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Annu Rev Psychol. 1987;38:631-68.

Human learning and memory.


There have been several notable recent trends in the area of learning and memory. Problems with the episodic/semantic distinction have become more apparent, and new efforts have been made (exemplar models, distributed-memory models) to represent general knowledge without assuming a separate semantic system. Less emphasis is being placed on stable, prestored prototypes and more emphasis on a flexible memory system that provides the basis for a multitude of categories or frames of reference, derived on the spot as tasks demand. There is increasing acceptance of the idea that mental models are constructed and stored in memory in addition to, rather than instead of, memorial representations that are more closely tied to perceptions. This gives rise to questions concerning the conditions that permit inferences to be drawn and mental models to be constructed, and to questions concerning the similarities and differences in the nature of the representations in memory of perceived and generated information and in their functions. There has also been a swing from interest in deliberate strategies to interest in automatic, unconscious (even mechanistic!) processes, reflecting an appreciation that certain situations (e.g. recognition, frequency judgements, savings in indirect tasks, aspects of skill acquisition, etc) seem not to depend much on the products of strategic, effortful or reflective processes. There is a lively interest in relations among memory measures and attempts to characterize memory representations and/or processes that could give rise to dissociations among measures. Whether the pattern of results reflects the operation of functional subsystems of memory and, if so, what the "modules" are is far from clear. This issue has been fueled by work with amnesics and has contributed to a revival of interaction between researchers studying learning and memory in humans and those studying learning and memory in animals. Thus, neuroscience rivals computer science as a source of interdisciplinary stimulation. Research on topics such as memory for spatial location, the relation between memory and affect, and autobiographical memory reminds us that general theories of memory based on studies of verbal materials alone are limited. Investigating how people remember complex natural events should provide us with a larger set of memory phenomena to explain and consequently insight into a wider range of memory principles or a deeper understanding of the ones we already accept (e.g. the role of repetition, encoding specificity), including their functional significance for human behavior.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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