New Research on Memory From Psychological Science

Read about the latest research on memory published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Modifying Memory: Selectively Enhancing and Updating Personal Memories for a Museum Tour by Reactivating Them

Peggy L. St. Jacques and Daniel L. Schacter

Although researchers know that memories can be modified when they are retrieved, less is known about how the properties of reactivation affect memory. Researchers sent participants on a self-guided tour of a museum with a camera that automatically took pictures of their visit. Researchers used the pictures from the visit to reactivate participants’ memories of the tour either in the order they were experienced (reactivation-match) or out of order (reactivation-mismatch). Participants in the reactivation-match condition had better memory for the experienced images and greater false recognition of images that were not experienced, which suggests that manipulating the properties of reactivation can selectively influence memories by enhancing and distorting the memory via updating.

Visual Long-Term Memory Stores High-Fidelity Representations of Observed Actions

Zhisen Jiang Urgolites and Justin N. Wood     

Although we know humans store representations of actions in their long-term memory, the precision of these representations is not well understood. Participants completed a study phase in which they viewed images from different movement categories (jump, turn, kick). Researchers then showed participants two images from the same movement category (jump, jump) or different movement categories (jump, turn) and asked them to indicate which of the images they had seen in the study phase. Participants’ memory for the actions was similarly accurate regardless of whether the images were from the same or different movement categories, which indicates that visual long-term memory can store accurate detailed representations of observed actions. 

Attention Restores Discrete Items to Visual Short-Term Memory

Alexandra M. Murray, Anna C. Nobre, Ian A. Clark, André M. Cravo, and Mark G. Stokes

Can attention help restore forgotten items to visual short-term memory? Participants were shown randomly oriented arrows placed around a fixation cross. Researchers tested each participant’s memory for the location of one of the arrows. On half the trials, participants saw a cue indicating which arrow would be tested. The cue was placed at the location of the item (valid retro-cue) or around the central cross (neutral retro-cue). Memory accuracy was significantly higher on trials with the valid retro-cue. The authors suggest that selective attention during the maintenance of a memory can turn it from one that is relatively weak into one that is more robust, which allows for access to information that would otherwise be forgotten.


Dr.s St. Jacques & Schacter

At age 92, I would guess my memory is failing a bit, but I imagine it’s to be expected. However, I have discovered that I have total recall of the music and lyrics of 102 songs and an additional 62 for which I can remember substantial portions.

Having spent more than sixty years in the theatre, I have memorized quite a bit of material, all of which was lost shortly after the production. I have never thought of my memory as exceptional except for this recall of songs. While I have memorized several of my favorite poems by other poets, as a poet with a published book I have no recall of any of my own work except for one or two mini ones, and If anything, my autobiographical memory is subpar.

My academic history is sad indeed. I had to go an extra year in high school to graduate, having failed sophomore English not once, but twice. I simply would not, or could not, read Shakespeare. My IQ on immediately entering the army in 1943 was 109. After the war, I found that I could go to college at the government’s expense, but the Dean, seeing my high school transcripts, remarked, “You’ve got to be kidding.” I said, “No, you have to take me,” and his response was, “Yes, but we don’t have to keep you.” And they didn’t. At the end of another fateful sophomore year I became a college drop-out. BUT, following that, eight of the many years of a long career was spent teaching at Bethany College sans any degree, a career that culminated with the awarding of an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by the very same institution from which I dropped out some sixty years earlier. What any of this might have to do with my retention of both music and lyrics, I can’t imagine, but I most certainly would like to gain some insight.

Please let me know if you have any interest in this amazing recall.

You learned what meant something to you. You accessed that information that meant something to you in long term memory. When you could use that information, you taught it to others because you were motivated to and had the self-efficacy to do it. Chances are, you have a whole heck of lot of more information in there that you haven’t accessed because you might not have good feelings about it, from the sound of your recounted story. Remember, we branch to emotions, thoughts, and schemas within the brain when information goes to long term memory, and that may mean we have told ourselves that we can’t do it or don’t want to do it, whatever the task or extrinsic goal is. Remember, intrinsic goals and motivation beat extrinsic motivation every day of the week. This is what all the literature I have read says. I teach psychology and am an ABD PhD Candidate. Dissertation is in process of being reviewed by the university for approval.
Barb Kaidy

APS regularly opens certain online articles for discussion on our website. Effective February 2021, you must be a logged-in APS member to post comments. By posting a comment, you agree to our Community Guidelines and the display of your profile information, including your name and affiliation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations present in article comments are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of APS or the article’s author. For more information, please see our Community Guidelines.

Please login with your APS account to comment.