Memory Is a Constructive and Dynamic System Rather Than a Passive Mechanism for Recording External Information. Evaluate This Claim, Making Reference to Research Findings.

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Exploring Psychology

Memory is a constructive and dynamic system rather than a passive mechanism for recording external information. Evaluate this claim, making reference to research findings.

The concept that the memory is a constructive and dynamic system was originally introduced by Sir Frederic Bartlett, in the 1920’s. According to Bartlett, social factors influence one’s ability to remember, and in turn, can either change a person’s perception of a specific memory or distort the original memory. As opposed to the memory being a ‘passive mechanism’ which indicates that the brain can store data and facts which can later be recalled without distortion and remain as they were when they were first encoded.

Bartlett suggests that a person’s interpretation of an event can be influenced by their own beliefs and life experiences, either because of the way they were brought up or because of an event that has occurred to them and influenced the way they feel about something. Bartlett designed an experiment which was based on a story called “The War of the Ghosts”, as part of the experiment, participants were asked to read the story and then later recall the facts from memory. The findings of his research highlighted that people generally recalled the story with different facts from the original, and that these different depictions of the story were inconsistent between each participant. Bartell suggested that the errors made when the story was recalled were due to the participant replacing “unfamiliar or inconsistent material” with information that they could relate to from their own experiences (Brace, 2007, p132). He also used the term “rationalization” in relation to such discrepancies. His definition of this terminology is that when the story was recalled by a participant they used different descriptions to explain events which they could not mentally relate to or “rationalise” with real life, for example, rather than recalling “something black came from the mouth” this was referred to as “foamed at the mouth”. It is this belief that suggests that a person’s memory is not reliable at first glance and because of this many memory retrieval methods have been created to help retrieve memory with more accuracy.

It was a psychologist named, Hermann Ebbinghaus, who was one of the first people to study memory from a scientific perspective and use experiments to back up his beliefs. Unlike Bartlett, Ebbinghaus was the sole participant for his experiments and therefore to stop any “confounding variables” he used stimuli that he would not have encountered in his everyday life (Brace, 2007, p122). From these experiments, he found that facts were easily forgotten over a short period and when recalled within 24hours he could not remember the stimuli, however, when testing 30 days later his ability to recall the stimuli was more successful and he could remember as much over the 30day time period as he could after just 5 days.

It is from the experiments of Ebbingaus that the notions of different skills to help retain memories have been created, such as Bousfield, who “found that information put into ‘clusters’ or specific groups could be remembered more easily than information that was not specific to any group”. Bousfeld’s theories of grouping, support the theory of Bartlett, as his theory suggests that memory encoding is more successful when a person is able to relate the data to a specific even, in this case group.

However, although this indicates that events are remembered by association, it also suggests that our recalling of events is from a more “passive mechanism” and that in fact, our brain can store specific data that can be recalled at any given time.

Due to the theories and belief that our memory is of a constructive and dynamic system, as mentioned early, many retrieval exercises have been created. A person’s recollection of an event may be inconsistent with how that event was witnessed or...
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