Fading Memories of Television Past

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Fading remembrances of television past

A psychologist has come up with a happy ending for the plethora of prime-time television programs axes after one year on the major networks. He uses them to illuminate the nature of long-term memory over as many as 15 years.

His findings establish for the first time that forgetting can be gradual and continuous for many years after learning, particularly if there was limited, intermittent exposure to the learned material, reports Larry R. Squire of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in San Diego, in the March JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY: LEARNING, MEMORY AND COGNITION.

Squire devised a multiple-choice test based on one-season television shows aired from one to 15 years previously. He administered the test to a different group of 20 to 32 subjects for nine consecutive years, from 1978 to 1986. Each annual test contained an average of 70 questions and was updated to include canceled programs from the prior year. The test asked people to choose a former show from four titles, three of them fabricated.

A question for the year 1974, for example, provides the following choices: "Mandrake," "Shipmates," "Private Nelson" and "Lucas Tanner. …