Psychology as a scientific endeavor is not a particular interest of mine, but rather I see it as a necessary means to several ends, one of which is simply the understanding of the relationship between human beings and reality. What is interesting and revealing is how some theories of mind have come to be supported by observed fact, even though this does not necessarily ‘prove’ them in the scientific sense of the word (scientific theories are never proven, they’re only continually not disproven, as Karl Popper would say).
Mandler’s organisation theory suggests that memory is structured into a semantic network of related items, and accessing each item activates the whole network.
—p. 170, in Chapter 6: ‘Long-term memory’. Reference: Mandler, G. (2011). From association to organisation. Psychological Science, 20, 232-235.
What is fascinating about cognitive psychology, as presented by Groome, is that it attempts to bring all methods under the most scientific, and thus impartial and objective, approach that will look for physical/biological parallels and observable events of complex but distinguishable aspects of the mind.
Even very early in the visual system there appear to be (at least) two basic distinct streams of information flowing back from the retina (Shapley, 1995). These streams are referred to as the parvocellular and magnocellular (…) These pathways carry information back to the primary visual cortex. (…) [Then] the visual infrmation is maintained in (at least) two distinct streams. One stream is termed the ventral stream and leads to inferotemporal cortex and the other, leading to parietal cortex, is known as the dorsal stream.
—p. 46, in ‘The Difference Between Sensation and Perception’. Reference: Shapley, R. (1995). Parallel neural pathways and visual function. In M.S. Gazzaniga (ed.), The Cognitive Neurosciences (pp. 315-324). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
It should be by now evident, to those with a certain independence of mind, self-honesty and a realist logic, that most people live their lives in illusion; this statement can be extended and made specific by saying that a greater part of people’s perceptions and memories are at least distorted, if not outright fabrications. This has to do with the capacity for reception and then the host of factors that affect the storage and subsequent retrievals of memory.
Bartlett concluded that subjects tended to rationalise the story to make it fit in with their own expectations, based on their own experience and understanding of the world [schema].
—P. 161, in Chapter 6: ‘Long-term memory’, reference: Bartlett, F.C. (1992), Remembering, Cambridge Press University.
The beauty of a scientific endeavor such as the practical study of cognitive psychology is that it can show us this is demonstrable in terms of the complex systems of sensation and perception, and the manner in which they are constantly liable to frequent and irredeemable distortion. What was most interesting to me as I read the early chapters, was how much, to my mind and limited understanding of what little I was able to grasp of Critique of Pure Reason, the modern theory of psychology in its most refined and scientific carrying out corroborated more than a few of Kant’s philosophical derivations about the mind and its limits.
Sensation will be considered to be the ‘raw’ bottom-up input from the senses, and perception will be considered to be the end result of the processing of that sensory material within the visual system.
—p.36, in ‘The Difference Between Sensation and Perception’
§ History and Human Fallibility
For better or for worse, in today’s world it is history, and certain narratives of it, which shape our conception of reality, with some degree also relying on a politicized interpretation of scientific research. Hence, it makes sense to concentrate on the perception of the world as a whole from the case of the recording of what we know as history and its subsequent retelling, supposed confirmation and utterly-unscientific moral/cultural judgement.
There is a very good reason why eye-witness accounts are the lowest and most distrusted form of evidence in a modern court of law worth its salt: not only can eye-witnesses be convinced to say anything, either by others or by themselves, but human impression and memory itself is known to be so fallible and prone to distortion that very little stock can be placed on it, in general.
Di Lollo et al. (2000) demonstrated that changing one stimulus rapidly for another disrupted processing of the first stimulus, a process referred to as masking.
—p. 43, in ‘The Difference Between Sensation and Perception’. Reference: Di Lollo, V., Enns, J.T. and Rensink, R.A. (2000). Competition for consciousness among visual events: The psychophysics of reentrant visual processes. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 129 (4), 481-507.
Most of what we consider history, however, boils down to eyewitness accounts of people with preconceived ideas, or opinions and judgement arising later. Where we may find some physical evidence indicating a series of possibilities, historical narrative is, most of the time, based on the greatly distorted view of an interested party. The historian himself, moreover, usually spouses a certain narrative himself and is never a truly neutral and impartial agent.
Distortion of eyewitness testimony by previous schemas has also been investigated, (…), memory was likely to be distorted for any events they had witnessed which were inconsistent with their previous knowledge and schemas.
—p. 164, in Chapter 6:’Long-term memory’, reference: Tuckey, M.R. and Brewer, N. (2003). How schemas affect eyewitness memory over repeated retrieval attempts. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 17, 785-800.
One would think that historians have taken serious account of this already throughout the 20th century, but the truth of the matter is that, for all their so-called ‘corroboration tactics’, their conclusions and opinions always remain their sole judgement of situations that at best could be considered murky. This is how, even today, there is a great divide in opinions, among scholars, about the nature of the series of events that we know today as The Crusades. For the major events, even in recent history, such as the two World Wars for instance, very little besides specific events such as major battles or troop and logistic movements are actually verifiable, and only up to a certain degree. All else is affected by trauma, propaganda, prejudice or outright lies that are spread by rumor and become consensus and which consensus forms the basic material that historians study: their ‘truth’ amounts to whatever the documents of some people said they saw.
Context reinstatement is only effective when the participant is paying attention to their surroundings, and its effects may be masked by distraction or stress.
—p.176, in Chapter 6: ‘Long-term memory’. Reference: Thompson, L.A., Williams, K.L., L’Esperance, P.R. and Cornelius, J. (2001). Context-dependent memory under stressful conditions: the case of skydiving. Human Factors, 43, 611-619.
When asked to recall autobiographical events from earlier in their lives, people in a sad or depressed mood tend to recall a disproportionate number of sad and depressing events…
—p. 177, in Chapter 6: ‘Long-term memory’. Reference: Miranda, R. and Kihlstrom, J.F. (2005). Mood congruence in childhood and recent autobiographical memory. Cognition and Emotion, 19, 981-988.
It has been discovered that practising the retrieval of a memory trace not only strengthens that trace, it also apparently inhibits the retrieval of rival memory traces.
—p. 187, in Chapter 6: ‘Long-term memory’. Anderson, M.C., Bjork, R.A. and Bjork, E.L. (1994). Remembering can cause forgetting: Retrieval dynamics in long-term memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 20, 1063-1087.
…there is evidence that people are able to deliberately suppress a memory if instructed to do so, and this is assumed to involve effortful and conscious processing.
—p. 190, in Chapter 6: ‘Long-term memory’. Barnier, A.J., Conway, M.A., Mayoh, L. and Speyer, J. (2007). Directed forgetting of recently recalled autobiographical memories. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136, 301-322.
For all intents and purposes, the greater fallibility of the historian himself comes into play when he judges the sparse accounts; which are by no means actual evidence of anything except a consensus that may arise from a variety of situations, non of which actually means things actually happened as claimed. The more scientific approach is to, of course, only submit to the highest level of verification and the highest forensic standards. Some cross-verification works: two or more truly and completely independent sources stating the exact same details. But this last is very rare in history.
Many experts argue that most recovered memories are actually false memories. —p. 378
Highly emotional states, both negative and positive, impair deductive reasoning. —p.395
§ All in all
Groome’s book is a gold mine for those wishing to understand why the field of History is such a fickle area of study that is only supported by the political inclinations of the status quo and society’s religious respect for academic figures. Studies in amnesia, significant memory distortion and how common it is, disorders of cognition, witness manipulation and more are included in the book if only as ways to discuss the introduction to the scientific studies.
There is more actual history to be learnt from archeaologists with a bent for the chemical sciences than from so-called Historians, which we might be better off comparing to paper-research-based story-tellers. So much rides on this fanciful story-telling that the status quo will always go out of its way to create ‘educational’ campaigns, propaganda and even laws to protect the myths that shape a certain directed ‘reality’.
False memory studies offer a possible explanation of the way that recovered memories, or at least some of them, could have been created by misinformation and possibly even by the therapeutic process itself.
—p.199, in Chapter 6: ‘Long-term memory’.
- Reference 1: Loftus, E.F., and Davis, D. (2006). Recovered Memories.. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 2, 469-498.
- Reference 2: Geraerts, E. Schooker, B.J., Merckelbach, H., Jelicic, M., Hauer, B.J., and Ambadar, Z. (2007). The reality of recovered memories: corroborating continuous and discontinuous memories of childhood sexual abuse. Psychological Science, 18, 564-568.
[M]ost judges have little knowledge of research findings about eyewitness memory, and jurors know even less.
—p. 200, in Chapter 6: ‘Long-term memory’. Reference: Benton, S. et al (2006). Eyewitness memory is still not common sense: Comparing jurors, judges and law enforcement to eyewitness experts. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20, 115-129.