Mental Models
Implicit and Explicit Aspects of Memory
Implicit Memory
Developmental Implications of Implicit Memory
Explicit Memory: Facts, Events, Autobiographical
Working Memory
Long-Term Memory
Childhood Amnesia
Emotions and Memory
Stress, Trauma, and Memory
The Accuracy of Memory and the Impact of Trauma
Memory and Narrative
The Remembered and the Remembering Self
Remembering and Forgetting
Retention and Reflection


Although people have been fascinated with memory for thousands of years, it is only recently that we have been able to understand in a scientific way what some of the basic elements of memory actually are. (Kandel, 2006) What we usually think of as “memory” refers to the way in which events can influence the brain and alter its future activity in a specific manner. The brain has a wide array of direct mechanisms by which it “remembers” experience (p. 46).

Common misconceptions about memory include:

• That we are always aware of what we have experienced;
• That when we remember something, we have the feeling of recollection; and
• That the mind is somehow able to make a sort of photograph of experiences, which is stored without further modification.

Recollection is thus often seen as the presentation of information, independent of the time of recall or of bias by prior experiences (p. 46).

In actuality, the structure of memory is quite complex: It constructs the past, the present, and the anticipated future, and it’s sensitive to both external and internal factors (Schacter, et al, 2007). This definition of memory allows us to understand how past events can directly shape how and what we learn, even though we may have no conscious recollection of those events. Our earliest experiences shape our ways of behaving, including patterns of relating to others, without our ability to recall consciously when these first learning experiences occurred (p. 47).

As mentioned, scientists studying the behavior of brain networks have found that the structure of a neural net allows it to learn through an encoding process that initially activates a specific set of associated neuronal firing patterns distributed throughout the brain (Tang, et al, 2010). The distinct experiential aspects of memory are thought to involve different centers of activation and patterns of electrical (EEG) waves within the brain (Zion-Golumbic, et al, 2010). The essential feature of these studies is that the connection of neurons in an intricate network structure allows learning to occur (Kandel, 2006). Abnormalities in this interconnectivity may underlie significant disorders of how the brain processes information, such as autism (Minshew & Williams, 2007).

It is thought that the firing of single or collective components of a neural network alters the probabilities of patterns of firing in the future. If a certain pattern has been stimulated in the past, the probability of activating a similar profile in the future is enhanced. If the pattern is fired repeatedly, the probability of future activation is further increased (p. 47). Thus the network learns from its past experiences. The increased probability of firing a similar pattern is how the network “remembers.” Information is encoded and retrieved through the synaptic changes that direct the flow of energy through the brain’s neural system. As we continue to learn and remember throughout life, our brains and our minds can be seen as having continual development (p. 48).

As stated, the infant brain has an overabundance of neurons with relatively few synaptic connections at birth, compared to the highly differentiated and interwoven set of connections that will be established in the first few years of life. Experience, genetic information, and epigenetic regulatory factors will determine to a large extent how those connections are established. Memory utilizes the processes by which chemical alterations strengthen associations among neurons for short-term encoding. For long-term memory storage, neural firing actually activates the genetic machinery for protein production necessary for the establishment of new synaptic connections (p. 47).

The “storage” of memory is the increased probability that a similar neural net profile will be activated again in the future. Note that there is no “storage closet” in the brain in which something is placed and then taken out when needed. Memory storage is the change in probability of activating a particular neural network pattern in the future (p. 48).

The brain has the potential to reactivate the neural net profile, similar to the initial encoding. Memory, then, is a process that is based on altering the probabilities of neuronal firing. “Retrieval” is the activation of that potential neural net profile, which resembles – but is not identical with – the profile activated in the past. Thus, when you intentionally try to recall something, you may experience an internal visual image of the item, as well as other aspects associated with that item (p. 48)

Our memories are based on the binding together of various aspects of these neuronal activation patterns. These “associational linkages” make it more likely that items will be activated simultaneously during the retrieval process. Representations are linked together via a wide range of internal neural processes unique to each individual (p. 49). Specific regions may actively mediate a process whereby neural patterns (representations) are activated and then bound together in the act of encoding or during recollection (Mendelsohn, 2010). How you feel at the time you are remembering will also profoundly influence which elements become associated with this complexly bound representation during retrieval (p. 50).

