Memory Defined

Memory, which is both a process and an entity, is the retention of information over a period of time. Of concern are the processes for putting information into memory (encoding), maintaining the coded information (storage), and getting the stored information back into consciousness (retrieval). Of concern also is forgetting (losing stored information or having difficulty or failure in retrieving it), which may occur because of problems in any of the three memory processes.

Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850–1909), a philosopher, applied the scientific method to the study of memory and, in a procedure involving the memorization of nonsense syllables, discovered an important relationship between the time spent learning and relearning information and level of retention, a relationship called the saving method. (Subjects who could relearn a brief list of words quickly were thought to have retained some memory of the list.) Frederic Bartlett (1886–1969) was interested in the number of trials required to memorize information. He argued that in remembering information, people often fill in the gaps by means of inferences about what could have been the case (a phenomenon that may occur in the so‐called false memory of some eye witnesses). These early, diverse approaches to the study of memory illustrate the diversity in the field in general.