Theories Of Basic Memory Processes
It is important to note that Ebbinghaus was working within the philosophical/psychological framework of associationism. With roots stretching back to Aristotle, associationism asserts that higher order mental processes, such as creativity or language, are produced by the combination of simpler mental processes, such as the mental association of objects, ideas, or experiences due to their similarity. Memory is said to be made up of associations between elements based on their similarity, contrast, or occurrence together in time or space. This implies a rather passive or inactive mind and memory, where the individual and their memory receives impressions and basically categorizes them according to their straightforward, objective characteristics. Remembering is simply reproducing these impressions and associations. Within this framework, when asked to remember and describe a rose, a person might "search" their memory for a specific representation of a rose or a specific experience with a rose, and use this to describe one.
This is in contrast to reconstructive theories of memory as proposed for example by William James in 1890, and by Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett in 1932. Within these theories, memory is seen as an active reconstruction and organization of past experiences that influences how new information is interpreted and organized, as well as how and what information is remembered. In contrast to associative theories, reconstructive theories of memory hold that abstract principles about new experiences and information are what is stored, not exact reproductions of the experiences themselves. During recall, specific memories are often reconstructed according to these general principles, they are not always reproductions of experience. Thus memory processes take an active role in what and how information is remembered. Within this framework, a person asked to remember and describe a rose might first access their general knowledge of plants, then flowers, then their knowledge of roses in general, and using this information, build or construct a description of a rose. In recent years, reconstructive theories of memory have gained favor as many psychologists believe that most mental processes, such as language and perception, are too complex to be explained by the combination of simple associative connections and reproductive memory.
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