The study of memory is fueled by advances in cognitive psychology and a new understanding of cognitive processes informed by brain imaging.
Three new studies review memory from perspectives of retrieval-induced forgetting, sharing intergenerational stories and an investigation of whether memory decays or overwrites complicating retrieval.
In the first study, researchers note that failure to retrieve memories may not always be a bad thing — we might, for example, prefer to forget about certain instances of heartbreak or failure in favor of some of the more positive events from our lives.
Dr. Benjamin C. Storm and graduate student Tara A. Jobe of the University of Illinois – Chicago asked participants to perform a memory task meant to assess retrieval-induced forgetting — when remembering one piece of information leads to forgetting other information.
They also assessed participants’ recall for positive and negative memories from their own lives. Study findings suggest participants who displayed lower levels of retrieval-induced forgetting recalled more negative events than positive events.
According to the researchers, this finding suggests that people who have impaired retrieval-induced forgetting may be less capable of inhibiting negative thoughts.
Ultimately, this finding may help to shed some light on the relationship between forgetting — or lack thereof — and depression.
In the second study, Connie Svob and Dr. Norman R. Brown of the University of Alberta examined whether the memories shared by older generations are the same ones remembered by younger generations.
The researchers split young adults were split into two groups: those whose parents had lived through political conflict and those whose parents had not.
The participants were asked to list 10 important memories from one parent’s life and estimate their parent’s age during the event.
In both groups, the temporal reporting of the memories exhibited a “reminiscence bump” that was related to the parent’s estimated age. According to Svob and Brown, these findings indicate that the reminiscence bump is influenced by sociocultural events.
In the final study, Drs. Erik M. Altmann and Christian D. Schunn investigated whether memory traces decay with time, whether memory traces interfere with one another, or whether decay and interference occur together.
The researchers reexamined Waugh and Norman’s 1965 study (often used as support for the interference-only perspective) from the viewpoint that decay and interference occur together.
A new model was created based on existing memory theory that took into account both interference and decay, suggesting that both processes may be at work.