Mental Models

With repeated experiences, the infant’s brain, functioning with its rapidly developing neural net/parallel processor, is able to detect the similarities and differences from various experiences. From these comparative processes, the infant’s mind is able to make “summations” or generalized representations from repeated experiences as encoded in these areas of the brain. This is a fundamental aspect of learning. These generalizations form the basis of “mental models” or “schemata,” which help the infant (in fact, each of us) to interpret present experiences as well as to anticipate future ones. Mental models are basic components of implicit memory. Our minds use mental models of the world in order to assess a situation more rapidly and to determine what the next moment in time is most likely to offer (p. 52).

The brain uses many perceptual channels to create neural representations of the outside world. These images of reality cross modalities such as touch and sight to create multimodal models which are models that span perceptual modalities. For example, if infants are allowed to feel the shape of a nipple with their mouths in a darkened room, they later will be able to pick out the familiar nipple from a visual display (Bahrick & Hollich, 2008). Their minds have created a mental image from touch, which then can be used to sense a familiar pattern by sight. The brain can also average across different experiences. Infants can be shown an array of facial images and then later pick out the ones that are summations of those seen earlier. From the first days of life, the infant’s brain is capable of creating a multimodal model of the world. These capacities further suggest that the mind is capable from the very beginning of creating generalizations from experience (p. 52).

Mental models in turn help the mind to seek out familiar objects or experiences and to know what to expect from the environment. Deviations from the usual can be ascertained, and the world becomes a familiar and negotiable place to live. Studies of children and adults suggest that here-and-now perceptual biases are based on these nonconscious mental models (Johnson-Laird, 1983). Prior experiences shape our anticipatory models, and thus the term “prospective memory” has been used to describe how the mind attempts to “remember the future,” based on what has occurred in the past (Bayen, et al, 2007). Mental models, the generalizations from past experiences, are an essence of learning (p. 53).

Experience shapes the molecular control of how genetic information shapes brain growth. As stated, studies now suggest that these regulatory changes can be directly passed through the egg or sperm to future generations. For the mind, what this means is that processes such as memory, attention, perception, and emotional responses may be understood in part by their past function in the evolutionary history of our species, as well as by present conditions, the earlier experiences of individuals, and perhaps even our immediate ancestors’ experiences as well (Zhang & Meaney, 2010).

Implicit and Explicit Aspects of Memory

Implicit memory is an early form of memory that is present before birth. It is devoid of the subjective internal experience of “recalling,” of self, or of time. It involves mental models and “priming” that includes behavioral, emotional, perceptual, and somatosensory (sensationary) memory. Focal attention is not required for encoding. Implicit memory is mediated via brain circuits involved in the initial encoding (p. 63).

Explicit memory, also called late memory, is present beginning in first year of life. Semantic (factual) memory is initially development by one to two years of age. Autobiographical memory that is a collection of episodic memory is a progressive development that starts after the second year of life. It requires conscious awareness for encoding and having the subjective sense of recollection and, if autobiographical, having an awareness of self and time. Focal attention is required for encoding (p. 63).

Some researchers use the term “explicit semantic” memory for how we recall facts, whereas “explicit episodic” or “autobiographical” memory are terms used for recollections of the self in time. If we are remembering one episode of life, the term “episodic” is used. But if we are recalling many events of a similar kind then we use the term “autobiographical” memory (Nelson & Fivush, 2004). Some studies suggest that the distinctions between semantic and episodic memory are not as sharply defined as the terms imply (Hoscheidt, et al, 2010). A similar notion to the broad category of explicit memory is the idea of “declarative” memory, in which we can use words to declare the nature of such a recall. The other layers of memory are at a different level of integration from explicit or declarative forms of memory and are grouped together as “implicit” or “nondeclarative” memory (Easton & Escott 2009).

On a daily basis, we actively reconstruct neural net profiles that have encoded both implicit and explicit circuits. The internal, subjective sensations of these distinct forms of memory parallel their anatomic distinction within the brain (Squire, et al, 2007). When either semantic or episodic explicit memory is retrieved, there is an internal sensation of “I am recalling something.” This distinguishes explicit recollections from implicit ones, in which there is no such subjective sense of remembrance (p. 66).

