Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Eggs, Butter, Milk – Memory Is Not Just A Shopping List!

24.05.2011
Often, the goal of science is to show that things are not what they seem to be. But now, in an article which will be published in an upcoming issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, a veteran cognitive psychologist exhorts his colleagues in memory research to consult the truth of their own experience.

“Cognitive psychologists are trying to be like physicists and chemists, which means doing controlled laboratory experiments, getting numbers out of them and explaining the numbers,” says Douglas L. Hintzman, now retired from the University of Oregon. The lion’s share of experiments, he says, involve giving people lists of words and asking them to remember the words.

“Researchers often completely forget that they have memories and they can see how their memories work from the inside,” he continues, “—and that this may be very relevant to the theory they are developing.”

Reviewing the literature in his field and the experimental models that have come in and gone out of fashion over the last half-century, Hintzman concludes that these simple experimental tasks, observed in isolation from one another, yield theories that are so oversimplified as to fundamentally misrepresent the nature of memory.

For instance, he says, these word-list tasks make it look as if we only remember when we intentionally put our minds to it— yet we all experience spontaneous memories, many times every day.

Also, because these experiments take place in short sessions, researchers ignore the obvious fact that memory is about personal history, and history is laid out in time. Memory, then, is basic to our understanding of time.

The preference for so-called theoretical parsimony—the idea that a theory should be no more complex than necessary—leads memory scientists up the wrong path, he writes: “The breadth of a theory is at least as important as its precision. Indeed, if we take the theory of evolution as our standard, breadth would appear to be far more important.”

Contemplating evolution, Hintzman has come to believe that a crucial role is played by what he calls “involuntary reminding”—the process by which current experiences evoke memories of earlier experiences, creating a coherent record of our interactions with the environment.

“Animals—mammals in particular—evolved in a complex world in which patterns of related events are distributed over time. It’s essential for survival that you learn about these patterns.” Humans have developed the additional ability to learn and retrieve memories deliberately, he continues. But “the evolutionary purpose of memory is revealed” by these everyday remindings, “not by what typically goes on in the lab.”

In this article, Hintzman does not outline a research program for the future, but urges memory researchers and theorists to consider the wide variety of things that memory does for us. “Our ancestors’ survival,” he writes, “did not hinge on their ability to remember shopping lists. Hunter-gatherers take what they can find.”

For more information about this study, please contact: Douglas L. Hintzman at hintzman@uoregon.edu.

Perspectives on Psychological Science is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information. It publishes an eclectic mix of thought-provoking articles on the latest important advances in psychology. For a copy of the article "Research Strategy in the Study of Memory: Fads, Fallacies, and the Search for the ‘Coordinates of Truth" and access to other Perspectives on Psychological Science research findings, please contact Divya Menon at 202-293-9300 or dmenon@psychologicalscience.org.

Divya Menon | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.psychologicalscience.org

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University

nachricht New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Contacting the molecular world through graphene nanoribbons

19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

When Proteins Shake Hands

19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

Cells communicate in a dynamic code

19.02.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>