Revision: Reliability of memory

The following page is to revise the key concepts, research and critical thinking for the topic "reliability of cognitive processes."  The revision focuses on memory research.

Start with the Powerpoint presentation below. It will walk you through a potential essay on the topic.

This is followed by a set of "checking for understanding questions."

Checking for understanding

1. What do psychologists mean when they say that a memory is reconstructed?

It means that we do not have a "photograph" of memories, but rather that we are activating schema that are relevant to an event in order to create it.  We piece together a memory from bits of information that we have in our schema. Bartlett argues that when we create these memories, we often make assumptions about could or should have happened.

2. What did Bartlett's War of Ghosts study teach us about memory?

First, it taught us that there is no difference between the telephone game (Chinese whispers) and what we do when we repeat information to ourselves. This was rather suprising.  It means that even in our own recalling of a memory, we often distort that information.

The study taught us that we use past experience and knowledge to both encode and retrieve memories.  Details that we think are not important are forgotten; we also add information that we assume would have been true.  Finally, we change details to help them match our past experience.  Even though the British understood the word "canoe," they changed it to "boat" since this is a term which is more familiar to them.

3.  Why is Loftus & Palmer's study criticized for lacking ecological validity?

There are a few reasons.  First, the situation was highly controlled.  The only difference was the intensity of the verb in one question on the questionnaire.  Although this may allow the researchers to determine a cause and effect relationship, this level of control does not reflect what would happen in a real accident situation.  Secondly, the participants were informed that they were going to watch a recreation of an automobile accident.  They knew that it was not real and they were prepared for what they would see.  In a real accident, there would be the element of surprise.  The fact that emotion does not play a role in this study means that it does not imitate what would happen in real life.  Finally, there is evidence that in real life situations - for example, Yuillle & Cutshall's study - Loftus & Palmer's findings were not predictive of what happened.

4. What are two ways in which research on memory distortion has been applied?

There are several ways.  Sequential line-ups are used in identifying suspects. Cognitive interviews are used to gather eyewitness testimony. We now know the danger of false memories created by leading questions - this can be applied in how lawyers or police ask questions.  It can also be applied to therapy which tries to reveal "repressed memories." It has also been used to explain inaccuracies in Holocaust survivor testimonies.

5. Why is it important to know that Bahrick's Yearbook study was cross-sectional in nature?

A cross-sectional study means that the study looked at different levels of a variable at the same time, rather than over a period of time.  In this case, the variable that was being considered was the age of the participants. By comparing the memories of those that were only 15 years out of high school compared to those that were already 48 years out of high school, they cannot account for individual difference and cannot describe change over time.


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