“The only real treasure is in your head. Memories are better than diamonds and nobody can steal them from you” by Rodman Philbrick, The Last Book in the Universe. If we think about what life is made up, we can say that memories build life. We save all the important and happy events that occurred in our lives as well as the most sad and worst moments. It is said that the brain is the most powerful part of humans, but as part of the brain, memory is an essential piece of it. As I mentioned before, memories build life, each day we put on practice what we have learned and live. I believe that in life we don’t have anything secure but our memories, once we die we don’t take anything we have right now. When we remember happy moments we have live, it’s like re-living them again and feeling the joy we felt at the moment.
I decided to choose the memory as the topic of my Psychology class essay because from a while ago I started to have issues with my memory. At first I thought it was because of the problems that I was going through at the time, and also preparing for college. Time passed and I still was having trouble with remembering stuff, I came to think it was a hereditary health problem because my dad and grandmother never remember something. I feel frustrated because without a memory is like we never have lived, we constantly live through memories. Remembering what we have gone through and manage to take a positive attitude even if the memory brings us negative feelings.
In this essay I will cover specific topics about the memory which is “the retention of information or experience over time as the result of three key processes: encoding, storage, and retrieval”, according to Laura A. King in Experience Psychology. Throughout the essay I will discuss the basic memory process, also I will talk about the different stages of memory as well as the different types of memory, along with the explanations of when the memory fails (forgetting). In my opinion these three subjects are very essential part to understand how the memory works and find the explanation of why we forget things, which is my case. But also relate these topics to our daily lives. To begin with, I will explain the process of memory so later on I can discuss the different possibilities of why we forget.
The first step in the process of memory is called encoding which is the processing information into memory accordingly to a Sparknotes article, Memory. For instance, we might remember where we ate in the morning even if we didn’t try remembering it but in the contrary it is possible that we are going to be able to remember the material in textbooks we covered during elementary school, high school or even more recent in college. It is stated that in the process of memory encoding, we have to pay attention to the information so we can later recall all the information. In the content of Memory, the second step in memory process is storage, the retention of information over time and how this information is represented in memory (King). In this process is often use the Atkinson-Shiffrin theory that is made up of three separate systems: sensory memory- time frames of a fraction of a second to several seconds, short-term memory- time frames up to 30 seconds and long-term memory- time frames up to life time (King). The third and last step of this course is memory retrieval, the process of information getting out of storage.
Likewise, I will explain the first stage of memory called sensory memory or immediate memory. As stated in Experience Psychology, the sensory memory holds information from the world in its original sensory form for only an instant, not much longer that a brief time. In this stage of memory the “five” senses are used to hold the information accurately. In Sensory Memory by Luke Mastin, the stimulus that is detected by our senses has two options, it can either be ignored meaning it would go away at the instance or it can be perceived staying in our memory. As I mentioned before, our senses are being used in the sensory memory stage and have their specific name for example when we perceived the information through our vision it is called iconic memory also referred as visual sensory memory. The iconic memory holds an image only for about ¼ of a second. Not only but also, we also have the echoic memory which refers to auditory sensory memory, this function is in charge to hold part of what we listen/hear.
For instance, when the professor is dictating a subject, we are trying to write fast so we can hold on all the information given at the moment and not forget what the professor said. Another stage of memory is called the short-term memory (STM), according to a web article Short-Term Memory, of Luke Bastin, the short-term memory is responsible for storing information temporarily and determining if it will be dismissed or transferred on to our third stage called long-term memory. Short-term memory sometimes is associated with working memory, which is a newer concept that the British psychologist Alan Baddeley came up with. Although working memory emphasizes in the brain’s manipulation and how it collects information so we can easily make decisions as well solve problems and mostly understand the information. It said that the working memory is not as passive as the short-term memory but both have limited capacity to retained information. Additionally to this stage, we have the finding of George Miller which wrote in his book called The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two. In this book Miller talks about two different situations. The first kind of situation is called absolute judgment which states that a person should correctly differentiate between very similar items such as shades of green and high/low-pitched tones.
The second situation states that a person must recall items presented in a sequence, meaning that a person must retain certain number of chunks in their short-term memory. King also mentions that to improve short-term memory we consider two ways of doing it, chunking and rehearsal. According to King, chunking involves grouping or packing information that exceeds the 7 ± 2 memory span into higher-order units that can be remembered as single units. For example, when the professor is dictating a list of things like: cold, water, oxygen, air, rain and snow, we are likely able to recall all words or even better all six words instead of having a list like: S IXFL AGSG REATA MERI CA. When we have a list like that it will be harder to remember it because none of the six chunk words make sense, but if we re-chunk the letters we get “Six Flags Great America”, and that way we have better chance to remember it. The second way to improve our short-term memory is by rehearsal, actually there are two types of rehearsal, maintenance rehearsal and elaborative rehearsal. Maintenance rehearsal is the repeating of things over and over; usually we use this type of rehearsal. In the other hand, we have the elaborative rehearsal which is the organizing, thinking about, and linking new material to existing memories.
