Memory is one of the most important concepts in human life. Generally speaking, it means the preservation and subsequent reproduction by an individual of his experience. The history of the study of memory in psychology is huge and is primarily associated with the general history of psychology itself as a discipline. American psychologist, professor of Harvard University Daniel Schacter studied human memory for many years and eventually formulated the “seven sins” that all people are subject to (The Seven Sins of Memory 2001). The first three sins are related to omissions, the so-called “gaps” in memory – they are associated with different ways of forgetting.
The remaining four sins can be called the “sins of the commission” that arise when individual is trying to remember the information stored in memory. Schacter offers a new understanding of memory, differentiating between its aspects and including the processes of forgetting as a necessary part of memory.
The first sin is transience – memories that are rarely accessed tend to fade over time and lose important details. When a person has learned new information, for a while they remember it well enough, and can easily recall it again. However, the more time passes, the weaker the memory becomes, and it takes more and more effort to recall it again. In the end, the memory may disappear altogether. At the same time, the things that a person would like to forget, they often remember too clearly – this sin Schacter called the persistence of memory. The problem is that the stronger one’s desire to forget something, the more attention they pay to this memory, each time playing it over and over again, and thus preventing it from fading.
The third sin is suggestibility: people can easily believe in something that actually did not exist. For example, if someone add some colorful detail to a story about an event, then later it will be remembered by the people who listened to it in this changed form. After several iterations – repeated retelling of the story to different people – the memory of the event can change beyond recognition. Another way to “juggle” the facts, which is often used by human memory, the scientist called bias. It refers to the fact is that it is so important for the brain to maintain a holistic picture of the world that it can easily correct old memories in accordance with new views. Schacter then referred to the unpleasant effect of “on the tip of the tongue” as the sin of blocking. In fact, this sin is directly related to the imperfection of the process of extracting information from memory.
Memory is closely related to another cognitive function – attention. The sin of absent-mindedness often surfaces during conversations: as soon as a person gets distracted a little, they no longer remember what another person just said to them. Finally, the last sin is attribution – that is, the tendency not to remember where the brain got this or that information. This seems logical, because this is how the brain saves its resources, however, it can also often lead to rather unpleasant consequences.
Memory plays a very important role in any human’s life. It can be surprisingly accurate or have significant gaps. Schacter suggests that such errors can be considered nothing more than a side effect of the normal functioning of memory. It is precisely the selectivity that memory shows that allows humans to exist normally in a world overflowing with information. Some specific memories, perhaps, could be forgotten from time to time, but people are still able to process and store a huge amount of information. Schacter’s theory of seven sins of memory relates closely to the course of general psychology, because memory, being the base of human thinking ability, is a big part of almost any psychological study.
Schacter, D. (2001). The seven sins of memory. Psychology Today, 34, 62-67.