To What Extent Is Memory A Reliable Process?
To What Extent Is Memory A Reliable Process?
IB HL2 Psychology
Memory is the process of organizing the arrangement of information acquired through personal experience. Given the roles that schema play, memories can be reliable, as people tend to hold vivid detail in the events of their activated schema. The retrieval and encoding of memory is, however, subjected to change over time through reconstruction and is therefore doubtful in its accuracy.
The reliability of memory is supported by schema theory. Schema is the cognitive framework of organized knowledge, which aids in the understanding and information processing of new situations or otherwise. Anderson and Pichert (1978)’s study investigated the influence of schema on memory in encoding and retrieval stage. They presented a story of two boys who decided to stay home on a school day. Participants either had to interpret it in a house buyer or burglar perspective. They were then told to do a recall test of the house’s characteristics. Those who had a potential house buyer perspective recalled the leaky roof while the burglar perspective recalled the antique coin collection. The participants later switched viewpoints. They found that participants were able to recall characteristics that were not consistent with their activated schema in the first trial. These results suggest that people still encode for supposedly irrelevant information, not aligned with their activated schema thus demonstrating that memory can accurately and holistically account for details of an event. There is, however, a limitation to this conclusion--memory is subjective to the stimulus word of a specific schema, recalling only certain details aligned with the schema and ignoring aspects that do not cohere with it.
A similar study conducted by Brewer and Treyens (1981) both supported and challenged schema theory. They invited 30 participants to wait in a room for 35 seconds, designed to appear like an office, containing several high-office schema and low-office schema objects. The participants were then given an unprecedented recall test. Majority of the participants recalled for items in the high-schema expectancy category. The errors made were either substitution or wrong placement. Participants tend to recall false presences of high-schema expectancy objects (e.g. pencils). Otherwise, their mistakes were recalling the objects in high-schema expectancy locations instead of where it was actually stationed. There were, however, eight participants who recalled for the unusual objects in the scene. The researchers’ findings concluded that though memory recall comprised of characteristics within a scope of a schema, there is still reason to speculate. The eight participants demonstrated that in some circumstances, recalling for the unusual reigns over the memory of conventional characteristics. Schema theory has been viewed as a resourceful way for psychologists to explain cognitive framework: the combination of sub-skill cognition, influenced by schema. The theory can also give ample reasoning in the formation of stereotypes and prejudice, as well as the process of learning. Given the reference to previous knowledge and past experiences, schema influences our expectations and therefore our interpretations. It aids in the accuracy of memory recall of the specified schema and stands to consider memory a reliable process. However, according to the basis of the theory, humans allude to past experiences for an understanding of a present situation. This outline that the encoding and retrieval of memory is susceptible to reconstruction.
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Reconstructive memory has been greatly investigated in the issues regarding the legal system and its crimes. Bartlett’s study, ‘The War of the Ghosts’ in 1932 suggest that memory is configured and altered during recall, that he based from the results of continual digression and simplification in recall of a culturally specific tale. This reconstruction occurs according to mood/attitude and activated schema when prompted. It can be easily influenced by external factors and therefore show memory’s unreliability and inaccuracy. Loftus and Palmer (1974) established the reconstructive hypothesis with their famous study of automobile destruction. In the first experiment, 45 participants, divided into groups of nine, were shown a short-film of a traffic accident. Following the video, the participants were asked the question, “about how fast were the cars going when they ____ each other?” They manipulated the independent variable by changing the word in the blank to: smashed, collided, bumped, hit, or contacted. Participants given the “smashed” stimulus responded with an average estimated speed (mph) of 40.8 while those given “contacted”, the least suggesting a violent connotation, responded with 31.8 (mph). Their findings suggest that the way the question was worded, in other words, the language influences the participant’s interpretation. The second experiment was identical to the first. However, this time 150 participants were tested and divided into three conditions (smashed, hit, or control). The same participants returned within a week and were asked if they saw any broken glass from the former car accident video they watched earlier. Again, 16 out of 50 from the “smashed” group responded with a “yes”. The ratio of yes or no increased with the “hit” and “control” group.
Regarding their results, Loftus and Palmer formulated an explanation to explain how it coheres with eye witness testimony: two sources (watching the video and the prompt question) of information were gradually integrated as “one” memory to form a more coherent retrospect of the event, which eliminates the ability to distinguish the origins, the two separate memories, of one characteristic to another. The supply of external information aids in the merging of two memories, thus essentially decreasing in its accuracy. Since the preceding study is fundamental to the development of reconstructive memory and hypothesis, some methodical flaws must be addressed. Multiple factors may have influence the distortion and impairment of memory such as environment, mood, alcohol consumption, and other contextual influences. Furthermore, the study was conducted in a laboratory, issuing the cautionary applicability to the real world. To elaborate, the video played did not elicit any emotional stir or relevance to the participants. In reality, real-life incidents with powerful emotional would impact heighten the accuracy of memory. For example, important events would not be as vulnerable to change as suggested. There is also reason to speculate whether recall was due to actual compromising of memory or from demand characteristics. It is plausible that the participants’ absence of context led to their arbitrary answer. Many scientists have also disputed over Loftus and Palmer’s claims of post-event information’s relevance, where they, similarly to Barlett, believe memory permanently reconstructs the original memory. Instead, others believe that the witnesses’ memory is altered because of a suggestive prompt and that the original memory remains sound for retrieval under other conditions. Memory retrieval is, indeed, influenced by specific schemas; different activated schema delivers different memory recall. This explanation coheres with Anderson and Pichert’s study previously described, for which participants supposedly encoded for information incompatible with the activated schema at the time. Despite a few contradictions, Loftus and Palmer’s reconstructive hypothesis (EWT) has aided in police departments. Detectives should be cautious when using leading questions (suggesting a desired response) as it could sway the witnesses’ answer.
Besides misleading and post-event informational impacts, anxiety and age contribute to the reliability of memory. Anxiety distracts the witnesses’ attention from the situation’s priority. Yuille and Cutshall (1986) demonstrated that participants with high emotional arousal recalled fewer accurate details on a shooting spree video they watched than participants with low emotional arousal. The additional finding that very high arousal participants recalled significantly accurate details challenges the precedence of memory reliability. Age has also been greatly researched. Memory of children has been suggested to be highly vulnerable to inaccurate recall from fear of contradicting authoritative figures. Through Cohen & Faulkner’s (1989) study, they found that memory of elder people was less complete, vulnerable to misleading information, and inaccurate in comparison to younger participants. This, aligned with common judgment, ultimately implies that reliability of memory deteriorates with age. The weaknesses of these factors, however, are its laboratory-based outcomes from which their conclusions are derived from. Essentially, the problem with anxiety is the over simplicity of Yerkes-Dodson’s (1983) inverted-U hypothesis. Whereas studies on age suggest that they have been testing with stimuli that appeals more to younger audience.
Memory is not characterized as objectively accurate; it is reliable in remembering certain aspects of a situation when given the appropriate schema. People recall details that are compatible with whatever schema, the cognition framework of organized knowledge, is activated. However, the perception of the event is entirely coded; the original memory stays intact for retrieval of different activated schema. Even so, memory can still be faulty through substitution and wrong placement of schema-related objects. Memory, nonetheless, is limited; it is open to changes and reconstruction. The Eye Witness Theory proposes that memory is often misconstrued to complement leading questions and easily altered by external influences such as anxiety and age. Therefore we should take precautions in memory’s reliability, as we cannot be completely dependent on its accuracy.