • B for V

    • P for B

  • Not visual errors

    • e.g., E for F, O for Q, R for P

  • Thus, we encode items acoustically even when presented visually

Evidence for semantic encoding in STM

  • Shulman (1970)

  • Participants viewed 10-word lists then recognition test using visually represented “probe words,”

    • homonyms - e.g., “bawl” for “ball”;

    • synonyms - e.g., “talk” for “speak”; or

    • identical to the original word

  • The homonym and synonym probes produced similar error rates

  • equal amount of acoustic and semantic processing must be taking place

Evidence for visual encoding in STM

Posner & Keele (1967)

  • Letter-matching task with two letters separated by brief interval

  • Participant had to indicate if same letter

    • A-a= yes

    • A-A= yes

    • A-M = no

  • If letters were the same visually (a-a), participants were faster than if the letters were not the same visually (A-a)

  • Encoding Types and LTM

    • Remember the list??

    Encoding Types and LTM

    • Type of code may rely on type of task

    • Encoding in LTM is primarily semanticalthough other types of encoding can occur

    Semantic Encoding in LTM

    • Grossman & Eagle (1970)

      Study 41 different words, recognition test after delay

      • 9 of the distractors were semantically related to words on list

      • 9 of the distractors were not

        False alarms for each type: 1.83 of synonyms, but only 1.05 of unrelated

    Visual Encoding in LTM

    • Frost (1972)

      • Participants studied 16 drawings, manipulated visual orientation and semantic category

        • After a delay, participants were asked if they had studied an object with the same name as the test object

        • Reaction time was measured

      • Participants responded faster to identical drawings than drawings in a different orientation

    Acoustic Encoding in LTM

    • Evidence of very long-term memory for songs

    • Rubin (1977)

      • Participants recall more of the text when provided with the melody of a well-learned song (“Star Spangled Banner”) than when given no cue

    Transfer from STM to LTM

    • Consolidation

      • Integrating new information into stored information

    • Disruption of consolidation is studied in amnesiacs

      • ECT patients (Squire)

    Principles to Strengthen Memory

    • Metamemory

    • Elaborative rehearsal vs. maintenance rehearsal

    • Distributed practice vs. massed practice

      • “Spacing effect”

    • Organizing information enhances memory

    What Causes the Spacing Effect?

    Sleep and Memory Consolidation

    Encoding Specificity

    • Memory is improved when information available at encoding is also available at retrieval

    Encoding Specificity Tulving & Thompson (1973)

    1st study list: learn target words in capital letters



    grasp BABY

    2nd free association: generate 6 words for each word presented

    WordPossible generations

    darklight, black, room….

    infant sleeping, bottle, baby….

    3rdrecognition test: circle any generated words that were in the study list in capital letters

    Word Possible generations

    darklight, black, room….

    infant sleeping, bottle, baby….

    4th recall: recall the words from the study list in capital letters, using these cues that they were studied with

    WordPossible generations


    head ________

    Tulving & Thompson (1973) Results


    They recalled more than they recognized!

    Percentage of Words

    Recalled / Recognized



    Free Association

    Recognition Test

    Study List

    Recall Test

    Encoding Specificity

    • Tulving (1983)

      • People encode the context with the target material

        • Physical match (class, diving, smell)

        • Emotional match (happy, depressed)

        • Understanding match (childhood amnesia, under the influence of drugs match)

    Mnemonic Devices to Aid Memory

    • Categorical clustering

    • Interactive images

    • Pegword system

    • Method of loci

    • Acronyms

    • Acrostics

    • Keyword system

    Which Mnemonic Is the Best?

    • Roediger (1980)

    Retrieval Processes

    • Multiple processes can be used to enhance retrieval

      • Different strategies are used for STM and LTM

      • Matching the type of processes at encoding with retrieval increases success


    Studying Searching in STM

    • Saul Sternberg (1967)

      • Memorize a set of numbers (6,3,8,2,7)

      • Shown a probe digit

      • Participant must indicate if the probe was in the set

      • RT is measured




    Sternberg (1967)

    • Possible result patterns

      • A represents parallel processing

      • B illustrates serial processing

      • C illustrates exhaustive serial processing

      • D illustrates self-terminating serial processing

    Retrieval from LTM

    Randomized list:

    Organized list:


    Europe Americas

    England Italy USA Canada

    London Rome Washington Ottawa

    Liverpool Florence Dallas Montreal







    Theories about Forgetting

    • Interference theory

      • Proactive: old memories interfere with recall of new information

      • Retroactive: new memories interfere with recall of old information

    • Decay theory

      • Memory is weakened with disuse

      • Simply passage of time…

    Serial Position Curve

    Interference vs. decay

    • Trigrams were forgotten by 18 seconds

    • retroactive interference of counting backward

    Proactive Interference from LTM

    • Information previously learned (List A) interferes with retrieval of List B


    Retroactive Interference from LTM

    • Information learned afterward interferes with retrieval of List A

    Bransford & Johnson (1972)

    Gave people passages to read, with or without a title…

    The procedure is actually quite simple. First you arrange things into different groups. Of course, one pile may be sufficient depending on how much there is to do. If you have to go somewhere else due to lack of facilities, that is the next step; otherwise, you are pretty well set. It is important not to overdo things. That is, it is better to do too few things at once than too many. In the short run, this may not seem important, but complications can easily arise. It is difficult to foresee any end to the necessity for this task in the immediate future, but then one never can tell. After the procedure is completed, one arranges the materials into different groups again. They can be put into their appropriate places. Eventually, they will be used once more and the whole cycle will then have to be repeated.

    Owens, Bower, & Black (1979)

    Nancy arrived at the cocktail party. She looked around the room to see who was there. She went to talk with her professor. She felt she had to talk to him but was a little nervous about just what to say. A group of people started to play charades. Nancy went over and had some refreshments. The hors d’oevres were good, but she was interested in talking to the rest of the people at the party. After a while, she decided she’d had enough and left the party.

    Some participants also heard that passage but w/this theme:

    Nancy woke up feeling sick, and she wondered if she really were pregnant. How could she tell the professor she had been seeing? And the money was another problem.

    Owens, Bower, & Black (1979) Results

    • The “theme” offered some background information and some retrieval cues, which increased recall.

    • also led to more intrusions such as, “The professor got Nancy pregnant.”

    Autobiographical Memory

    • Memory of personal history

    • Constructive in nature

    Flashbulb Memories

    • Where were you when the…

      • Challenger explosion occurred?

      • OJ verdict was read?

      • JFK was assassinated?

      • Bombing of the World Trade Center?

    • Tested immediate memory for Challenger disaster and then again 3 years later

      • little agreement with the two “memories,”despite the confidence of the participants

    Emotion and Memory

    • There is a strong relationship (.90) between the emotionality and vividness of memory

      • Does not mean accurate!!

    • Emotional events less resistant to forgetting over time…

    Extraordinary Autobiographical Memory

    • A Woman Remembers What She Did Every Day for Decades

    Schacter’s “Seven Sins of Memory”

    • Memories are transient (fade with time)

    • We do not remember what we do not pay attention to

    • Our memories can be temporarily blocked

    • We can misattribute the source of memory

    • We are suggestible in our memories

    • We can show memory distortion (bias)

    • We often fail to forget the things we would like not to recall (persistence of memory)

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