Principles of Memory

Principles of Memory

Principles of Memory

Principles of Memory


In over 100 years of scientific research on human memory, and nearly 50 years after the so-called cognitive revolution, we have nothing that really constitutes a widely accepted and frequently cited law of memory, and perhaps only one generally accepted principle. The purpose of this monograph is to begin to rectify this situation by proposing 7 principles of human memory that apply to all memory. These principles are qualitative statements of empirical regularities that can serve as intermediary explanations and which follow from viewing memory as a function. They apply to all types of information, to all memory systems, and to all time scales. The principles highlight important gaps in our knowledge, challenge existing organizational views of memory, and suggest important new lines of research.

This volume is intended for people in the field of memory (from advanced undergraduates to seasoned researchers), although it will be of interest to those who would like a comprehensive overview of the fundamental regularities in cognitive functioning.


[These] are my principles, and if you don’t like them … well, I
have others.

—Groucho Marx

1.1 Principles of Memory

In 1976, Robert G. Crowder published a highly regarded book called Principles of Learning and Memory. Among the many reviews, critiques, and commentaries subsequently printed was one by Cohen (1985, p. 248), who noted that “Crowder’s (1976) Principles of Learning and Memory lists no principles.” Bob responded in his usual inimitable style: “I was once criticized for writing a book called Principles of Learning and Memory without ever really coming out and saying what those principles were.… Looking back, I must say Cohen had a point” (Crowder, 1993, p. 146).

The purpose of this monograph is to propose seven principles of human memory that apply to all memory regardless of the type of information, type of processing, hypothetical system supporting memory, or time scale. Although these principles focus on the invariants and empirical regularities of memory, the reader should be forewarned that they are qualitative rather than quantitative, more like regularities in biology than principles of geometry.

Crowder (1993) did propose four principles but concluded that “the more I think about hem, though, the more I realise that these four principles are closely related to one another,” namely, our encoding–retrieval principle (see Chapter 4).

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