Psychology - Mr. Duez                         LEARNING TARGETS Unit 4                            Cognition: Memory & Thought

Do you remember how classical conditioning compares with operant conditioning? In order to profit from what you learn, you need to remember it--information from sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and even skin sensations need to be translated into codes that your brain can store and you can retrieve.

Memory is your capacity to register, store, and recover information over time, or more simply, the persistence of learning over time. Your memory can be affected by how well you focus your attention, your motivation, how much you practice, your state of consciousness when you learn something and your state of consciousness when you recall it, and interference from other events and experiences. Cognitive psychologists study cognition, all the mental activities associated with thinking, knowing, and remembering information.

This set of chapters look at how you make memories, remember and forget them, solve problems, and use thinking in your use of language.

If you learn only 6 things from this unit...

1. Cognition is the study of mental processes.

2. STM seems to be limited to 7+ - 2 items at any given time.

3. The differences between encoding, storage, and retrieval are important.

4. Models of LTM deal with how we organize information that we need to know.

5. Problem solving involves applying what we know in an organized way to issues that we face.

6. Language is a complex system of communication that allows us to use complex symbols to talk about things in the past or future, not just the present.


Terms to know & Key Ideas:

Models of memory, Organization of memories in LTM, Retrieving stored memories

Forgetting, Language, Thinking, Problem solving, Creativity

People to know:

Noam Chomsky - language acquisition device

Benjamin Whorf - linguistic relativity hypothesis

Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman - illogical choices - availability heuristic, representative heuristic, framing, & anchoring effect

Steven Pinker - general theory of language acquisition through natural selection - opposition to Chomsky

Sue Savage-Rumbaugh - The first and only scientist to conduct language research with bonobo, controversial view that language is not confined to humans. Opposition to Pinker.

Herbert Simon - contributions to artificial intelligence, the psychology of human cognition, decision-making and list processing

B. F. Skinner - language association, reinforcement, and imitation in children

Wilhelm Wundt was interested in the internal workings of the mind, specifically that consciousness is organized and structured. This idea is echoed in modern cognitive psychology as we focus on how our knowledge is organized. However, modern cognitive psychology has developed empirical techniques to study the organization of knowledge and memory. In this set of chapters, we discuss some of the modern conceptions of memory and how we have gone about studying those processes.


Attention is how we focus our mental energy on any number of a possible stimuli. Dichotic listening involves wearing headphones and having two different messages coming into your ears. Your task is to listen to one ear and shadow that message while ignoring the other ear. It is through this type of research that studies of attention revolve.

Levels of Processing.

According to Fergus Craik and Robert Lockhart’s levels of processing model, how long and how well we remember information depends on how deeply we process the information when it is encoded. With shallow processing, we use structural encoding of superficial sensory information that emphasizes the physical characteristics, such as lines and curves, of the stimulus as it first comes in. We assign no relevance to shallow processed information. For example, once traffic passes and no more traffic is coming, we cross the street. We notice that vehicles pass, but don’t pay attention to whether cars, bikes, or trucks make up the traffic and don’t remember any of them.

Semantic encoding, associated with deep processing, emphasizes the meaning of verbal input.

Deep processing occurs when we attach meaning to information and create associations between the new memory and existing memories (elaboration). Most of the information that we remember over long periods of time is semantically encoded. One of the best ways to facilitate later recall is to relate the new information to ourselves (self-referent encoding).


Theory - Model of Information Processing (Atkinson-Shiffrin):

1. Information enters into a sensory memory for a brief period (250 milliseconds).

2. Information that we pay attention to is then moved to short-term memory (capacity about 7 plus or minus 2 items of info). There we elaborate on it, and it stays for only about 30 to 40 seconds. 3. If we elaborate sufficiently, the info is then transferred to long-term memory.

Each process was thought to involve some underlying neurological process, but it was not specified at the time how the brain actually created this activity. Memory involves 3 processes - encoding, storage, & retrieval. In short, these are the processes by which we get info in (encoding), hang on to it (storage), and get it back out (retrieval).

ENCODING. Information from the environment is encoded when it enters the body through the senses. The 3 primary ways are visual, acoustic, and semantic encoding: Visual is most effective, but the most successful way is to encode in all three ways.

Ex: Learning the sounds and meanings of new words, or seeing pictures while a storyteller tells a tale. If we want to remember large amounts of information, our recall will be easier if we can use chunking to group information together. Remembering a 10-digit phone number is much easier if we remember the pattern 3-3-4 rather than trying to recall 10 unconnected numbers.

STORAGE. Involves previously mentioned sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. STM has a limit not only on the number of items it can hold but also on duration (20 seconds or so). AKA - Working Memory. Use of rehearsal helps to increase the likelihood that those memories will be recalled. LTM is divided into explicit (knowing facts) and implicit memories (remembering how to move your body when walking).

RETRIEVAL. Key to accessing information from LTM is to have an appropriate retrieval cue.

Mnemonics is a memory aid that relies on reorganization of information for easy retrieval. (Song to know information for a test) Evidence suggests that retrieval is better when the context in which we are trying to retrieve something matches the context in which it was learned: encoding specificity or transfer appropriate processing. The idea is that when we learn something the context is part of the overall memory. By reinstating that context when retrieval is occurring, we are creating an optimal recall situation.

