Lesson Six: Human Memory

Understanding How Memory Works

Human Memory
Explore how human memory works in this psychology lesson. Victor De Schwanberg / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Human memory is a vast and fascinating topic which we will explore in this lesson of the Introduction to Psychology online course! In the last five lessons, you have learned about the basics of psychology including research methods, the brain and behavior and states of consciousness. Now that you have a solid understanding of those subjects, let's learn more about memory and forgetting.

Human memory involves the ability to both preserve and recover information we have learned or experienced. As we all know, however, this is not a flawless process. Sometimes we forget or misremember things. Sometimes things are not properly encoded in memory in the first place. Memory problems can range from minor annoyances like forgetting where you left your car keys to major diseases that affect quality of life and the ability to function.

This lesson focuses on how memories are created, stored and retrieved. We'll also look at some of the most common reasons why memory sometimes fails.

The syllabus for this week:

Here are the five main topics that we will focus on in this psychology lesson:

  • What is memory?
  • Memory retrieval
  • Forgetting
  • Why do we forget?
  • Tips for improving memory

Click the links below to read the articles and resources related to each topic in this lesson. Remember, there's no homework. Each of the lessons in this series is 100 percent self-directed, which means that it is entirely up to you to read the article below and learn the information.

In today’s lesson, read through each of the following linked articles. For your benefit, you might want to consider taking notes or bookmarking the articles so you can review the information again later.

Good luck with today's lesson!

Memory Basics

What exactly is a memory? Essentially, memory is a complex process that involves acquiring, storing, and recalling information. Not all memories are the same, however.

Some memories are very brief, just seconds long, and allow us to take in sensory information about the world around us.

Short-term memories are a bit longer and last about 20 to 30 seconds. These memories mostly consist of the information we are currently focusing on and thinking about.

Finally, some memories are capable of enduring much longer, last days, weeks, months, or even decades. Most of these long-term memories lie outside of our immediate awareness, but we can draw them into consciousness when they are needed.

Learn more about what memory is, how it works and how it is organized in this basic overview of memory.

Using Memory

To use the information that has been encoded into memory, it first has to be retrieved. There are many factors that can influence how memories are retrieved such as the type of information being used and the retrieval cues that are present.

Of course, this process is not always perfect. Have you ever felt like you had the answer to a question right at the tip of your tongue, but you couldn’t quite remember it? This is an example of a perplexing memory retrieval problem known as the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon.

Discover the basics of memory retrieval as well as possible problems with this process in this overview of how memories are retrieved.

When Memory Fails

Forgetting is a surprisingly common event. Just consider how often you forget someone’s name or overlooked an important appointment. Forgetting can happen for a number of reasons including a failure to retrieve the information from long-term memory.

Research has shown that one of the critical factors that influences memory failure is time. Information is often quickly forgotten, particularly if people do not actively review and rehearse the information.

Learn more about why this happens and discover some of the research into how and why memory fails.

Why We Forget

Why do we forget information we have learned in the past? There are four basic explanations for why forgetting occurs: retrieval failure, interference, failure to store and motivated forgetting.

Sometimes information is simply lost from memory and in other cases it was never stored correctly in the first place. Sometimes memories compete with one another, making it difficult to remember certain information. In still other instances, people actively try to forget things that they simply don’t want to remember.

Learn more about these reasons why we forget.

Boosting Memory

No matter how great your memory is, there are probably a few things you can do to make it even better. Fortunately, cognitive psychologists have discovered a number of techniques that can help improve memory. Learn more about some of these strategies and how you can apply these tips for improving your memory.

Final Thoughts

Congratulations you have completed lesson six! The goal of this lesson is to provide you with a basic understanding of how human memory works. By learning the basics, you will be better prepared to know about the subject in greater depth.

Once you feel that you have adequately studied and fully understand the material included in this lesson, feel free to move on to lesson seven. However, if you are still struggling with any of the concepts in this lesson, spend a few days studying and reviewing the material before you continue to the next lesson in the series.

Do you feel like you need some extra study help? Then be sure to check out these helpful articles on psychology study tips and how to to take great psychology notes.


Up Next: Lesson 7

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