Explicit memories take a number of forms. Semantic memory is a type in which we can recall factual information (p. 63). Semantic and episodic memory have much in common as they are both flexibly accessible, have virtually unlimited capacities for representing “data,” are encoded with contextual features, and can be retrieved in a declarative manner via language or drawing (Addis, et al, 2004). Retrieval is enhanced when conditions at the time of recall are similar to those of the initial encoding. The similarities may be in the physical world (sights, sounds, smells) or in one’s state of mind (emotions, mental models, states of general arousal). In this way, explicit memory is said to be “context-dependent” (p. 65).

Explicit memory is often communicated to ourselves and to others in the form of descriptive words or pictures as a story or sequence of events. If these involve the sense of self at some time in the past, then they are a part of explicit autobiographical memory. We listen to the words and receive a linguistic message, or see the pictures and have a conscious sense of the story being told. But recollections usually involve the association of these explicit elements with their implicit counterparts. To sense these, it is important to recall (explicitly) that implicit memory does not have a sense of “something being remembered.” We sense, perceive, or filter our explicit memory through the mental models of implicit memory. We can watch for the shadows that such implicit “recollections” cast on the stories we tell, as well as on nonverbal aspects of behavior and communication (p. 67)

Implicit Memory

From the first days of life, infants perceive the environment around them. Research has shown that infants are able to demonstrate recall for experiences in the form of behavioral, perceptual, somatosensory, and emotional learning (Gerhardstein & West, 2003). Examples of these forms of memory are numerous and demonstrate how active infants are in perceiving and learning about their environment. Babies can turn their heads to a learned stimulus. They can perceive visual patterns and can even relate these to other perceptual modalities, such as touch or sound. If they become frightened by a loud noise associated with a particular toy, they will get upset when shown that toy in the future (p. 51).

These are forms of implicit memory which are available early in life and, when retrieved, are not thought to carry with them the internal sensation that something is being recalled. An infant who sees that toy just gets upset; the infant probably does not sense, “I remember that toy – it made a loud noise before. Perhaps it will make one again!” Instead, the neural net/Hebbian associations automatically link the visual input of the toy with an internal emotional response of fear (p. 51).

Since implicit memory involves parts of the brain that do not require conscious processing during encoding or retrieval when it is retrieved, the neural net profiles that are reactivated involve circuits in the brain that are a fundamental part of our everyday experience of life such as behaviors, emotions, bodily sensations, and images. These implicit elements form part of the foundation for our subjective sense of ourselves that filter our experience in the moment. That is, we act, feel, and imagine without recognition of the influence of past experience on our present reality. Implicit memory relies on brain structures that are intact at birth, mature throughout development, and remain available to us throughout life (p. 52).

Developmental Implications of Implicit Memory

The patterns of particular states of mind in an infant can be seen as an implicit form of memory. Repeated experiences of terror and fear can be engrained within the circuits of the brain as states of mind. With chronic occurrence, these states can become more readily activated (retrieved) in the future, so that they become characteristic traits of the individual (Perry, et al, 1995). In this way, our lives can become shaped by reactivations of implicit memory, which lack a sense that something is being recalled. We simply enter these engrained states and experience them as the reality of our present experience (p. 55).

Insights into the ways in which early experiences have shaped the implicit memory system can aid in the understanding of various aspects of human relationships. Being with a particular person can activate distinct mental models that affect our perceptions, emotions, behaviors, and beliefs in response to this other person. The notion of implicit memory’s influencing our experiences with others is one way of understanding the complex feelings and perceptions arising within interpersonal relationships. Each of us filters our interactions with others through the lenses of mental models created from patterns of experiences in the past (p. 55).

These models can shift rapidly outside of awareness, sometimes creating abrupt transitions in states of mind and interactions with others. In this way, “transference,” the activation of old mental models and states of mind from our relationships with important figures in the past, happens all the time. Knowing about implicit memory allows us the opportunity to free ourselves from the possibly repetitive behaviors and automatic reactions derived from the past (p. 55).

Explicit Memory: Facts, Events, Autobiographical Consciousness

By the second birthday, toddlers have developed new capacities such as to talk about their recollections of the day’s events, and to remember more distant experiences from the past. These abilities probably reflect the maturation of the brain’s medial temporal lobe which is a process that allows them to have explicit memory (Carver & Culver, 2009).

