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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,

primary 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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