ORGANIZATION. 2 biggest assumptions (although incorrect) of long term memory are:

1. capacity is unlimited, &

2. once the information gets into long-term memory, it is there forever.

Nodes/Links: Activation is the process of "thinking" about a concept. When we activate a node, that activation spreads down the links to related nodes. Recently, psychologists have divided memory into explicit and implicit memory.  Explicit memory - memory for information that you are aware of.  Implicit memory - memory that influences your behavior but for which you have no conscious awareness.


Heuristics - shortcuts to a solution.

Algorithms - approaches to problems that will definitely result in a correct solution. They are long, yet certain. 

In the last 30 years, the study of cognitive psychology and memory has come a long way. We have developed models of memory that help us understand why people remember things, why people forget things, and why, sometimes, we need to work to learn things. In general, it is best to keep in mind that no matter how recent your textbook is, new information is always constantly evolving about memory.

LANGUAGE: Complex communication system that involves the use of abstract symbols to convey unlimited messages. Human language can convey meaning about things that haven't happened yet, things that happened in the past, and things that may never happen. Because we can transcend time and space with language, we have unlimited ability to communicate ideas.

Structure of Language. Multi-layered process.

Phonemes: smallest unit of sound in a language. All the letters of the alphabet are phonemes. In English we produce all the unique sounds that we are able to make by combining about 40-50 unique phonemes. Other languages make due with less. Hawaiian = 30 phonemes.

Morphemes: smallest unit of meaning in a language. Small words, such as cat or walk, are morphemes. If we add the letter s to cat, we now have two morphemes (cat(s)), and if we add-ing to walk, we have two morphemes (walk(ing)).  

Grammar: system of rules used in a language.

Semantics: the way we understand meaning from words by their morphemes and from their context.  We know that adding an -s to the end of a word means that we are referring to more than one.

Context: Words can have different meanings depending on the placement in a sentence or on the context. "I'm dying!" has a very different meaning when said by a person who is bleeding on the ground versus an adolescent preparing for her first middle school dance.

Syntax: rules that refers to the way we order words to create meaning. "Your new please away shoes put" makes us confused, whereas "Please put away your new shoes" is quite clear.

Learning Language

Behaviorists believe being "exposed" to things in the environment, reinforcement, and repetition is correct. Nativists, however argue that we are "hardwired" to learn language & that humans are unique in that respect. Both sides have supporters, evidence isn't clear which is correct.

Acquisition of Language

“Language acquisition is one of the central topics in cognitive science. Every theory of cognition has tried to explain it; probably no other topic has aroused such controversy.  Possessing a language is the quintessentially human trait: all normal humans speak, no nonhuman animal does.  Language is the main vehicle by which we know about other people's thoughts, and the two must be intimately related. Every time we speak we are revealing something about language, so the facts of language structure are easy to come by; these data hint at a system of extraordinary complexity. Nonetheless, learning a first language is something every child does successfully in a matter of a few years and without the need for formal lessons. With language so close to the core of what it means to be human, it is not surprising that children's acquisition of language has received so much attention. Anyone with strong views about the human mind would like to show that children's first few steps are steps in the right direction.”   - Steven Pinker

Noam Chomsky, a linguist, believed that language is learned by exposure to language, but the ability to speak is hardwired. He believed there is a critical period of language acquisition, and if we do not learn language during that time, we will not learn language well. There is overwhelming evidence to support this theory.

The Language Instinct (1994) by Steven Pinker was the first of several books that combined cognitive science with behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology. In it he introduced the science of language and popularized Noam Chomsky's theory that language is an innate faculty of mind, with the twist that this faculty evolved by natural selection as a Darwinian adaptation for communication.

Age  -->  Milestone

Birth to 2 months --> Cooing

2 months to 12 months --> Babbling

Approx. 12 months --> First word (typically matching a simple sound: "da")

Approx. 16 months --> 2-word utterances

2-6 years --> Add 6-10 new words a day; learn grammar. Over-extension ("doggie" for ever 4-legged animal)

Age 5 --> Over-regularization: "I go-ed to the store."

From Age 5 on --> Add words to vocabulary; learn subtleties of language.

**Other languages show the same pattern of acquisition (not just English).

LANGUAGE & THOUGHT. Do our words shape the way we think, or do we have ideas first and then look for ways to articulate them? Linguist Benjamin Whorf believed it was the former; linguistic determinism: our words shape & restrict our thinking.


Arbitrariness: words are not inherently imbued with meaning. They are selected and stand for objects in the world in an arbitrary manner. Dog in English is chien in French.

Displacement: language allows us to talk about events that have already happened, events that will happen, and events that may not happen at all. No other form of communication allows for this.

Vocal-Auditory Channel: All languages in all cultures rely on this as the primary form of communication using language.


1. ALGORITHMS (step-by-step approach)

Some algorithms involve simple trial and error. If X is a possible solution to a problem, the algorithm for a solution might be stated "Try X; if X works, then X = solution; if X doesn't work, then try next X." Clearly, this could go on as many times as there is another possible X.   Algorithms guarantee a solution but can be time consuming.

