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Memory Essay, Research Paper
Memory is defined as the faculty by which sense impressions and
information are retained in the mind and subsequently recalled. A person?
s capacity to remember and the total store of mentally retained
impressions and knowledge also formulate memory. (Webster, 1992)
?We all possess inside our heads a system for declassifying, storing and
retrieving information that exceeds the best computer capacity,
flexibility, and speed. Yet the same system is so limited and unreliable
that it cannot consistently remember a nine-digit phone number long enough
to dial it? (Baddeley, 1993). The examination of human behavior reveals
that current activities are inescapably linked by memories. General
?competent? (1993) behavior requires that certain past events have effect
on the influences in the present. For example, touching a hot stove would
cause a burn and therefore memory would convey a message to not repeat
again. All of this is effected by the development of short-term memory
(STM) and long-term memory (LTM).
Memories can be positive, like memories of girlfriends and special
events, or they can be negative, such as suppressed memories. Sexual
abuse of children and
adolescents is known to cause severe psychological and emotional damage.
Adults who were sexually abused in childhood are at a higher risk for
developing a variety of psychiatric disorders, anxiety disorders,
personality disorders, and mood disorders. To understand the essential
issues about traumatic memory, the human mind?s response to a traumatic
event must first be understood. The memory is made up of many different
sections with each having different consequences on one another.
Can people remember what they were wearing three days ago? Most likely
no, because the memory only holds on to what is actively remembered.
What a person was wearing is not important so it is thrown out and
forgotten. This type of unimportant information passes through the
short-term memory. ?Short-term memory is a system for storing information
over brief intervals of time.? (Squire, 1987) It?s main characteristic is
the holding and understanding of limited amounts of information. The
system can grasp brief ideas which would otherwise slip into oblivion,
hold them, relate them and understand them for its own purpose. (1987)
Another aspect of STM was introduced by William James in 1890, under the
name ?primary memory? (Baddeley, 1993). Primary memory refers to the
information that forms the focus of current attention and that occupies
the stream of thought. ?This information does not need to be brought back
to mind in order to be used? (1993). Compared to short-term memory,
places less emphasis on time and more emphasis on the parts of attention,
processing, and holding. No matter what it is called, this system is used
when someone hears a telephone number and remembers it long enough to
write it down. (Squire, 1987)
Luckily, a telephone number only consists of seven digits or else no one
would be able to remember them. Most people can remember six or seven
digits while others only four or five and some up to nine or ten. This is
measured by a technique called the digit span, developed by a London
school teacher, J. Jacobs, in 1887. Jacobs took subjects (people),
presented them with a sequence of digits and required them to repeat the
numbers back in the same order. The length of the sequence is steadily
increased until a point is reached at which the subject always fails. The
part at which a person is right half the time is defined as their digit
span. A way to improve a digit span is through rhythm which helps to
reduce the tendency to recall the numbers in the wrong order. Also, to
make sure a telephone number is copied correctly, numbers can be grouped
in twos and threes instead of given all at once. (Baddeley, 1993)
Another part of short-term memory is called chunking, used for the
immediate recall of letters rather than numbers. When told to remember
and repeat the letters q s v l e r c i i u k, only a person with an
excellent immediate memory would be able to do so. But, if the same
letters were given this way, q u i c k s i l v e r, the results would be
different. What is the difference between the two sequences? The first
were 11 unrelated letters, and the second were chunked into two words
which makes this task easier. (1993)
?Short-term memory recall is slightly better for random numbers than for
random letters, which sometimes have similar sounds. It is better for
information heard rather than seen. Still, the basic principals hold
true: At any given moment, we can process only a very limited amount of
information.” (Myers, 1995)
The next part in the memory process involves the encoding and merging of
information from short-term into long-term memory. Long-term memory is
understood as having three separate stages: transfer, storage, and
retrieval. Once information has entered LTM, with a size that appears to
be essentially unlimited, it is maintained by repetition or organization.
A major part of the transfer process concerns how learned information is
coded into memory. Long-term and short-term memory are thought to have
different organizations. Where the STM is seen as being organized by
time, LTM is organized by meaning and association then put into
categories. For example, our memory takes in Coke and Pepsi as drinks
then organizes and puts them in categories such as soda. An important
role in the transferring of information into long-term memory is
The critical aspect is the type of rehearsal or processing that takes
place during the input time. ?Simple repetition, which serves only to
maintain the immediate availability of an item, does little if anything to
enhance subsequent recall. Active processes such as elaboration,
transformation, and recoding are activities that have been found to
enhance recall.” (Asken, 1987)
Information that is stored in LTM is stored in the same form as it was
originally encoded. Major forms of storage are episodic memory and
semantic memory. Episodic memory involves remembering particular
incidents, such as visiting the doctor a week ago. Semantic memory
concerns knowledge about the world. It holds meanings of words or any
general information learned. Knowledge of the capitals of all the states
would be stored in semantic memory. A Canadian psychologist, Endel
Tulving discovered that there was more activity in the front of the brain
when episodic memories were being retrieved, compared to more activity
towards the back of the brain with semantic memory.
Retrieval, the third process related to LTM, is the finding and retrieving
of information from long-term storage. The cues necessary to retrieve
information from memory are the same cues that were used to encode the
For some, positive memories are recalled through music. Certain songs
remind people of special times spent with friends. Couples sometimes have
songs that remind them of their time spent together. Everyone has some
way of remembering good times from the past.
Along with positive memories come the negative ones, which are suppressed
deep in our minds. Another word for negative is traumatic, an experience
beyond ?the range of usual human experience,? (Sidran Foundation, 1994)
and is brought about with intense fear, terror and helplessness. Examples
include a serious threat to one?s life (or that of one?s children, spouse,
etc.), rape, military combat, natural or accidental disasters, and
So how does trauma affect memory? People use their natural ability to
avoid concern of a traumatic experience while the trauma is happening.
This causes the memories about the traumatic events to emerge later.
People with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who have survived
horrific events experience extreme recall of the event. Some people say
they are haunted by memories of traumatic experiences that disrupt their
daily lives. They cannot get the pictures of the trauma out of their
head. This brings recurring nightmares, flashbacks, or even reliving the
trauma as if it were happening now. Vietnam veterans experience this
symptom because of what
they saw and lived through. Some researchers have proven in the
laboratory that ordinary or slightly stressful memories are easily
distorted. However, this laboratory research on ordinary memory may be
irrelevant in regard to memories of traumatic experiences. Other
scientists argue that traumatic memories are different from ordinary
memories in the way they are encoded in the brain. Evidence shows trauma
is stored in the part of the brain called the limbic system, which
processes feelings and sensory input, but not language or speech. (1994)
People who have been traumatized may live with memories of terror, though
with little or no real memories to explain the feelings. Sometimes a
current event may trigger long forgotten memories of earlier trauma. The
triggers may be any sound or smell like a particular cologne which was
worn by an attacker.
Whether remembered or not, the memories are stored in the brain, and today
with hypnosis, recall can bring forth what has been deeply suppressed.
The question is, does one really want to know what is not remembered?
Along with memories that are recovered, comes the effects that follow.
Short-term memory holds every experience encountered, while long-term
memory retains only what’s important. Memory is stored through episodic
and semantic memory. The retrieval of decoded information occurs the same
way it was
encoded. Memory is affected through positive and negative emotions, some
remembered others suppressed. Not only is memory used to dwell in the
past, it also helps formulate the present and the future.
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