memory (in psychology)

memory, in psychology, the storing of learned information, and the ability to recall that which has been stored. It has been hypothesized that three processes occur in remembering: perception and registering of a stimulus; temporary maintenance of the perception, or short-term memory; and lasting storage of the perception, or long-term memory. Two major recognized types of long-term memory are procedural memory, involving the recall of learned skills, and declarative memory, the remembrance of specific stimuli. For long-term memory to occur, there must be a period of information consolidation.

The process of forgetting was first studied scientifically by Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German experimental psychologist, who performed memory tests with groups of nonsense syllables (disconnected syllables without associative connection). Ebbinghaus showed that the rate of forgetting is greatest at first, gradually diminishing until a relatively constant level of retained information is reached. Theories to explain forgetting include the concept of disuse, which proposes that forgetting occurs because stored information is not used, and that of interference, which suggests that old information interferes with information learned later and new information interferes with previously learned information.

In some instances, memory loss is an organic, physiological process. Retrograde amnesia, i.e., the failure to remember events preceding a head injury, is evidence of interrupted consolidation of memory. In anterograde amnesia, events occurring after brain damage—e.g., in head injury or alcoholism—may be forgotten. Memory loss may also result from brain cell deterioration following a series of strokes, cardiovascular disease, or Alzheimer's disease (see dementia).

Physiologically, learning involves modification of neural pathways. PET scans and related studies have shown certain parts of the brain, such as the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex and a structure called the hippocampus, to be particularly active in recall. Computer models of brain memory are called neural networks. In a study using genetic manipulation, a mouse with enhanced memory capabilities has been produced.

See M. H. Ashcroft, Human Memory and Cognition (1989, repr. 1994); N. Cowan, Attention and Memory (1995, repr. 1998); J. McConkey, ed. The Anatomy of Memory (1996); D. L. Schacter, Searching for Memory (1996) and The Seven Sins of Memory (2001); J. A. Groegerd, Memory and Remembering (1997); A. Baddeley, Human Memory (rev. ed. 1998); R. Rupp, Committed to Memory (1998).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Memory: Selected full-text books and articles

Memory: Histories, Theories, Debates By Susannah Radstone; Bill Schwarz Fordham University Press, 2010
Essentials of Human Memory By Alan D. Baddeley Psychology Press, 1999
Remembering: A Phenomenological Study By Edward S. Casey Indiana University Press, 2000 (2nd edition)
The Amnesias: A Clinical Textbook of Memory Disorders By Andrew C. Papanicolaou Oxford University Press, 2006
The Learning Brain: Memory and Brain Development in Children By Torkel Klingberg; Neil Betteridge Oxford University Press, 2013
Memory: Neuropsychological, Imaging, and Psychopharmacological Perspectives By Gérard Emilien; Cécile Durlach; Elena Antoniadis; Martial Van Der Linden; Jean-Marie Maloteaux Psychology Press, 2003
Memory and Emotion By Daniel Reisberg; Paula Hertel Oxford University Press, 2004
The Self and Memory By Denise R. Beike; James M. Lampinen; Douglas A. Behrend Psychology Press, 2004
Human Spatial Memory: Remembering Where By Gary L. Allen Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
Working Memory in Perspective By Jackie Andrade Psychology Press, 2001
The Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory: Encoding and Retrieval By Amanda Parker; Edward L. Wilding; Timothy J. Bussey Psychology Press, 2002
Distinctiveness and Memory By R. Reed Hunt; James B. Worthen Oxford University Press, 2006
Visuo-Spatial Working Memory and Individual Differences By Cesare Cornoldi; Tomaso Vecchi Psychology Press, 2003
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