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Learning and Contemporary Views Memory

The Proceduralist Approach

The modern incarnation of the proceduralist approach began with the levels of processing framework of Fergus Craik and Robert Lockhart. Rather than viewing memory as something that is stored in a system, they viewed memory as the byproduct of performing processing. Because the emphasis is on processing rather than on structure, Craik and Lockhart argued that the most informative research will occur when the experimenter has control over the processing and that therefore researchers should use an incidental learning procedure. The experimenter might ask the subject to judge whether two words rhyme or to judge which of two words has the most pleasant associations. The learning is "incidental" in that the subject is unaware that the material being processed will be tested later on and so is not intentionally trying to remember the information. The type of processing performed at retrieval can also be manipulated.

The basic premise of the transfer-appropriate processing account of memory is that memory will be best when the processing performed at encoding is appropriate given the processing demands required at test. For example, if you processed how an item sounds at encoding but the test emphasizes the meaning of the item, performance will be worse than if your processing focused on how the item sounds at both encoding and retrieval or than if your processing focused on the meaning of the item at both encoding and retrieval. This view offers an explanation for why intent to learn is not an important factor in subsequent tests of learning and memory: if a person uses an inappropriate process, performance will be poor regardless of the intent to learn.

This idea applies very generally. For example, context-dependent memory refers to the observation that memory can be worse when tested in a new or different context relative to performance in a condition in which the context remains the same at both encoding and retrieval. Context can refer to mood (such as happiness at both encoding and retrieval, sadness at both encoding and retrieval, or a mismatch) or to physical location (for example, underwater at both encoding and retrieval, on land at both encoding and retrieval, or a mismatch). One practical implication for divers is that if they memorize decompression tables on land, they may not remember them very well when needed, underwater. The idea is that if you are happy, you are likely to have quite different processing than if you are sad. Neither mood is inherently better (from a memory perspective); the point is that the results of processing while in a sad mood are different from the results of processing while in a happy mood.

One problem with the transfer-appropriate processing view is determining exactly which processes are being used. Larry Jacoby introduced the process dissociation technique, in which a subject is asked to perform two tasks. The experiment is set up so that on one task, two processes can contribute to memory performance, but on a second task, the processes work in opposition. Using this procedure, one can estimate the relative contribution of each process. It remains an empirical question whether this will result in a sufficiently detailed description of the various processes that can be used.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Laser - Background And History to Linear equationLearning and Contemporary Views Memory - The Structuralist Approach, The Proceduralist Approach, Dynamic Memory, Bibliography