The development of the unique aspects of explicit memory involves a number of domains in a child’s experiencing. A sense of sequencing, thought to be a function of the hippocampus as a “cognitive mapper,” develops during the child’s second year of life (Johnson, 2001). Recalling the order in which events in the world occur allows the child to develop a sense of time and sequence. Children come to expect what typically comes first and what comes next in a given situation, with at times intense and passionate reactions to deviations (p. 56).

Associated with this hippocampal ability is the establishment of a spatial representational map of the locations of things in the world. Loss of hippocampal functioning in animals, for example, leads to loss of memory for running a maze (Levita & Muzzio, 2010). What is interesting in this finding is the notion that this cognitive mapper is thus able to identify context and to create a four-dimensional sense of the self in the world across time. The brain’s ability to create such a temporal and spatial representation is clearly of great survival value (p. 56).

Explicit memory plays the important role of providing a sense of space and time, allowing people to remember where things are and when they were there. Paller, Voss, and Westerberger have stated: Models of declarative memory generally posit that these distinct features or fragments must become linked together for enduring memory storage to be successful. Retrieval, rehearsal, and consolidation would thus entail synchronous activation across dispersed cortical networks, and this synchronous cross-cortical activity may be of the same type necessary for conscious experience more generally (Paller, et al, 2009). In this way, we can see how the emergence of consciousness as development progresses may be intimately related to the development of memory (p. 56). Memory has been shown, for example, to be influenced by the use of language within the communication patterns of both the microculture of a family and the macroculture of our larger society (Fivush & Nelson 2004).

As children grow into their second year, they begin to develop a more complex image of themselves in the world. This sense of self has been identified by studies examining how children respond to seeing themselves in the mirror with a red mark placed on their faces. They notice something different in their reflection, suggesting that they have a mental image in their minds of what they usually look like. By eighteen months, they are able to touch themselves rather than the mirror in exploring the red mark. Taken together, these studies on the developmental phase of the second year suggest that a child is developing a sense of the physical world, of time and sequence, and of the self, all of which form the foundation of explicit autobiographical memory (Bauer, 2006). Before this time, events in the child’s life may have been remembered (“event memory”), but it is thought that these are semantic recollections of experiences without an enriched sense of self across time, which is the hallmark of autobiographical (episodic) recollection (Bauer, 2006).

The ability of the human mind to carry out what Tulving and colleagues have termed “mental time travel” – that is, to have a sense of recollection of the self at a particular time in the past, awareness of the self in the lived present, and projections of the self into the imagined future – is the unique contribution of autonoetic (relating to or characterized by the capacity to be aware of one’s own existence as an entity in time) consciousness (Tulving, 2005).

Mental time travel is more than a subjective sense of feeling oneself in the past, present, or future: It is an actively constructive mental process that creates the self within a social world. However, the sense of mental time travel by itself does not mean that the recollection is accurate. We can have a clear sense that something happened when in fact it did not. Such subjective sensations may be a part of imagination, dreaming, or inaccurate as well as accurate recollection (p. 66) Representations resembling those of the past are reassembled anew during the process of recollection. Retrieval is thus, as Robert Bjork and colleagues have suggested, a “memory modifier”: The act of reactivating a representation can allow it to be stored again in a modified form (Storm, et al, 2005). These processes explain one way in which our memories – things we may regard as facts – can actually change over time and evolve over the lifespan (p.66).

By the middle of the third year of life, a child has already begun to join caregivers in mutually constructed tales woven from their real-life events and imagining (Nelson & Fivush, 2004). The richness of self-knowledge and autobiographical narratives appears to be mediated by the interpersonal dialogues in which caregivers’ co-construct narratives about external events and the internal, subjective experiences of the characters. Nelson describes the process this way: The major developmental transition in the preschool years can be viewed as a move toward a social-cultural-linguistic self in society. This transition to a new level of social-cognitive consciousness is apparent in major shifts between the 2- and 5-year-old levels of functioning in myriads of situations, experimental and every-day, that are now well documented in the developmental literature (Nelson & Fivush, 2004). Actively during the preschool years, episodic memory undergoes significant maturation. The ongoing development of a sense of self during this time enables this form of autonoesis to grow rapidly and become more elaborate (p. 71).

