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Individual Differences In Memory

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Individual Differences In Memory

Memory processes involve encoding, storing, and retrieving past events and knowledge. Research has found individual differences in memory that can affect memory processes. These include:

  • Trauma.

  • Age.

  • Brain activity.

  • Schemas.

  • Processing speed.

Individual differences in memory Drawing of the brain StudySmarterThere are individual differences in memory, Pixabay

Memories and individual experiences

There are different types of memories. Individual experiences shape some of these memories, examples of which are:

Episodic memories

Episodic memory is a form of long-term memory in which you remember details of past experiences. These details may include information about the place, time, and emotions felt.

An example of this is remembering passing your driving test in November when it was snowing, and you felt excited.

Autobiographical memories

Autobiographical memory involves recollections of several personal past events in one’s life. It is usually a combination of semantic knowledge (information about the world) and a series of episodic memories.

An example of this type of memory is remembering the events that occurred when you went on holiday with friends (episodic memories) and other details such as the name of the hotel you stayed in (semantic knowledge).

Some people have hyperthymesia. These are people who are strikingly good at remembering and recalling autobiographical memories. A woman named A.J. could remember every day of her life since she was 14 years old. Little is known about the cause of this phenomenon. However, this shows the importance of studying individual differences in memory.There are also cases where people with intellectual disabilities such as autism have exceptional abilities in other areas; these people are called ‘savants’. Kim Peek was one notable savant who inspired Dustin Hoffman to create his character in the movie Rain Man.Kim was born with a severe brain injury causing him to have significant difficulty with motor tasks such as buttoning his shirt. Kim’s memory, however, was exceptional. He read 12,000 books and could remember every detail of them. He could read two pages simultaneously, one page with his left eye and the other with his right eye. If you tell Kim a date, he can tell you what day of the week the date falls on. Thanks to his remarkable memory and ability to do mathematical calculations in his head, Kim could memorise maps and calculate the best routes between any two cities in the world.

Individual differences in processing speed

How information is processed affects whether memories can be retrieved later and how accurate they are. If a memory is not processed quickly enough before it moves from short-term to long-term memory, it may decay. If a memory decays, it can no longer be recalled.Individual differences in working memory are differences in people’s ability to direct their attention, which is directed to the central executive component of the working memory model (Baddeley & Hitch, 1974). In addition to how the brain processes, encodes, and stores stimuli directed toward the other components of the model.It has also been found that the processing speed of memories varies due to individual differences, such as:

  • Age: as people age, the speed of memory processing slows down.

  • Diseases such as dementia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can affect memory processing speed.

Individual differences in schema

Schemas are a cognitive function organising knowledge and memories in long-term memory. They are categories of information we use to understand the world.

Because we all have different life experiences, our schemas are different, and our schemas influence the way we remember things. Our memories are reconstructed to fit our schema.

You visit France and sit in a café for breakfast. You see local French people ordering non-culture specific things like toast with eggs. However, based on your schema of French food, you remember the French ordered croissants when you recall this memory later.

Individual Differences in Memory Reconstruction schema StudySmarterWe reconstruct our memories according to our schemas, Pixabay

How do individual differences in memory affect cognitive abilities?

Memory is a form of cognition necessary for other cognitive abilities to work efficiently. Examples of cognitive abilities affected by memory include reading, listening, and attention skills. Individual differences in memory can also affect different types of memory.

Some people better remember semantic memory, while others are better at recalling autobiographical memories.

Individual differences in working memory and reading

Daneman and Carpenter (1980) found that performance on reading comprehension tasks may result from differences in working memory capacity. The study found:

  • People with poor reading comprehension may need to limit the amount of information they store in working memory.

  • People with good reading skills were more effective at chunking.

    • Chunking is the ability to group individual ‘chunks’ of information. In this way, memory capacity can increase.

This study shows that working memory capacity and processing affect reading comprehension ability.

Individual differences in accuracy of eyewitness memory

The Yerkes-Dodson law explains why there are individual differences in the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. The theory is that the amount of fear one feels as a witness to a crime affects one’s recollection of the events:

  • Low and high anxiety levels memory accuracy is minimal.

  • Moderate levels of anxiety are the optimal level where memory is most accurate.

Memory loss after a traumatic event can occur due to physical trauma. However, some people forget memories of an event because they repressed the memory. According to psychodynamic psychologists, one defence mechanism is to repress memories. This defence mechanism aims to prevent negative effects, such as panic attacks, that may occur when a traumatic event is remembered. Therefore, the accuracy of eyewitness testimony may depend on how distressed someone is during an event or whether they have experienced a similar negative event.

Individual differences in working memory capacity and dual-process theories of the mind

The dual-process theory of the mind assumes there are two ways in which thoughts can arise:

  1. Automatic this system is unconscious and is typically used for instantaneous thinking.

  2. Controlled this system is intentional and is used when a person must make a conscious effort to think. This system is typically used when people make rational, calculated thoughts.

People with lower working memory capacity rely on the automatic system. People with higher working memory capacity, on the other hand, use the controlled system. When additional tasks are added (increase in information load), people with higher working memory capacity are more impaired than people with lower capacity.

Working memory capacity can affect processing ability and performance on specific tasks.

Individual differences in colour memory

Research has shown that people are more likely to pay attention to coloured objects. Attention to information is vital in the process of encoding and storing memories.

The colour of memory is the colour of an object that someone sees based on their experiences.

If you ask people what colour a banana is, the answer is almost always yellow. However, some people may have seen that there are also red bananas.

Rindermann, Ackermann, and Nijenhuis (2020) found that blind and visually impaired children have higher working memory capacity than non visually impaired children. This finding suggests the brain can compensate for deficits due to visual impairments. Thus, perceiving colours does not necessarily lead to an improvement in memory.

Individual differences in episodic memory ability

There are differences in the ability to form and retrieve episodic memories. Kirchhoff (2009) suggested the individual differences responsible for this are as follows:

  • Differences in brain activity during encoding and retrieval of episodic memories research has found a positive correlation between activity in the prefrontal cortex and memory performance. This finding was evident when an effective strategy was used to recall the stimuli.

  • Differences in encoding strategies some strategies used to remember information are more effective than others for remembering things.

  • Brain lesions individuals with brain damage may have difficulty recalling or retrieving memories.

  • Memory disorders memory disorders can cause people not to form or recall episodic memories.

People with anterograde amnesia cannot form new memories, and people with retrograde amnesia are unable to recall/remember old memories.

Herlitz, Nilsson, and Bäckman (1997) found women performed better than men on episodic memory tasks. There were no gender differences on tests of semantic memory. In general, however, there do not appear to be gender differences in memory.

Evaluation of the individual differences in memory

Let’s now evaluate the individual differences in memory.

Strengths

  • There is a great deal of research evidence supporting individual differences in memory. There is also evidence from case studies such as A.J. and Kim Peek.

  • Differences in memory can be applied to eyewitness testimony. For example, young children and the elderly can be unreliable witnesses. People with hyperthymesia or savants can be very helpful in remembering an event.

Weaknesses

  • Special cases such as savants cannot be readily generalised to others in the same group. Not every person with intellectual disabilities is a savant.

  • Individual differences in memory could be explained by general memory models. Brain scans of A.J., for example, suggested her brain functioned the same as that of people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Individual Differences In Memory - Key takeaways

  • Memory processes involve encoding, storing, and retrieving past events and knowledge. There are individual differences that can affect memory processes.
  • Episodic memories and autobiographical memories are inherently individual.
  • Many factors such as trauma, age, brain activity, schemas, and processing speed can influence individual differences in memory.
  • These individual differences in memory may impact or mediate other cognitive abilities, such as recall accuracy or reading ability.
  • There are cases of people with remarkable memory abilities, such as those with hyperthymesia or savants.

Frequently Asked Questions about Individual Differences In Memory

Individual differences in working memory are differences between people’s abilities to control attention directed to the central executive component of the working memory model (Baddeley & Hitch, (1974). In addition to how the brain processes, encodes, and stores stimuli directed to the other model components. 

Individual differences in learning are differences in how people learn new information. Examples of this are people may rely on repeating or ‘chunking’ information, or different brain regions may be activated.

People have the same kinds of memory; however, they may no longer use some if they have particular neurological disorders; for example, patients with damage to the hippocampus have difficulties using semantic memories. Some memories, such as episodic and autobiographical nature, are based on individual differences, so they vary from person to person. 

Individual differences are differences between people’s psychological, physiological and biological nature due to multiple factors such as age, genre, cognitive abilities.

Example factors that can affect individual differences in memory are age, certain illnesses, such as dementia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, schemas and processing speed.

Final Individual Differences In Memory Quiz

Question

Which types of memory are based on individual differences?

Show answer

Answer

Episodic.

Show question

Question

What is hyperthymesia? 

Show answer

Answer

Hyperthymesia is when someone is extremely good at remembering and recalling autobiographical memories.

Show question

Question

What factors can affect the speed of memory processes?

Show answer

Answer

The factors that can affect the speed of memory processes are:

  • Age.
  • Specific mental illnesses.

Show question

Question

How are schemas based on individual differences? 

Show answer

Answer

The schema theory shows that how we understand concepts is based on memories of knowledge acquired from individuals experiences. 

Show question

Question

According to Daneman and Carpenter (1980), how are reading comprehension skills and working memory related?

Show answer

Answer

People with good reading skills are more effective at ‘chunking’ information.

Show question

Question

What is the Yerkes-Dodson law, and how does it explain individual differences in the accuracy of eyewitness testimony? 

Show answer

Answer

The Yerkes-Dodson law explains why there are individual differences in the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. The theory is that the amount of fear one feels as a witness to a crime affects one’s recollection of the events:

  • Low and high anxiety levels – memory accuracy is minimal.
  • Moderate levels of anxiety are the optimal level where memory is most accurate.

Show question

Question

What individual difference factors affect the accuracy of eyewitness testimony? 

Show answer

Answer

The individual difference factors that affect the accuracy of eyewitness testimony are:

  • Anxiety levels when witnessing the event.
  • Traumatic experience. 

Show question

Question

What is the dual-process theory?

Show answer

Answer

The dual-process theory of the mind assumes there are two ways in which thoughts can arise:

  1. Automatic – this system is unconscious and is typically used for instantaneous thinking.
  2. Controlled – this system is intentional and is used when a person must make a conscious effort to think. This system is typically used when people make rational, calculated thoughts.

Show question

Question

What has been found about individual differences in the dual-process theory of the mind and working memory capacity and task performance?

Show answer

Answer

People with lower working memory capacities rely on the automatic system. Whereas people with higher working memory capacity’s rely on the controlled system. When additional tasks are added (increase in information load), people with higher working memory capacity are more impaired than those with lower.   

Show question

Question

What do the Rindermann, Ackermann and Nijenhuis (2020) findings suggest about the perception of colour and memory?

Show answer

Answer

Rindermann, Ackermann and Nijenhuis (2020) suggest perceiving colour does not always necessarily lead to memory improvements.

Show question

Question

Did Herlitz, Nilsson and Bäckman (1997) identify gender differences in semantic and episodic memory?

Show answer

Answer

No.

Show question

Question

Which factors did Kirchhoff (2009) find affected the formation and retrieval of episodic memories?

Show answer

Answer

Brain lesions.

Show question

Question

Which memory disabilities can lead to individual differences in memory processes? 

Show answer

Answer

All of them.

Show question

Question

What is episodic memory? 

Show answer

Answer

Episodic memory is a form of long-term memory in which you remember details of past experiences. These details may include information about the place, time, and emotions felt.

Show question

Question

What is autobiographical memory? 

Show answer

Answer

Autobiographical memory involves recollections of several personal past events in one’s life. It is usually a combination of semantic knowledge (information about the world) and a series of episodic memories.

Show question

Question

What are individual differences in working memory? 

Show answer

Answer

Individual differences in working memory are differences between people’s abilities to control attention directed to the central executive component of the working memory model (Baddeley & Hitch, (1974). In addition to how the brain processes, encodes, and stores stimuli directed to the other model components. 

Show question

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