Reaction to “The psychology of memory” by Baddeley (2004)

Reaction to Baddeley (2004) by Richard Thripp
EXP 6506 Section 0002: Fall 2015 – UCF, Dr. Joseph Schmidt
September 2, 2015 [Week 2]

Baddeley (2004) discusses the contemporary research and competing models on how various aspects of human memory operate. Based on research, a general model dividing declarative (explicit) and nondeclarative (implicit) memory has achieved broad acceptance (p. 6)—however, the details remain up for field testing and debate, such as which distinct types of memory exist, how they overlap, what category or categories they fit into, and how these types of memory relate to everyday life. Intense inquiry, including studying patients with brain damage, memory deficits, and amnesia, has greatly refined the psychology of memory; it is now regarded as a complex and nuanced system that interacts, both within its components (short-term memory, long-term memory, and their subtypes) and with the external environment. We have progressed greatly in the past century—we no longer regard memory as a monolithic faculty, nor do we take semantic memory for granted as psychologists did prior to the 1960s (p. 6).

Baddeley has produced a literature review that is engaging and highly readable. He has done a great deal of research in this area—he references 15 articles for which he was the primary author, and seven more articles that he co-authored. His scientific humility is shown in areas where he presents competing viewpoints or suggests reading other authors who have expanded and refined his works, such as the expansions by Vallar & Papagno (2002) and Della Sala & Logie (2002) on the Baddeley & Hitch (1974) model of working memory (Baddeley, 2004, p. 3-4). He is cautious to not pick sides or make definitive judgments—this can be seen in phrasing such as “among the strongest arguments” (p. 1), “it is generally accepted” (p. 6), and “one view is that” (p. 8). This concern for impartiality, rigor, and detail endears Baddeley to the reader and shows him leading by example, encouraging the reader to consider all the evidence and potential unknowns.

Baddeley presents the viewpoint of Squire (1992), that semantic memory is simply the result of episodic memories for which the brain has lost context (p. 6). Similarly, in a lecture on April 21, 2015, to a Developmental Psychology graduate class, Professor Sims proposed the argument that “wisdom” might be characterized as knowledge without context, where the source of the knowledge has simply been forgotten, while the knowledge remains. Forgetting where, how, or from whom you learned something does not mean the episode or source does not exist, but it does mean it may be, for practical purposes, irretrievable. Alternately, the acquisition may have been spread out over a long period of time, making it hard to quantify. However, it is apparent why we may want to attribute this to experience or wisdom rather than memory loss—it is a much more palatable and polite designation. Squire’s characterization of semantic memory provides a potential explanation for how we learn language, culture, and habits—not in a singular episode, but slowly, over time, and typically without conscious consideration.

I was delighted by the discourse on prospective memory, which is an area where the elderly are paradoxically better than young people (Baddeley, 2004, p. 9), perhaps because they are more cautious about writing things down, keeping a schedule, setting alarms, and recognizing that their memory is highly fallible. On the other hand, young people are often overly trusting of their own ability to remember, to hilarious or disastrous consequences, such as showing up to class on Labor Day, or forgetting the due date for a course project. These and other “everyday” problems are more interesting to laypersons than laboratory settings, and for this reason, naturalistic materials are even being adopted in controlled settings (p. 11).

Reference

Baddeley, A. D. (2004). “Chapter 1: The psychology of memory.” In A. D. Baddeley et al. (Ed.), The essential handbook of memory disorders for clinicians. Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons.

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