Are memories permanent and unalterable?

Authors Avatar

 Are memories permanent and unalterable?

   There has been a large debate over the recent years on whether information stored in long-term memory is permanent and unalterable. There are many people who agree with this assumption either because of personal experiences or scientific findings supporting it. An obvious example would be the sort of cued recall that occurs in contextual situations. Details of a place visited might not be remembered until a time of revisiting, or instances where experiences during school life might have been forgotten and a photograph of a classmate might trigger memories. Also there are several occasions where certain smells evoke certain memories. Several studies over the years indicated that memories become less available as the interval increases between the time of the information’s initial acquisition and the time of its attempted retrieval. This phenomenon is named ‘forgetting’ (Loftus 1980). Despite the agreement on the existence of this phenomenon, the factors that underlie its functioning are shown to be indefinable. The main differentiation on beliefs lies on whether forgetting results in a complete lost of stored information, or consists of a loss to access of that information which was once stored and will always be available. Many theorists and psychologists have opposed on the complete loss of stored information referring to examples of retrieval techniques that are assumed to uncover previously forgotten information. In a survey of psychologists by Loftus and Loftus (1980), 84% favored the position that stored information is never lost from the memory system, although it may normally be inaccessible.  

     Some evidence in support of this favored position can be found in the studies of Wilder Penfiel and his associates. While treating epileptic patients during 1940s, he was removing the damaged areas in their brains. In order to spot the damaged area he was stimulating the surface of the brain with a weak electrical current. During this electrical stimulation, Penfield discovered that by placing the stimulating electrode in certain parts of the brain and especially on the frontal lobe, caused some patients to have ‘flashbacks’ of past experiences. According to his beliefs, “It is clear that the neuronal action that accompanies each succeeding state of consciousness leaves its permanent imprint on the brain. The imprint, or record, is a trail of facilitation of neural connections that can be followed again by an electrical current many years later with no loss of detail, as though a tape recorder had been receiving it all.” (Penfield, 1969). Besides the small number actual ‘flashbacks’ among Penfield’s patients, Neisser (1967) argued that individuals under brain stimulation might be reconstructing these experiences rather than reliving them. This reconstraction hypothesis was also supported by Mahl, Rothenberg, Delgado, and Hamlin (1964) who found that memories produced by electrical stimulation mainly consisted of thoughts existing prior and during the stimulation. (As cited in Loftus & Loftus, 1980)

Join now!


      Freud clearly supported the permanence of memory, on which he based the psychoanalytic approach. One of the ways by which he introduced his skepticism was the mystic writing pad paradigm. According to this paradigm memory consists of a wax layer, covered by a sheet of wax paper and a transparent celluloid sheet. When a memory is ‘written’ on the celluloid sheet, the words appear on the wax paper. When new experiences bring new memories, the paper is moved free of the wax layer, but the "trace" of the words has been preserved at the ...

This is a preview of the whole essay

Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

Summary The writer has covered this subject well and has included a variety of studies to back up their argument. Some of the work could be written more simplistically to show that the writer understand what they are writing about and to avoid being accused of plagiarism. However, the writer has included most of the evidence for and against memory being permanent and unalterable. If the comments are taken on board then the writer could achieve full marks for this essay. Star rating 4*