Psychological Research of the 21st Century Human Memory dissertation

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Human Memory


This literature review upon human memory will cover a fairly wide spectrum of ideas regarding the subject. While there will be a number of connections among the divisions or categories of this literature review, there will certainly be several distinctions or differences among them. The psychological research a part of the review will span, roughly, the duration of the 21st century thus far, with a few sources of research having taken place in 1999, just before the turn of the century. The review will approach the selected body of psychological research on human memory by dividing the research loosely into the following sections: memory distortion, repressed memories, body memory, and the changes in perspective on memory with respect to appropriate psychological/psychotherapeutic treatment.

The section of the review that focuses upon memory distortion will identify that memory distortion does, in fact, occur. The research presented in that section will additionally attempt to describe what the factors of memory distortion are. Research in this section will additionally discuss why because of memory distortion, why memory cannot be the only or primary evidence in a criminal investigation, or in other matters of law. The section of the review regarding repressed memories will provide a definition for repressed memories, as well as theories on how they form, how they can be retrieved, and their vulnerability to external manipulation. This section additionally reviews research that connects repressed memories to memories of and experiences of trauma.

The section on body memory will provide definitions and theories behind the validity of body memory. Essentially, the theories are based on the supposition that the brain is a muscle, and is the site of a great deal of human memory storage, yet the body is full of muscles as well, which have their own kinds of memories. Researchers contend that the memories of the body are just as valuable, valid, and arguably, more accurate or retain greater reliability than those memories stored in the brain.

The literature review will also include with a section about the old and new perspectives on human memory, particularly as they relate to methods of treatment (psychotherapy, etc.). This shift in thinking and perspective on the subject of human memory can be attributed to a number of factors, including that there shifts of thought and perspective in any area of study on a fairly regular basis (from a historical perspective). This shift may additionally be attributed to the change in the centuries, as many areas of thought, research and study experienced a shift or other sort of change with the coming of the 21st century.

Literature Review

As the 21st century approached, Daniel Schacter of Harvard University conducted and published research that seemed revolutionary or radical at the time -- research that fell upon the "wrong side" of the arguments regarding the structure, capacity, and function of human memory.

We are all affected by memory's shortcomings in our everyday lives, and scientists have studied them for decades. But there have been few attempts to systematically organize or classify the various ways in which memory can lead us astray and to assess the state of the scientific evidence concerning them. Given the scientific attention paid recently to the fallibility of memory, and the important real-world consequences that are sometimes associated with forgetting and distortion… (Schacter, 1999, 183)

His research, then is an attempt to perform precisely what he claims is lacking or that was lacking in the body of contemporary psychological research of that time. His work was an attempt to classify and organize the ways that memory cannot be relied upon with the use of scientific inquiry and research. Memory is so essentially that this kind of dedication and attention should and must be paid to it, as most of us rely on our memories more than we may be consciously aware.

There is no doubt that functioning memory is essential to everyday function and completion of tasks, from the most basic, to the most complex. In the time that Schacter's work was in the present, and in the modern moment that this literature review is composed, there is still a great deal that is unknown regarding the working of human consciousness, and how human consciousness functions with specific respect to memory. This is to say that the gap that Schacter detected is somewhat expected and understandable, as even fifteen years later after his research was current, there is still more we do not know, though we claim to have advanced regarding technology and perspective.

Based upon this lack or gap in the research that Schacter detected, he created an extended metaphor to structure and support his research, comparable to the "seven deadly sins" as described in the Judeo-Christian text, the Holy Bible. He organized his work into the sins of the human memory. He used this extended metaphor to reach readers who may not be as well versed in the complexities of human memory as it applies to psychology and neuroscience primarily, though he does site that much of what he based his ideas upon is firmly grounded in his studies in cognitive, social and clinical psychology. Therefore, this research, though compact and succinct, is dense with psychological research from various branches, very well linked and built upon for further exploration or trajectory into a new, promising direction. He writes:

I suggest that memory's transgressions can be divided into seven basic "sins." I call them transience, absent-mindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestability, bias, and persistence. The first three sins reflect different types of forgetting…The next three sins all involve distortion or inaccuracy…The seventh and final sin…refers to pathological remembrances: information or events that we cannot forget, even though we wish we could. (Schacter, 1999, 183)

This organization of memory's "sins" is revealing about how we understand memory to work. It is also revealing regarding how we understand memory to malfunction. Knowing how memory works and does not work is of great assistance to psychological researchers and those who practice psychotherapy. It is not just that memory malfunctions (or does not always work the ways that we want it to or can control), the greater significance is the methods in which memory malfunctions and distorts.

Schacter's research demonstrates that understanding the vulnerabilities and fallibilities of memory help us understand how memory functions and can provide insight onto how to strengthen and stabilize it. Schacter additionally questions whether these inaccuracies in memory are actually normal -- that forgetting, distortions, persistence -- these are the natural ways in which human memory operates, and that they are not accidents or errors, but a part of how human memory is supposed to work, which is an intriguing and possibly controversial perspective to consider.

Human memory is not just important because we need it in order to perform tasks, including self-care. Human memory is vital as it relates to individual identity. We need our memories so that we know who we are. Our memories help us construct and maintain who we think we are, who we have been, and who we may become in the future. Conway & Pleydell-Pearce (2000) performed their psychological research on the human memory with respect to its connection to self-identity and what they call, "autobiographical memories," which are memories that we have of ourselves from our pasts, or the memories we have of past versions of ourselves -- sort of like our own self mythologies that we base our past senses of self upon that absolutely have direct effects upon who we think we are presently, and the potential for who we will become in the future. They assert:

Nearly all researchers in this area consider there to be an important and strong relation between the self and autobiographical memory. Brewer (1986), for example, argued that the inherent self-referring nature of autobiographical memories was a defining feature that distinguished these memories from all other types of long-term knowledge. Robinson (1986) proposed that autobiographical memories were a "resource" of the self that could be used to sustain or change aspects of the self. Indeed, memories have been found to be closely related to aspects of personality & #8230;trait information…patterns of adult attachment…and goal change and emotions… (Conway & Pleydell-Pearce, 2000, 264)

Without autobiographical memories, people would not know who they are, or who they have been. Additionally, autobiographical memories are essential to personality and identity cohesion. People rely heavily upon their memories of who they were to explain who they are presently. Autobiographical memories have the potential for significant and widespread influence in an individual's life. Autobiographical memories can serve as significant predictors of and determinants over a person's entire lifespan. A person may make decisions about whom they choose to socialize with based on autobiographical memories. A person may choose an educational or career path based on who he/she remembers being as a younger version of themselves based on his/her autobiographical memories. Keeping in mind the pliability and malleability of human memory in general, autobiographical memory has the potential to be…[continue]

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