Posts Tagged ‘TOT Phenomenon’

More on How Memory Works

November 4, 2009

  Understanding memory failures are key to understanding how memory works. Why can we not always recall the information stored in our brains? Well, one reason might be the enormous size of the brain in terms of nerve cells and synaptic connections. Memory theorists have made a distinction between information that is available in LTM and information that is accessible in LTM. There is much more information available in LTM than can be accessed at any one time. To retrieve information, the right retrieval cue must be used. This is known as the Principle of Encoding Specificity. The cue that was used to store the information is needed at the time the information is retrieved. If this cue cannot be found, or if the person is thinking in a different context, the information will fail to be retrieved. During these failed retrieval attempts we can often think of other items. We can also feel that we can almost recall the item. This is called the tip of the tongue (TOT) phenomenon. This also reveals yet another type of memory, metamemory. Metamemory is knowledge you have about your own memory. If asked a question about which we know nothing, we will not even bother to try to retrieve it. If we think we might know, we shall try to retrieve it. What is especially annoying is when we know we know something, but just can’t remember it. Then, at some later time, when we are not even trying to remember, the answer will come to us. Why this happens and techniques you can use to prevent this from happening will be discussed later in this blog.

LTM can be subdivided into other types of memory. Episodic memory refers to events we have personally experienced, that is, episodes. Amnesia, when people forget who they are and where they came from is commonly referred to as a loss of memory Actually, it is usually a loss of a specific type of memory, autobiographical memory, which is a component of episodic memory. This is the memory of someone’s own specific history. When someone loses all memory, they lose the ability to function. The final stages of Alzheimer’s disease provide a graphic example of what it means to lose all memory. What something was, when and how it occurred are all examples of episodic memory. Remembering that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia is an example of episodic memory. However, the wider significance of that event would be stored in semantic memory. Semantic memory is the storehouse of general knowledge. To solve a problem or to answer an essay question on an exam requires semantic memory.



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