Continuing with the stages of memory, now I will talk about the third stage which is the long-term memory. In the article, What Is Long-Term Memory? by Kendra Cherry, long-term memory (LTM) refers to the continuing storage of information. In difference of the other two stages of memory, LTM memories can last for a couple of days to as long as many years. LTM is divided into types of memory, declarative (explicit) memory and procedural (implicit) memory. Later on I will explain in detail what are these two types of memory. Now that I have gone through the three stages of memory which are sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory, I will discuss the different types of memory. The different types of memory rely on the long-term memory section, the first type of memory that I will talk about is explicit memory also known as declarative memory. This type of memory “is the conscious recollection of information, such as specific facts and events and, at least in humans, information that can be verbally communicated” (Tulving 1989, 2000).
Some examples when we use our explicit memory is when we try to remember our phone number, writing a research paper or recalling what time and date is our appointment with our doctor. It said that this process type of memory is one of the most used in our daily lives, as we constant remember the tasks that we have to do in our day. In another article by Kendra Cherry called Implicit and Explicit Memory, Two Types of Long-Term Memory, informs us about two major subtypes that falls into the explicit memory. One is called episodic memories which are memories of specific episodes of our life such as our high school graduation, our first date, our senior prom and so on. The second subsystem of explicit memory is the semantic memory; this type of memory is in charge to recall specific factual information like names, ideas, seasons, days of the month, dates, etc. I can easily remember my quienceañera party, it was May 24, 2008, at this exact moment I can recall what was the first thing I did when I woke up that and also what I did before sleeping but there are episodes on that day that I’m not able to remember.
Moreover, I will discuss the second type of memory which is implicit memory. Stated by King, implicit memory is the memory which behavior is affected by prior experience without a conscious recollection of that experience, in other words things we remember and do without thinking about them. Some examples of our implicit memories are driving a car, typing on a keyboard, brushing our teeth, and singing a familiar song. Within the implicit memory we have three subtypes; the first one is the procedural memory that according to King is a type of implicit memory process that involves memory for skills. The procedural memory process basically is the main base of the implicit memory, since all of us unconsciously do many things throughout the day, like I mentioned before driving a car or simply dress ourselves to go to school, work or wherever we have to go.
The other substype of implicit memory is the classical conditioning which involves learning a new behavior via the process of association, it is said that two stimuli are linked together to produce a new learned response. For instance, phobias are a classical conditioning as the Little Albert Experiment result was. I personally I’m more than afraid to spiders, in other words my phobia is called arachnophobia which can be control and learn to overcome the fear and anxiety it gives me every time I see a spider or even think about a spider. The last subsystem of the implicit memory process is the priming, Kings states that priming is the activation of information that people already have in storage to help them remember new information better and faster. Priming it is sometimes called recognition memory; an example of priming is when little kids are learning colors, they associate two things such as apple and color red. To learn the red color they will remember the apple and it would be easier for them. Furthermore, I will talk about what I think is the most important part of my essay that is forgetting.
As I said at beginning of my essay I have experienced difficulties with my memory, I forget simple things. For instance, in daily bases my mom gives me a message to give my dad or sisters or just asks me to do something for her, I say yes I will do it but later on I totally forget. Before taking this class, I believe that the reason I forget things, it is because I’m distracted at the time and didn’t paid attention so that’s why later I’m not able to remember it. Now that I have taken the class and researched the topic I found reasons of why we forget things, one reason is the retrieval failure, that is the failure process of accessing stored memories. It is what we do when we have exams; we try to remember what we have learned/study and we just don’t remember anything. Within the retrieval failure we have what is called interference theory, it is the theory that people forget not because memories are lost from storage but because other information gets in the way of what they want to remember (King).
There are two kinds of interference that can be a possible reason of forgetting, are is called proactive and retroactive. In the proactive interference occurs when the current information is lost because it is mixed up with previously learned, similar information. This happens to me when I try to study two different subjects right after another, I get confused about both subjects and sometimes I even stop studying because I’m not able to focus and understand the material. The second type of retroactive interference is when the new information interferes with the old information memories, an example of it is when at jobs we learned a new task but forget older tasks.
Moving forward, we have another possible cause of forgetting is called decay theory. In another article by Kendra Cherry, Explanations for Forgetting, Reason Why We Forget, decay theory is a memory trace that is created every time a new theory is formed. The only problem is that over time this trace disappears. The failure to store is also a possible reason that causes us to forget, this is because encoding failures sometimes prevent information from entering long-term memory (Cherry). In conclusion, I believe that one of the most essential part of the brain is our memory. We can have billions of dollars and buy anything we want but at the end the only thing we are taking of us is what we have live (memories). We need memories in our life not just to drive from A place to B place or to get the right answer to pass an exam but to remember who we are and what people we have by our side. To revive all the moments we encounter happiness and even sadness, “memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose” from the television show The Wonder Year.