Nelson then goes on to illuminate the implications of this growth: The changes observed are not caused by some single factor, but are dependent on the achievements of many related skills unique to human development. Nor are they the product of a sudden shift in cognitive level, but of a continuous, overlapping process of developing functions. Among the achievements of this period of development, the most powerful and profound is that of an advanced level of social and cultural language functions. The transition to a “cultural self” depends on the experiences of language in social use but its effects are also profoundly personal, involving the child’s social and cognitive awareness and capacity for new levels of mental representation and reflective thought. This process is slow and massively interactive, eventuating in a culturally saturated concept of self, an autobiographical memory self with a specific self-history and imagined self-future that reflects the values, expectations, and forms of the embedding culture (Nelson & Fivush, 2004).

Increased parental reflection on shared experiences has been shown to improve a child’s growing autobiographical sense of self (Reese & Newcombe 2007). As Fivush and Nelson stated, “Parent-guided reminiscing about past events that includes discussion, comparison, and negotiation of internal states of self and other, and places these internal states in explanatory narratives of behavior, allows children to construct a psychologically imbued representation of relations between past and present, and self and other” (Nelson & Fivush, 2004, p.235).

In this way, we can hypothesize that attachment experiences – that is, communication with parents and other caregivers – directly enhance a child’s capacity for autonoetic consciousness. This may be one reason why shared communication about remembered events enhances recollection. In other words, our relationships not only shape what we remember, but how we remember and the very sense of self that remembers (Fivush, 2011).

In conversations about past events between 17 mother- children dyads were recorded on multiple occasions between the children’s 2nd and 4th birthdays. When these children were aged 12 and 13 years, they were interviewed about their early memories. Adolescents whose mothers used a greater ratio of elaborations to repetitions during the early childhood conversations had earlier memories than adolescents whose mothers used a smaller ratio of elaborations to repetitions. This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that past-event conversations during early childhood have long-lasting effects on autobiographical memory (Jack, et al, 2009).

Fivush (2011) surmises that autobiographical memory is a uniquely human system that integrates memories of past experiences into an overarching life narrative:

a. Autobiographical memory is a gradually developing system across childhood and adolescence that depends on the development of a sense of subjective self as continuous in time;
b. Autobiographical memory develops within specific social and cultural contexts that relate to individual, gendered, and cultural differences in adults’ autobiographical memories, and, more specifically,
c. Mothers who reminisce with their young children in elaborated and evaluative ways have children who develop more detailed, coherent, and evaluative autobiographical memories.

Working Memory

Working memory has been called the “chalkboard of the mind.” It is the mental process involved when we say that we are “thinking about something”; it allows us to reflect upon items perceived in the present and recalled from the past (Baddeley, 2003). When we consciously think of a problem or an event, working memory allows us to link together various representations and manipulate them in our minds. The product of such cognitive processing can then enter a more stable component, “long-term” memory. In some individuals with disorders of attention, working memory appears to be unable to handle as many items for as long as the working memories of nondisordered individuals can (p. 56).

Long-Term Memory

Long-term explicit memory is thought to be the process by which items are stored for extended periods of time beyond working memory (Ranganath, 2005). If working memory persisted, we would be bombarded by irrelevant information from the past. Placing a needed item into long-term memory allows us to recall important data however Long-term memory does not last forever. Recollection can be viewed as the actual activation of a potential or latent representation. For these items to become a part of permanent explicit memory, a process called “cortical consolidation” is thought to occur (Paller, et al, 2009).

This consolidation process may depend on the rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep stage, which is thought to be attempting to make sense of the day’s activities (Born, 2010). Though filled with a combination of seemingly random activations, aspects of the day’s experiences, and elements from the more distant past, dreams may be a fundamental way in which the mind consolidates the myriad of explicit recollections into a coherent set of representations for permanent, consolidated memory. Other studies suggest that REM and dreaming are not necessary for memory consolidation and learning. Although sleep itself is essential for optimal health, it remains unclear exactly how either REM or slow-wave sleep contributes directly to the long-term processing of memory (Vertes & Eastman, 2003).

