Memory psychology

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Memory (psychology), processes by which people and other organisms encode, store, and retrieve information. Encoding refers to the initial perception and registration of information. Storage is the retention of encoded information over time. Retrieval refers to the processes involved in using stored information. Whenever people successfully recall a prior experience, they must have encoded, stored, and retrieved information about the experience. Conversely, memory failure for example, forgetting an important fact reflects a breakdown in one of these stages of memory.

Memory is critical to humans and all other living organisms. Practically all of our daily activities talking, understanding, reading, socializing depend on our having learned and stored information about our environments. Memory allows us to retrieve events from the distant past or from moments ago. It enables us to learn new skills and to form habits. Without the ability to access past experiences or information, we would be unable to comprehend language, recognize our friends and family members, find our way home, or even tie a shoe. Life would be a series of disconnected experiences, each one new and unfamiliar. Without any sort of memory, humans would quickly perish.

Philosophers, psychologists, writers, and other thinkers have long been fascinated by memory. Among their questions: How does the brain store memories? Why do people remember some bits of information but not others? Can people improve their memories? What is the capacity of memory? Memory also is frequently a subject of controversy because of questions about its accuracy. An eyewitness’s memory of a crime can play a crucial role in determining a suspect’s guilt or innocence. However, psychologists agree that people do not always recall events as they actually happened, and sometimes people mistakenly recall events that never happened.

Memory and learning are closely related, and the terms often describe roughly the same processes. The term learning is often used to refer to processes involved in the initial acquisition or encoding of information, whereas the term memory more often refers to later storage and retrieval of information. However, this distinction is not hard and fast. After all, information is learned only when it can be retrieved later, and retrieval cannot occur unless information was learned. Thus, psychologists often refer to the learning/memory process as a means of incorporating all facets of encoding, storage, and retrieval.

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