Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Eggs, butter, milk: Memory is not just a shopping list

Date:
May 24, 2011
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
Often, the goal of science is to show that things are not what they seem to be. But now, in a new article, a veteran cognitive psychologist exhorts his colleagues in memory research to consult the truth of their own experience.

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."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. D. L. Hintzman. Research Strategy in the Study of Memory: Fads, Fallacies, and the Search for the 'Coordinates of Truth'. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2011; 6 (3): 253 DOI: 10.1177/1745691611406924

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Eggs, butter, milk: Memory is not just a shopping list." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110523171109.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2011, May 24). Eggs, butter, milk: Memory is not just a shopping list. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110523171109.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Eggs, butter, milk: Memory is not just a shopping list." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110523171109.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Monday, July 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

Newsy (July 25, 2014) An online quiz from a required course at Ohio State is making waves for suggesting atheists are inherently smarter than Christians. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins