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Draft of March 21, 2006

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Chapter 8. MEASURING MEMORY
The first successful measurement of human memory, accomplished by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885, was a breakthrough achievement in psychological research: it showed that psychologists could study phenomena that seem inextricably bound up in subjective experience. In remembering a previous experience, people are often focused inward on the memory, rather than outward on the presentation of a stimulus (as is characteristic of measurements of sensitivity or of mental processing time). As a result, memory seems for many people to be a completely subjective experience. In order to measure memory, Ebbinghaus objectified it by asking “What does a memory allow us to do?” and then measured products of our use of memory. The success of this approach has led to its adoption as a general strategy for measuring a full array of apparently subjective psychological characteristics, from personality, attitudes, beliefs, and intelligence to perceptions, dreams, and feelings. Ebbinghaus described his approach in a slim monograph titled Uber das Gedachtnis (translated from the German as On Memory), and his analysis still serves as a model of Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909) careful psychological experimentation. Remarkably, the data he reported all came from testing his own memory; however, his methods were readily applied to investigating the memory of others, and similar results were found. In the years since Ebbinghaus solved the problem of measuring memory, psychologists have developed a much better understanding of how memory works. Contemporary theories of memory now make precise, quantitative predictions about a wide variety of characteristics of memory-based performance. Moreover, the advent of brain imaging techniques, which allow visualization of activity in the brain as people carry out memory tasks, has renewed efforts to localize memory in particular parts of the brain. Indeed, brain stimulation studies have occasionally suggested that some memories can be elicited by stimulating a particular section of brain tissue.

each is worth describing in more detail. allows us to learn faster and to respond more quickly and more accurately. Anyone who has to memorize lines for a play or movie. which is an example of learning to a criterion (as contrasted with learning over a fixed . Ebbinghaus developed each of these components himself. Ebbinghaus’ approach to memory began with his focus on what memory allows us to do. Having some memory of a prior event. Briefly mentioned in chapter 4 on graphing.Draft of March 21. and the savings score as a measure of memory. For his research. “caj”. That some CVC combinations are words underscores an important fact about Ebbinghaus’ invention that is often overlooked: the primary significance of the CVC for Ebbinghaus was that it allowed him to create stimulus items in a mechanical fashion (by creating all possible combinations of the initial consonant set. and “dog”. “cat” and “rat”. Having a memory also alters the way we react to events that have a connection to that prior experience (as illustrated by our rating someone to be familiar to us if we have met them previously at a party). and a measure of memory. such as “byq”. 2006 Page 2 This chapter provides an overview of the measurement of memory. the vowel set and the terminal consonant set) so that he could then create stimulus lists that were meaningless. regardless of how familiar or unfamiliar individual items are. As a basis for deciding how much time to spend on a list. “dor”. Studying memory experimentally requires 3 components: a set of stimulus materials. Serial list learning is a procedure which requires memorizing a list of items presented in a fixed order. rather than on what memory allows us to experience. inventing the CVC syllable as a type of stimulus material. Ebbinghaus studied each list until he achieved one perfect recitation of it. Ebbinghaus’ approach to memory. serial list learning as a procedure. The CVC syllable is a 3 letter combination in which the initial and terminal letters are consonants and the middle letter is a vowel (including “y”). beginning with the work of Ebbinghaus and continuing to a short review of contemporary measures. the critical ingredient in serial list learning is new learning. which involves learning the succession from one item to the next. From Ebbinghaus’ perspective. or passages of poetry for recitation. a procedure for presenting these materials so they can be remembered. is engaged in serial list learning. even if indistinct.

2 1 44.7%.8 Figure 8-2. a Retention Interval (hrs) Mean Percentage Savings rounded from 8. which becomes 80/120 x 100% or . Ebbinghaus’ forgetting function .40) / 120 x100% . The formula for calculating savings is shown in Equation 8-1: Eq. Ebbinghaus’ data on retention. if original learning required 120 s and the re-learning required 40 s. compared to the time for original learning. as a percentage of the time for original learning. 8-1 Percent Savings = ((TOL . on the idea that any residual memory of the initial presentations will be apparent in a savings in the time needed to re-learn the list.TRL) / TOL) x 100% (where TOL = Time for Original Learning and TRL = Time for Re-Learning). meaning that re-learning took place with a savings of 67% of the time needed for original learning.667 x 100% = 66. 2006 number of repetitions).2 9a 35. For example.75 hrs 0 100 . Some of Ebbinghaus’ results (previously presented in Table 6-2 and Figure 6-8) are presented in Table 8-2 and Figure 8-2: Table 8-2.Draft of March 21. The special importance of the savings measure for Ebbinghaus is that it provided him a way to measure his memory without having to cue himself about which list to recollect for any given test.3 58.8 24 33. Page 3 The savings score compares the time needed to re-learn a given list to the time needed to learn that list initially. the savings would be (120 . This formula expresses the amount of time saved during re-learning.

published in the 1930s. procedures and memory tests different from those invented by Ebbinghaus. These models. like Sir Frederic Bartlett’s Remembering. the study of memory was overshadowed by the emergence of studies of learning and conditioning. he has distinguished among anoetic (non-knowing. or procedural. a pioneering investigator who has highlighted important distinctions among different forms of memory and has developed methods to measure the different forms. For example.Draft of March 21. memory. based on an analogy between human cognition and the processing of information by digital electronic computers (Simon & Newell. 1972). studies of memory did not attract much research interest until “information-processing” models of cognition appeared in the 1950s and 1960s. 2006 Page 4 After Ebbinghaus. The increased attention to human memory resulted in a major re-conceptualization of it. highlighted the importance of human memory because of the critical role of memory in computer operations. which is evident in changed . The varied nature of newer approaches is exemplified in the research of Endel Tulving. Rather than being viewed as a single faculty. and from memory following mastery of a list to memory following only one or two repetitions. each with a different representational format. each with distinctive characteristics and requiring different tools for its investigation. rather than CVC syllables that had to be learned before they could be remembered as units. and it was followed by reports of Pavlov’s discovery of principles of classical conditioning (both topics are discussed further in Chapter 11). This new conceptualization shifted the focus of research from memory for an entire list to memory for the individual items in the list. short-term memory and long term memory. Thus. For the generation of American psychologists that followed Ebbinghaus. This emergence began with Thorndike’s analysis of “animal intelligence” and his formulation of the Law of Effect as a general explanatory principle of the learning process. The modal model of memory of the 1960s and 1970s. researchers began to use meaningful items. storage capacity. for instance. With these shifts in focus. such as words and identifiable pictures. memory was described as consisting of multiple components. contemporary studies of memory tend to use stimulus materials. Using meaningful materials as stimuli also permitted researchers to rely on recall as a measure of memory. and persistence. With a few notable exceptions. included 3 types of memory: iconic memory.

as in a _ _ a _ _ i n . Tulving and his colleagues have suggested (e.42 = 14) is an example of a priming effect. Tulving. a participant is given a word fragment in which some of the letters of the word are replaced by blanks. Tulving et al. or episodic memory. found that. more accurately.) Measures of memory: Priming .. assassin). or semantic memory.. The next sections will describe examples of each of these methods. Testing was carried out either 1 hour or 1 week later.Draft of March 21. For this task. and the test consisted of 48 word fragments. 1995) that priming effects might be a direct measure of procedural memory.g.g. The difference of 14% (56 . Among the methods Tulving has proposed to measure each of these forms of memory are priming methods to measure procedural memory (e. their subjects completed 56% of the fragments based on studied words but only 42% of the fragments based on non-studied words. 2006 reactions to stimuli. which is a kind of mental impairment caused by disease . (knowing. the task itself can be done in the absence of this prior exposure. participants were asked to study a list of 96 words for a subsequent memory test (the type of test was left unspecified). based on past experience with them). of which half were based on words that were studied (“old”) and half were based on words that were non-studied (“new”). Tulving & Shacter. on average. Page 5 Endel Tulving (19xx . because they are found even for people who suffer from anterograde amnesia. including memory for the time and context of the experience). or more predictably following the exposure. Schacter & Tulving.. Priming refers to enhanced performance on a task as a consequence of prior exposure to the task or at least to some parts of it. which is evident in the remembrance of specific experiences. which is evident in the facts. but it can be done more quickly. noetic. Tulving (e. Shacter & Stark 1982) introduced the word fragment completion task as one method to obtain priming effects. general information and other knowledge one can express) and autonoetic (selfknowing. with the task being to fill in the blanks with letters to make a word (in this case.g. Usually. 1995) and rememberknow discrimination methods to measure separately semantic and episodic memory. In the study by Tulving and his colleagues.

Because adults are well practiced in speaking and writing (or typing) words. 2006 Page 6 or accident in which a person is unable to remember new information for more than a few tens of seconds. and dissociations are frequently used as evidence for the separation of components of memory.Draft of March 21. that all require reproducing past information) or as a recognition task (as with multiple choice or matching questions. an interesting technique invented by another researcher. priming is not a pure measure of procedural memory. Larry Jacoby. in general. does seem to provide a way to extract a measure of procedural memory from priming (and other memory tasks). The ability to say “I remember this” is a hallmark of explicit memory measures. The fact that someone can show evidence of memory (by showing priming effects) but have no experience of remembering the events that produced the priming is an example of a dissociation between one aspect of memory and another. because priming can occur when people remember their previous experiences as well as when they cannot. will be described later. knowing the past. recall and recognition. Subsequent research has shown that. Measures of memory: Remembering. Such measures are very familiar to students. that all require identifying whether information on the test was presented in the course). or fill-in-the-blank questions. Many people with anterograde amnesia show priming effects that are more or less the same as those for people without this impairment. is an implicit memory measure that reveals the persistence of memory without requiring an explicit declaration that a current task is related to a past experience. called the process dissociation procedure. A priming score. In recall tasks. either as a recall task (as with essay. However. people are asked to reproduce information from memory. This technique. like the savings score developed by Hermann Ebbinghaus. short answer. who encounter them in the form of different types of exam questions. all designed to determine how much information students remember from past experiences in the class. laboratory studies of memory often present words as stimuli and ask research participants either to recite or to write down all the . Explicit memory measures commonly occur in one of two forms.

In cued recall. the basis for responding is linked sometimes to a clear and detailed memory of a particular moment in one’s past and at other times only to general knowledge or to a nonspecific feeling of familiarity. In free recall. Verbal materials are very common. based on a feeling of familiarity or general knowledge of what had happened in the past. In serial recall. and so on. He suggested that these judgments also provided a way to distinguish between semantic and episodic memory. without regard to the order in which items were presented. but three types of instruction are commonly used. The utility of the Know/Remember paradigm has been . based on memory of a specific moment. from a set of 2 or more items. Recognition tasks are classified in terms of the way subjects respond: yes/no recognition tasks ask subjects to indicate for each single item whether it is “old” (previously presented in the experiment). Regardless of whether explicit memory is measured with a recall task or a recognition task. using Know judgments to index semantic memory and Remember judgments to index episodic memory. people are asked to indicate whether or not some given information is remembered from a prior experience. Additionally. and cued recall. including animals and young children. Recall can be carried out to comply with different kinds of instructions. serial recall. creating three types of recall test: free recall. Tulving (1985) showed that people could categorize judgments based on memory as either a remember (R) judgment. whereas forced choice recognition asks subjects to select which item. rather than ask for a re-production of an item as in the recall task. responders recall items in the order in which they were presented. because they are easy to present for testing as well as for studying. then the first word. recognition can be tested in a wider range of subjects. Because recognition tasks present a test item. for example. then a word from the middle of the list.Draft of March 21. and other kinds of stimulus materials are found much more often in recognition studies than in recall studies. 2006 Page 7 words they remember during test periods. but music. was presented previously in the experiment. responders are given explicit cues and are asked to recall items that go with the cue. or “new” (not previously presented in the experiment). pictures. a responder might write the last word presented. or a know (K) judgment. laboratory studies of recognition include a wider variety of materials than do studies of recall. In recognition tasks. participants are asked to recall as many studied items as possible.

Draft of March 21. the characteristic result of asking for recall immediately after presentation of the information is a bowed serial position curve. Page 8 Measures of Memory: General features. whereas information from the middle sections of the list (serial positions 5 to 11. Bowed serial position curve for 15-item list. 2. the spacing effect. When people are presented with information in a list format. illustrated in Figure 8-3 for a 15-item list. their memory for individual items in the list depends on the items’ position within the list. the list length effect. Figure 8-3. say) is recalled less well. etc. a task in which people recall information from a list in any order they choose. 14. Bowed serial position curve. 3. 15) is recalled most consistently.) and information at the end of the list (serial positions 13. and the levels of processing effect. 2006 demonstrated repeatedly in contemporary research. The first item in the list occupies Serial Position 1 and the last item Serial Position 15. In free recall. . Information at the beginning of the list (with serial positions 1. Psychologists have been measuring memory for more than a century. or serial position. and this research has clearly established several characteristic features of memory-based performance: the bowed serial position curve.

and the responses are either “New” or “Old”. Consider the top row. we experience a feeling of familiarity which may be accompanied by emotional responses ranging from joy to dread. The measurement problem for recognition memory is very similar to that discussed in Chapter 4 in regard to measuring sensitivity. and the cells of the matrix represent the 4 possible combinations of stimulus condition and response. The rows of the table represent the two possible stimulus conditions of New Item or Old Item. In this case. Table 8-3 shows the resulting organization. conversely. When we recognize someone. and the problem gives rise to a similar solution. with rows defined on the basis of the nature of the event presented and columns defined on the basis of the response given. Although this complex mixture of subjective experiences is not readily measurable. we can create a 2 x 2 matrix. The ability to distinguish between “old” and “new” can be measured in several ways.Draft of March 21. and responding “New” to every test item leads to high levels of errors on old items). 2006 Page 9 Measures of Memory: Recognition. which is for trials on which new items are presented. the presented events are either “new items” or “old items”. we are led to focus on how well people can distinguish between information that has been previously encountered and information that is new in some way. however. As in the measurement of sensitivity. if we apply to recognition memory the strategy for objectification that Ebbinghaus’ applied to memory for lists of items and ask what recognition memory can be used for. poorer recognition will be shown by fewer recognition responses to “Old” items as well as more responses to “New” items. It is important to note that the critical ingredient for measuring recognition consists of the combination of responding “Old” to old items and “New” to new items (simply responding “Old” to every test item leads to high levels of errors on the new items. and we may also be reminded of specific moments from our past experiences. Better recognition will be shown by higher levels of recognition responses to “Old” items coupled with lower levels to “New” items. The simplest way is to present a set of items for study then test with a mixture of items that were not previously studied (“New”) and items that were studied ( “Old”). the columns of the table represent the two possible responses given by the subject of “New” or “Old”. If on such trials the subject responds correctly that . the fact of recognition allows us to discriminate between what is familiar and what is novel. Thus.

00 Test Condition New Item Table 8-4 Response “New” . the False Alarms (FA). If the subject incorrectly responds “New”. could be reflected either in a tendency to judge . In this example.Draft of March 21. measuring the accuracy of recognition memory involves trying to factor out the effects of response biases.00 Measuring how well people can discriminate between old items and new items is done by comparing Hits to False Alarms or by computing a d’ value.25 Total 1. the response is designated a Correct Rejection. the Misses (M). Table 8-4 is an example of this matrix with numbers for the four different conditions. If we know the proportion of False Alarms. as do the proportions for Hits and Misses. if we know the proportion of Hits. and correctly reports that old items are “Old” more often than not. If the subject correctly responds “Old”. for recognition. the proportions for Correct Rejections and False Alarms equal 1. the result is designated a Hit. Because the numbers in each row are the proportions of times each response is made for a particular test condition. showing as proportions the Correct Rejections (CR).35 . As was the case for measuring how well people can detect a sensory event. Old Item . the subject correctly reports that new items are “New” more often than not. and the Hits (H). If the subject incorrectly responds “Old”. then the error is designated a Miss. which. which is for trials on which old items are Table 8-3 Test Condition New Item Old Item Response “New” Correct Rejection Miss “Old” False Alarm Hit presented.0 when added together. Next consider the second row. Similarly.75 “Old” . using the same steps described in Chapter 6 for measuring sensitivity.65 1. Thus. we can calculate the proportion of Correct Rejections as 1 – FA. 2006 Page 10 the item is “New”. the error is designated a False Alarm. we can calculate the proportion of Misses as 1 – Hits. knowing one proportion in each row is enough to fill in the rest of the matrix.

To compare the 3 forms. The Recognition Confidence lamp +2 lily -2 bean . 2006 Page 11 that many events are familiar or in a tendency to judge that many events are novel. ask that participants select or mark those items that were studied or are recognized (depending on the specific test question). however. easy to explain.1 simplicity of this test form must be balanced. mix a set of non-presented items with the studied materials. In Yes/No Recognition. even if feelings of familiarity are weak or missing in some cases. The other two are two-alternative forced choice (2AFC) and recognition confidence. because of the presumption that they are familiar. because of the presumption that they are all new faces. For example. someone attending an alumni reunion may be inclined to report recognizing most people at the reunion. a student on a trip abroad who is visiting a large city for the first time may be inclined to report recognizing no one. is one of three common forms of recognition test. and easy to score. Note in Table 8-6 that the Yes/No Recognition test is a scrambled mix of old and new items.3 rock +3 blue +1 head . to explain the test. with the order of old items jumbled from the Table 8-6: Three Recognition Test Forms Yes/No 2AFC Recognition Recognition lamp Y lamp blue lily N lily head bean N bean rock rock Y blue Y head N study list. known as Yes/No Recognition. I don’t recognize this”. or they might be “Old” or “New”). I recognize this” or “No. against the fact that (as noted) performance on the rain bear rock lamp shoe card beet gold ship lily Table 8-5. suppose that someone has studied the list of 10 words shown in Table 8-5. The test just described. Three forms of recognition test. To create the test. even if someone seems very familiar. Word List for Recognition . On the other hand. and to score the test tally each test trial in one of the 4 cells of the 2 x 2 matrix shown in Tables 8-3 and 8-4. a test trial consists of presenting a single item to which one of two responses is made (the responses might be “Yes.Draft of March 21. Yes/No recognition tests are easy to create.

the 2AFC test is more complicated to create. The advantage of such ratings of recognition confidence is that they can be used to construct an ROC curve and derive a d’ measure that is based on more than a single pairing of Hit and False Alarm proportions. because the use of item pairs adds two methodological concerns. each test trial consists of a pair of items. as illustrated in the middle column of Table 8-6. and the task is to select the old item. First. 2006 test reflects response bias as well as memory. The response scale illustrated in Table 8-6 is one in which a -3 indicates high confidence that an item is new and a +3 indicates high confidence that an item is old. Compared to Yes/No Recognition. except that responders give an indication of their degree of confidence in their judgment. and second. In 2AFC. the pairing of items must be done in a way that scrambles the possible pairs. the order of items in a pair must be scrambled to avoid having all (or most) of the old items on one side or the other. Note how in Table 8-6 the old items lamp and lily are on the left and the old item rock is on the right. The Recognition Confidence test form is similar to Yes/No Recognition. . of which one is old and one is new.Draft of March 21. Page 12 The 2AFC test form is presumed to avoid the problem of response bias.