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In this lesson, we will explore common, and not so common, factors which influence memory. Influence can be in a detracting way as well as positive.

Furthermore, we will look at memory testing and interventions

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Memory

Brains are surprisingly complex, and it isn’t until we gained assistance of modern machines that we really began to understand them. I mean, some ancients even believed it was used for cooling the blood! Others just thought it was a useless organ. One process we’ve only just begun to understand about the brain is memory.Memory can be broken down into three quasi-simple processes. ‘Quasi-simple’ because everyone knows what I’m talking about, but when I get into the nitty and gritty, the components of memory get wicked complicated.Memory is broken up in three processes. They must happen perfectly; otherwise, the memory is lost.

They are, in order:

  • Encoding: the process of entering new memories
  • Storing: the act of maintaining memories
  • Retrieving: the act of bringing back stored memories

Memory is fairly straightforward in theory, but it is highly influenced by all kinds of external and internal issues. In this lesson, we will explore some of these things that can influence the different processes.

Encoding Inhibition

Some of the biggest influences on memory are actually related to things that prevent you from storing memories in the first place. The encoding process is sensitive to mood and stimuli. Things like anxiety, stress, motivation, and exhaustion can cause huge problems with encoding.

The system that puts memories away, the encoding process, is extremely sensitive to body and mind issues.Anxiety causes the brain to fire weird and causes stress. Stress hormones dropped into the blood have been found to actively interfere with memory encoding. Furthermore, if you aren’t motivated to remember, you won’t.

And lastly, if you are tired, then the whole system is in a haggard state and is just not working.One way to compensate for encoding difficulties is through a mnemonic, which is a memory aid. Mnemonics have a rich history dating back to the Greeks, where young men would learn and memorize tomes of information.

Learning how to use mnemonics properly means increasing one’s memory capacity greatly.Mnemonics work by chunking information, or transforming and compacting information into smaller, more manageable pieces. This is where you use the first letters to create some form of an acronym or create a rhyme to help you remember. Examples include ROYGBIV for colors and DABDA (depression, anger, bargaining, denial, and acceptance) for the stages of grief.

When we look at the broader picture, we see that there is also a natural decline in memory with age. This affects encoding, storing, and retrieval and is basically a slow degrade over time. What is not typical is pathological memory loss, often seen with Alzheimer’s disease, which is a neurodegenerative disease resulting from beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Here, the brain is filled with sticky, tar-like plaque and tangled up proteins that get in the way of the brain doing its job.Another way memory may decline is with Korsakoff’s syndrome, which is when there is a B1 (thiamine) deficiency, resulting in memory degradation. Here, the brain lacks a certain type of vitamin, which is sort of like your car’s engine lacking a vital component; the whole thing just kind of falls apart.

Memory Testing and Intervention

Sometimes, someone has a suspicion that another person’s memory isn’t working as well as it should.

When testing memory, a psychologist should be able to remember ecological validity, which is defined as the level to which we can apply findings to real-world situations.A little information on memory tests. They often have you remember a handful of random words, like ‘blue, water, and carrot,’ and then ask you to remember them while they distract you with other stuff. But this memory isn’t real because it’s so artificial. Other memory testing, those with ecological validity, may involve things like knowing how to take care of oneself, money management, and basic life skills, like knowing when it is safe to cross the street. When there are cognitive deficits, the focus of testing needs to focus on real-world memories and knowledge rather than abstract ideas.If there is a problem, a memory intervention may need to be planned, which includes behavioral and cognitive strategies to increase memory retention and retrieval.

Most of the people who need memory interventions lack higher cognitive processes. This means the interventions typically work by teaching the most fundamental skills. There is often a lot of repetition and continuously working on the basics. The things you probably picked up naturally when you were three to seven are the very things memory intervention patients need to learn.

Individuals who may need interventions include people with Down syndrome, fetal alcohol disorder, and traumatic brain injuries. The last one is important because people with otherwise normal memories may abruptly lose memories due to a severe head injury from things like falling objects, getting into a fight, or from an explosion while away at war.

Lesson Summary

Memory is made up of three parts. Encoding is the process of entering new memories. Storing is the act of maintaining memories.

Retrieving is the act of bringing back stored memories. These can be hampered by stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. However, ways to improve it include using a mnemonic, which is a memory aid. Mnemonics work by chunking information, or transforming and compacting information into smaller, more manageable pieces.Normal aging brings issues with memory. Pathological issues with memory happen with Alzheimer’s disease, which is a neurodegenerative disease resulting from beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, and Korsakoff’s syndrome, in which a B1 (thiamine) deficiency results in memory degradation.

When testing for memory issues, one must look at ecological validity, which is defined as the level to which we can apply findings to real-world situations. If it is bad enough, a memory intervention may need to be planned, which is when behavioral and cognitive strategies are used to increase memory retention and retrieval.

Learning Outcomes

Following this lesson, you’ll be able to:

  • Describe the three parts of memory
  • Identify factors that can hamper the memory process as well as ways to improve it
  • Recall two pathological issues with memory and what causes them
  • Explain what to look for when testing for memory problems
  • Define memory intervention

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