Robert Fettgather holds a BA in psychology from San Jose State University as well as Masters and Doctoral degrees. He works as an associate faculty at Mission College in Santa Clara, educating students in different areas of psychology and human development.
Memory can be thought of as an active system that receives information from the senses, organizes and alters it as it stores it, and then retrieves information from storage. All contemporary models for memory focus on three basic processes of encoding, storage, and retrieval. One popular model compares the brain’s memory system to a computer — receiving data (encoding), converting it into an understandable code and storing it (storage), and then accessing the data for later use (retrieval).
Here is another comparison to technology- memory feels like a video recorder of the mind, but it is far more complex and more fallible than you might think! Problems can interfere with the process each step a long the way. For example, simple distraction or inattention can inhibit the encoding process.
The way that memory works isn’t yet completely understood, but there is consensus on the general processes involved in how memories are encoded, stored, and retrieved…albeit imperfectly. The French novelist Proust suggests “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” Memories can be quite subjective and sometimes quite off the mark!
What is your earliest memory? Some people report memories of late childhood while others appear to recall events relating all the way back to their toddler years. In a survey, published in the journal Psychological Science, people’s first memories were collected and reviewed. It was found that almost 40% of those surveyed identified a first memory that, in all likelihood, was fictional.