Measuring Adult Memory: The Development and Validation of a New Instrument to Measure Long-Term Memory in Adults

Article excerpt

An instrument measuring visual memory span in long term memory was tested on 239 community dwelling adults, aged 55-94 years, using 24 color photographs of common household objects, which were recalled ten minutes later. Significant correlations were found between the number of images recalled adage, level of education, level of income, intelligence, sex and social activity. Positions of images exhibited strong relationships with recall. The instrument has potential in clarifying memory span issues regarding development, gender, depression, spatial properties and efficacy of adult instructional methods.

Introduction: An emerging context for research

Ultimately, all that we do in adult education or anyother form of education rests upon the changes that are created in the brain. If no changes were made, nothing was learned. Learning is the creation of memory. If there is no memory, then the mind has nothing with which to work, no foundation for intelligent action. Learning, cognitive neuroscientists tell us, is built upon the chemical changes in the nerves and supporting cells (Gazzangia, et al. 1998). How long a memory lasts seems to be determined by changes in the nerve's synaptic wiring and glial support cell structures. However, many variables are frequently controlled by the instructor and deeply influence the changes in the brain and hence their memory. It follows that if effective learning is to occur, it becomes necessary that educators learn something of how the brain/mind functions. Regardless of the specific educational role of adult educators, we are basically interacting with each other's brains and the mind, which is an expression of the brain's function. But as educators, what do we know about how it works? Few educators appear to have any functional understanding of the mind/brain systems and how they interact with instructional methods; the resulting deficit suggests that our teaching is probably somewhat less than optimal.

Educational and psychological research has moved far from B.F. Skinner's behaviorist positions where the brain didn't matter (Kelso, 1996). Psychology lacked a biological foundation when the brain was ignored, along with its evolutionary development. In the past two decades an amalgamation of cognitive psychology, biology, neuroscience, chemistry, and physics has formed a new field called Cognitive Neuroscience. This interdisciplinary field permits researchers to explore the exceedingly complex issues of the brain and mind. Our knowledge and understanding the brain/ mind systems have changed enormously in the past few decades. Researchers are beginning to realize that even the cognitive approach to learning is inadequate, or as John Ratey (1999) of Harvard Medical School stated, "Everything matters." Major cognitive theories on working memory, systems for attention, and learning being inextricably bound with emotions were supported by physical evidence from the Cognitive Neurosciences (Damasio 1994: LeDoux, 1996).

With this vast wealth of new knowledge, major implications for both public and adult education have arisen. The following samples are some of the potentially relevant discoveries, each of which may affect the ability of the adult to learn: the role of emotions in the creation of memory, hormonal shifts (such as during or after menopause) that may alter both memory and attention (LeDoux, 1996); brain alternations which result from exposure to drugs or violence (Newberger, 1999; Volavka, 1995); the apparent generation of neurons in the brain's cortex throughout life impacts the ability to learn, as well as recovery from brain injury (Gould, 1999); the level of social and physical activity has an impact upon cognitive function (Rowe & Kahn, 1998); the probable existence of a "smart" gene; and the ability of the environmental conditions to switch brain genes on or off (Koslk, 2000). These discoveries, as well the numerous sexual differences in the mind's processing of language and shapes, represent a few of the areas that have witnessed extensive elaboration in the past decade. …