Cognitive psychology behind memory and forgetting

The cognitive psychological studies that have been performed on the human memory are fascinating. Human memory, like memory in a computer, allows us to store information for later use. In order to do this, however, certain processes involved with memory must be mastered.

To be able to compare the human memory to a computer initially relays an idea that sort of categorizes humans above all other life. Computers have abilities and capacities that extend far beyond that of humans. There are however connections that have been made through recent psychological studies that compare the human memory to a computer.

The first point of mastery is called encoding; the process we use to transform information so that it can be stores. For a computer this would mean transferring data into 1’s and 0’s…numbers it can compute and recall easily. For us, it means transforming the data into a meaningful form such as an association with an existing memory, an image, or a sound.

Next is the actual storage, simply holding onto the information. For this to take place, the computer must physically write the 1’ and 0’s onto the hard drive. It is very similar for us because it means that a physiological change must occur for the memory to be stored.

The final process is called retrieval, which is bringing the memory out of storage and reversing the process of encoding. In other words, return the information to a form similar to what we stored. Retrieval is actually remembering memories.

The major difference between humans and computers in terms of memory has to do with how the information is stored. For the most part, computers have only two types; permanent storage and permanent deletion. Humans, on the other hand are more complex in that we have three distinct memory storage capabilities (not including permanent deletion). The first is sensory memory, referring to the information we receive through the senses. This memory is very brief lasting only as much as a few seconds.

Of course we have our long and short term memories. There are certain types of long term memory, including declarative, semantic and episodic. It does get a bit complicated, but it just goes to show how much the human memory is capable of.

Below is a video from BBC that goes a little more in depth of how the human memory works. It is sort of on the long side, but includes some really interesting facts. There are experiments performed that explain the basics behind the memory of children, adults and older adults. Tests include children’s reactions to themselves in the mirror and so on. The video opens with a general overview, stating that in our lifetime, we see roughly 5,800 movies, come to know about 1,700 people personally. All of this reiterates how fascinating our minds are.

To sort of wrap up, the video also tracks the story of one man, John, who cannot remember anything. He was born premature, and his ability to remember things has never fully developed. Neurologically, John is not mature. He has home videos and pictures of his entire life because he cannot remember any of it. He writes down what he has to do, just to get by. John’s story should make us thankful, and amazed, about how much we can remember, mostly without even thinking it.

**Definitions and bolded terms came from The Virtual Psychology Classroom

Previous Post
Leave a comment


  1. OMG…the video is 49 minutes long! I need to teach you “tube chop”…I think your comment “the computer must physically write the 1’ and 0’s onto the hard drive. It is very similar for us because it means that a physiological change must occur for the memory to be stored” because so many people learn from routine memory actions. Say, you want to learn to spell a word…then write the word many times so you have “motion memory”…you brain remembers the motions…your hand remembers the spelling more than your ability to spell the word!
    You are forgiven from drifting away from literature…..Beloved was a real memory exercise!

  1. Self Reflection « Words, Words, Words

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: