State-Dependent Memory: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

Memory is often viewed as a video recorder when it is actually is not. Memories can be influenced by several factors, including those that are external and internal. This article explores the research and ideas behind State-Dependent Memories using unusual but interesting examples.

Introduction

You wake up with a mouth that is just foul. You roll out of theā€¦couch? Where is the bed? How did you get on the couch? What happened last night? Memory, why are you failing?

Memory is a fickle thing. Sometimes you appear to remember every detail of an event, while other times you do not remember anything. The study of memory has revealed several interesting ways in which memories can be diminished or recalled.

A Memory

A memory is a difficult thing to define because the line between a memory and a thought blur so much that when you remember, you are thinking about a memory; but a memory is remembering a thought about something. Let us just say you know what a memory is.

Recall is the act of remembering, of bringing a memory out of storage. You can recall the memory of your 18th birthday. You can write down everything you need for the grocery store, forget the list, but recall the items you need from memory.

A state here is discussing the internal environment of a person. Subjective feelings that others cannot feel, like pain, hunger, thirst, and drunkenness, are what make a person's state. External or environmental factors can also alter a person's internal environment. We will look at a study where this occurred.

A Study

One of the most profound experiments in dealing with memory was conducted by Godden and Baddelay (1975). These researchers were interested in how a difference in environment could affect recall, so they developed a task to memorize a list of symbols and later recall it from memory. For the environmental change they used deep sea divers.

The researchers divided their participants into four groups based on where they would memorize the symbols and where they would reproduce the symbols. The groups looked like this:

  • Group 1: Memorize symbols on dry land, reproduce while diving
  • Group 2: Memorize symbols while diving, reproduce on dry land
  • Group 3: Memorize symbols on dry land, reproduce on dry land
  • Group 4: Memorize symbols while diving, reproduce while diving

Group 1 and 2 are the experimental groups, or groups to test if there is a difference between learning in one location and reproducing in another. But knowing their scores is not enough to say anything scientific, so the researchers need Group 3 and 4 as a control group. A control group will show that what people would be like without the change being tested in the experimental groups.

What did they find?

Godden and Baddelay found that people did well when they were asked to recall events in the same place they memorized them (Groups 3 and 4). However, when the diver was asked to recall something they had memorized in a different place, the results were dismal (Groups 1 and 2). Why?

While diving, your body is working in a different way than it does on land. The pressures are different, the nitrogen and oxygen balances are different, the amount of information bombarding your brain is different, the senses are shifted, and balance is all weird. All of these 'shift your internal state.' So when shifting from dry land to dive, or dive to dry land, your brain is functioning differently. This different functioning causes the brain to store things in a different way.

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