Varieties of Memory and Consciousness: Essays in Honour of Endel Tulving

By Henry L. Roediger III; Fergus I. M. Craik et al. | Go to book overview

18 On the Relation Between Memory and Consciousness: Dissociable Interactions and Conscious Experience

Daniel L. Schacter University of Arizona

Understanding the relation between memory and consciousness would appear to be an essential task for both cognitive and neuropsychological theories of memory. Yet, as Tulving ( 1985b) has argued, modern memory researchers have taken surprisingly few steps toward such an understanding:

One can read article after article on memory, or consult book after book, without encountering the term 'consciousness.' Such a state of affairs must be regarded as rather curious. One might think that memory should have something to do with remembering, and remembering is a conscious experience . . . Nevertheless, through most of its history, including the current heyday of cognitive psychology, the psychological study of memory has largely proceeded without reference to the existence of conscious awareness in remembering. (p. 11)

One would be hard pressed to argue convincingly against the thrust of Tulving's claim: The relation between memory and consciousness has certainly not been near the top of, or even on, the agenda of most memory researchers. As Tulving ( 1985b) pointed out, this circumstance is not entirely surprising in view of the historical neglect of consciousness in many sectors of psychology.

In recent years, however, the "benign neglect" ( Tulving, 1985b, p. 1) accorded the memory and consciousness issue has been replaced by growing interest. A good deal of this interest has been sparked by demonstrations of striking dissociations between memory and consciousness in normal subjects and amnesic patients: Performance on various tasks can be facilitated by recent experiences even though subjects may lack any conscious awareness or recollection of those experiences. The major purpose of the present chapter is to sketch a framework for conceptualizing the relation between memory and consciousness. The framework draws on, and attempts to integrate, findings and ideas from

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