Social Science / Psychology Essay

A guide to Memory and learning

For Endel Tulving, an American psychologist, remembering means travelling through time, a mental time that marks the passage of our life and determines the continuity of our personal identity. A journey not only to relive the past but also to be able to project into the future! With the term "Memory", we mean an extremely important cognitive function for the human being. It consists of the assimilation, retention and recall of information learned during the experience or through the senses.

Memory serves to adapt to the environment, and the more you climb the zoological scale, the greater its usefulness and importance. The lower animals, in fact, use the “genetic memory”, that is, they entrust their adaptation to what is transmitted by their ancestors and respond to environmental stimuli through pre-established patterns (innate or instinctive) of behavior. The higher animals, on the other hand, on the basis of memorized information, are able to creatively program the attitude, coming (in the case of a man) to modify the environment according to their own needs.

Learning and memory

Learning and memory what is learning? How do we learn to form associations between stimuli and responses? What is memory? Are there different types of memory?

Learning = relatively permanent change in behavior determined by experience Memory = the process by which we encode, store and retrieve information

Learning our ability to read, guide, study and carry out one of the countless activities that make up our daily routine is the result of careful training procedures and the acquisition and refinement of our skills and abilities through learning for psychologists learning is a fundamental topic and plays an essential role in almost all branches of psychology. The question that the psychologist who studies perceptions might ask might be: how do we learn that people who move away from our visual field appear the size we see?

Examples: A developmental psychologist might ask: How do children learn to distinguish their mother from other people? Why do some people learn to be afraid when they see a spider? It could be the question a clinical psychologist asks; finally, a social psychologist might ask: How do we learn to believe that we are in love?

The answer to these questions comes solely from understanding the fundamental learning processes. In all these cases, in fact, skill or behavior is acquired that is modified or perfected through experience.

Studies on learning, analyzed from the various points of view of the different specialist areas of psychology, range from the type of learning as a conditioned response, others as a consequence of rewarding circumstances, and still others focus attention on the cognitive aspects of learning and processes.

A classic approach to the study of behavior is that of behaviorism: according to this approach, learning occurs through an association of stimuli and responses. Classical or Pavlovian conditioning is a type of learning in which a neutral stimulus ends up causing a response after it has been coupled to a stimulus that normally causes a response.

"Learning by heart means not learning."

(Michel de Montaigne)

Learning does not mean studying by heart but developing the ability to select relevant information by creating associations.

The relationship that exists between memory and learning is one of the most fascinating and complex elements of our brain. Learning does not mean studying by heart, but developing the ability to select relevant information, organize it into key concepts and detailed concepts, create associations between stored information and what we already know, allowing our memories to operate with maximum efficiency.

In this article, we will see some useful strategies to improve these skills, starting with the role that the types of memory our brain has:

Phylogenetic memory

Phylogenetic memory has accompanied us since our birth. It contains the basic information that in the course of millions of years of evolution have allowed the human species to survive the numerous mutations of the environment.

Reflexes, such as heartbeat, automatic eyelid contraction, salivary reflex, and elementary instincts, belong to this category.

Declarative memory

Declarative memory is a long-term memory whose main expression is language. It can be divided into:

• Semantic memory - It contains our knowledge about the world and has a fundamental role in the learning process. Through this memory, we recover the meaning attributed to a whole series of information objects ranging from people to physical objects, to the environment, suitably connected to each other through logical associations.

• Episodic memory - Stores our life experiences, representing a large part of our personal identity. This memory is constantly evolving, and our memories are much less reliable than we think, as they change with the passage of time, constantly adapting to the life vision of the present moment.

Procedural memory

Procedural memory is an unconscious memory representative of all those automatic skills that do not require attention to be performed. He specializes in:

 Emotional memory - the keeper of our emotions.

• Motor memory - Responsible for automatic motor skills such as speaking, walking, cycling.

 • Cognitive memory - manages repetitive cognitive skills, such as mental arithmetic.

• Memory of conditioned learning - Everything we unconsciously learn through the association between stimuli, and the association between stimuli and responses.

Short-term memory

Short-term memory (MBT) is a type of memory with an estimated maximum duration of around 20 seconds, which plays a fundamental role in understanding and problem-solving activities. Everything we learn first passes through this particular memory.

The studies of psychologist George Miller described in the article The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two, have highlighted a very important limitation:

the human mind is able to store in short-term memory an average of 7 information objects (words, numbers, images, groups of objects), with a variation ranging from a minimum of five to a maximum of nine.

Short-term memory stores information objects through the iteration buffer, a sort of library organized in shelves, in which each shelf contains a single object. Each time a new object arrives, the previous ones are moved to the underlying shelf, and the information object contained in the last shelf is deleted and therefore lost if it has not had time to pass into long-term memory.

We can see here the importance of memory in learning. So in front of our audience, we have to develop these different memories in a progressive and targeted way by activities that will allow the learner to move from conscious work to automated work, to know the integration of processes into more processes which encompass them, and thus make it possible to treat them more economically.

What is the link between short term memory and long term memory?

Now that you know how long-term memory works let's take a look at transferring information from short-term memory to long-term memory.

It is, in fact, a process that remains relatively poorly understood by scientists.

There are two models which differ somewhat from each other. Nevertheless, researchers have found that attention, stress and emotions are the factors that allow memorization and the transfer of information between the two memories.

A piece of information passes in the sensory memory than in the short-term memory. And it is only once the information is encoded in short term memory that it can be transferred into long term memory. It has, however, been called into question by the work of other researchers, notably Shallice and Warrington.

The transition from short-term memory to long-term memory would not be done in a straight line, but it would be possible that there is a parallel path: the same information could be stored simultaneously in short-term memory AND in long term memory. This would explain why some patients who do not have short term memory may have long term memory. This is particularly the case of patient KF who had a disturbance of his short-term memory but a preserved long-term memory. Nevertheless, this theory would imply to be verified a very complex study of the brain. This is why here again; the models of explanation of memory are likely to evolve with the progression of our knowledge.

What are the effects of sleep on our memory?

Sleep plays a fundamental role in consolidating the lessons learned from the previous day. People who have a poor sleep, such as sleep apnea syndrome, will have poorer concentration and more fragile memorization.

Does the generalization of the “search engine” approach, which consists of no longer memorizing large amounts of information but of “searching on-demand”, lead to a decline in our cognitive faculties?

When the books appeared, the philosophers were afraid that the memory would disappear. In fact, due to books, we have increased our cognitive abilities: we learned the essentials and reserved the rest of our brain for reflection and creativityA guide to Memory and learning, knowing that books could provide us with the missing knowledge. The same concern arises with search engines. But an answer found on the Internet will be retained since we made an effort to look for it. The computer and the Internet will not change our memory but rather our way of thinking.

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