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.

Related Articles


"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 October 24, 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 October 24, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, October 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, a new investigation found. (Oct. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Feast your eyes on this gorgeous family-friendly resort. Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Your Favorite Color Says About You

What Your Favorite Color Says About You

Buzz60 (Oct. 22, 2014) We all have one color we love to wear, and believe it or not, your color preference may reveal some of your character traits. In celebration of National Color Day, Krystin Goodwin (@kyrstingoodwin) highlights what your favorite colors may say about you. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. 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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

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