Memory is an important cognitive process, which helps us to record the past so that we can refer to it later, as and when required. Without memory, there would be no past, but only the present. We would not be able to execute all the psychological processes that depend on our past experiences. We would be perpetual beginners for every activity that we perform every day.
If we do not retain information over time, and retrieve it for present use, we would not be able to recall names, recognize faces, and understand the concept of time. Even the present would not be our own, because there would be no concept of self-identity. An individual would wake up every morning, and doubt that he is, and would have to rediscover his identity every day, every hour, every second, and even every milliseconds.
The identity of the individual would be lost, and the whole world including him would appear to him as a booming buzzing confusion. The feeling of personal identity is based on a continuous stream of memories that link our yesterdays to today.
Since memory is an important cognitive phenomenon, psychologists have devoted considerable time and effort to understand the process of memory, and the strategies to improve memory. Memory is the retention of information over time. It has to be retrieved from its store for present use.
Psychologists and philosophers have opined differently at different times on the concept of memory. But the contemporary cognitive psychologists are of the belief that the raw physical energy that impinges upon the sense organs is transformed, and passes through various stages consisting of sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory.
Here the basic or initial information is successfully modified and reduced.
Hermann Ebinghaus published a book titled ‘On Memory’ in the year 1885. This book opened the avenues for further research on memory. Before Ebinghaus, there had been only speculative discussions on memory by the philosophers. Plato (427-347 B.C.) believed that “the mind is a block of wax into which sensory experiences can be imprinted”.
Aristotle opined, “We remember things by virtue of contiguity, similarity, and contrast. Further experiences are transmitted by the blood and that memory is stored in the heart”.
The conceptualization of memory underwent several transformations, but all were philosophical in nature until Hermann Ebinghaus (1885) carried systematic research on the assessment of memory. Before him, it was thought that the effect of higher mental functions can only be observed, but cannot be measured.
The assessment of memory started with the initial experiments of Ebinghaus, who collected most of the evidences by experimenting on himself. Ebinghaus himself memorized and then recalled hundreds of lists of nonsense syllables (meaningless combinations of letters having no association value, such as XOQ, and ZOF.
His findings about how materials are remembered or forgotten stood the test of time. One of his important findings is that at first, forgetting is very rapid; gradually the rate of forgetting slows down. The contemporary psychologists accept memory as a process in which information is registered, processed, stored, and retrieved, when needed.