2. HEURISTICS (a procedure that has worked in the past and is seen as likely to work in the future)

Heuristics are "rules of thumb" based on past experiences. If the light in your room goes out, you could check the fuse box, change the lightbulb, check the wires in the wall or lamp, check the socket, and so on. Because experience suggests that the probability of the light bulb burning out is higher than the other choices, you try that first.  Heuristics take less time than algorithms, but they may not result in a solution.

3. MEANS-END ANALYSIS (keeps in mind the final goal when setting sub-goals)

In planning your study for finals, you might start with math but will set a time limit because you have exams in three other subjects. Will you need to spend the same amount of time on each? What exactly do you need to focus on?  Means-end analysis generally means - “Begin with the end in mind.”

4. WORKING BACKWARD (start with the goal state and work backward until you reach the present state.)

When a company wants to know how its competitor's product works, it will "reverse engineer" that product. This means beginning with the product and analyzing its construction to see what each part does. The company can then begin with its own parts and reconstruct a similar product.

For example, A trip from New York City to Boston might be planned simply by consulting a map and establishing the shortest route that originates in New York City and ends in Boston. In the working-backward approach, the problem solver starts at the end and works toward the beginning.

Questions to know:

1. When studying memory, we are often concerned with the process of getting information into the system. The process of getting information into short-term memory is called ____.

(retrieval, storage, encoding, sensation, perception)

2. According to memory research, the most important factor in memory performance is___.

(retrieval cues, storage capacity, encoding context, sensation of information, perception of reality)

3. The capacity of short-term memory is ____.

(2 plus or minus 3, 5 plus or minus 1, 3 plus or minus 2, 9 plus or minus 2, 7 plus or minus 2)

4. The stage that information first enters when it comes into the information processing system is called ____.

(short-term memory, long-term memory, encoding stage, sensory memory, working memory)

5. A student closes his eyes and listens to his teacher read a poem. He is struck by the rhythm of each line and the clever way the poet uses rhyme. This student is primarily using what kind of memory?

(explicit memory, implicit memory, visual encoding, acoustic encoding, semantic encoding)

6. An example of explicit memory would be ____.

(learning how to type, remembering your locker combination, practicing a secret handshake, jumping rope, learning to dance rubma)

7. Ernie has to be able to list all the presidents of the US in chronological order for a history quiz. Using what he learned in AP Psychology, he broke the presidents down into groups of four, so that instead of remembering 44 names, he learned 11 groups. This method of grouping items together to make them easier to remember is called _____.

(chunking, encoding, storing, retrieving, cramming)

8. We recall information better when we try to remember it in the same situation as when we learned it. This concept is called ____.

(memory cue, encoding specificity, retrieval context, spreading activation, learning context)

9. Suppose you want to remember all the states. You decide that you are going to make up a song to help you. When you do this, you are using what psychologists call a(n) _____.

(mnemonic, learning strategy, encoding strategy, retrieval strategy, context cue)

10. What evidence suggests that memory is organized the way that it is?

(we say the word doctor faster than we see the word nurse,

we say pillow slower after we see the word couch,

we say computer faster after we see the word couch)

11. Mnemonics help us to remember things more efficiently because they ____.

(provide a catchy tune, provide us with instant, photographic memory of information, provide us with organization for recall,

provide us with context, provide us with a bigger short-term memory)

12. Dina is frustrated because her teacher just called on her and she couldn't think of the answer. She isn't frustrated because she didn't know the answer, but because she had been studying for several days and had practiced that answer several times -- it just wouldn't come to her mind in class. This is most likely an error in what memory system?

(retrieval, encoding, storage, the primacy effect, the recency effect)

13. An example of a task that might lead to poor memory would be ___.

(trying to fit a word into a sentence, learning all the names of the children in a class, associating words with images they represent, saying the numbers of letters in a word, trying to rhyme a word with a nonword)

14. Short-term memory has a capacity that is ____.

(small, large, unlimited, 6 plus or minus 2, variable by individual)

15. Which level is considered to represent the smallest unit of sound in language?

(semantic, lexical, morphemic, phonemic, syntactic)

16. "Curious blue ideas sleep furiously" is a famous statement by a linguist to argue that sentences can be proper but still make no sense. At what level is this sentence ambiguous?

(semantic, lexical, syntactic, phonemic, morphemic)

17. The final stage of the information processing model is ____.

(sensory memory, attention, long-term memory, short-term memory, working memory)

18. Someone is currently paying attention to something. In what stage of information processing is this person?

(sensory memory, attention, long-term memory, short-term memory, explicit memory)

19. The idea that information is better recalled when the encoding context matches the retrieval context is called the _____.

(encoding specificity, mnemonics, retrieval cue, cognitive cue, spreading activation)

20. The difference between the cognitive and behavioral perspective on language acquisition is ____.

(the timing of the onset of language, the idea that there are differences between boys and girls, the time course of language acquisition, the source - the environment versus being hard wired, none-both are talking about the same process, using different words)