Research is still in its infancy regarding the details of the consolidation process (Wiltgen, et al, 2004). Interestingly, cortical consolidation may take weeks, months, or perhaps years to occur. As we have seen, explicit recollections require focal, conscious attention, and are processed through the initial phases of encoding in working memory and then in long-term memory on their way toward cortical consolidation. There are certain situations, however, in which there is a disassociation between implicit and explicit memory. “Infantile” or “childhood” amnesia is one such example in which normal infants and young children’s implicit memory is intact, but their explicit recall, especially episodic memory, is impaired (p. 56). Without focal attention, items are not encoded explicitly. Implicit memory may be more fully intact, but explicit memory is impaired for that stimulus or event (Wiltgen, et al, 2004).

Childhood Amnesia

For over a century, clinicians have been aware of an impairment in the ability of older children or adults to recall the first years of their lives. Initial impressions suggested that this “memory barrier” is for the period before the ages of five to seven years. Psychoanalytic writings from the past suggested that infantile amnesia was due to some traumatic, overwhelming experiences that were being blocked, and that one focus of treatment should be to uncover this “repression barrier” (Freud, 1895). Modern analytic thinking does not support this notion, however. Developmental psychologists also view childhood amnesia differently. They suggest that immaturities in the sense of self, in the sense of time, in verbal ability, and in narrative capacity may be the factors limiting recall for the period before the age of about two to three years (Wang, (2008a).

Neurobiologists investigating this form of amnesia have looked at the development of the hippocampus/medial temporal lobe and the orbito-frontal region during the first years of life as a possible mediator of the phenomenon of childhood amnesia (Bauer, 2008). This view supports the developmental psychologists’ observations in providing the likely neurobiological underpinnings to this typical developmental form of amnesia. In this way, explicit memory may require the neural maturation of the hippocampus to allow for the full expression of first semantic and then later episodic memory (p. 68).

A one-year-old is able to have implicit recollection of all sorts of experiences: becoming excited when she hears the car pull into the garage, knowing emotionally on some level that her mother is coming home; learning to walk; or generating mental models for repeated experiences. She has already developed the capacity for generalized recollections, called “general event knowledge” (Hudson & Mayhew, 2009). Before the age of eighteen months, she has begun to develop the ability to recall the sequence of events in her world. (Bauer, et al, 2010) She thus can encode and retrieve facts from specific experiences. This can be considered a form of semantic memory, in which knowledge of specific events can be recalled after a long delay (Bauer, 2007).

After about eighteen months, the child develops self-referential behaviors that reveal a sense of continuity of the self through time. By her second birthday, she can now begin to talk about events that have happened to her. As she continues to mature, her sense of self develops more fully and may allow for the gradual emergence of episodic memory and the capacity for mental time travel – for remembering herself in specific experiences in the past. As her prefrontal regions develop, this capacity becomes increasingly complex and sophisticated. These regions may continue to develop into adulthood and may explain the deepening capacity for self-awareness and autonoetic consciousness throughout the lifespan (p. 68).

At the early age of two, the child can say that she saw a dog that morning, or that she went to visit her grandfather at the park. She can narrate her ongoing experience and can verbalize her anticipation of future events. Though now she can talk about her recent recollections, she cannot episodically remember when she was an infant. Some facts that she has learned during her second year of life, however, may be quite available to her within semantic memory, such as the names of objects and what things do. Though controversy exists over the nature and timing of the onset of declarative or semantic explicit memory, (Thompson & Madigan, 2007) some investigators suggest that even preverbal infants can recall the facts of experiences at this early age (Bauer, et al, 2010). The work of Patricia Bauer and her colleagues suggests that even experiences that occurred after a child’s first birthday but before the advent of spoken language may be recalled verbally with considerable accuracy after many months. These recollections are likely to be part of explicit semantic memory and not derived from the yet-to-be-accessible autobiographical process (Thompson & Madigan, 2007).

Some authors argue that childhood amnesia is not an impairment in general explicit recall, but rather is very specifically due to the developmental lag in the onset of episodic memory within explicit processing (Morrison & Conway, 2010). Support for this view comes from findings that children even in their second year of life have a remarkable ability to retain facts about novel experiences with great accuracy. Thus these studies suggest that semantic explicit memory is intact from a very early age (Hayne & Simcock, 2009).

How does episodic memory develop? A few findings that explore the impact of experience on autobiographical memory may be useful in examining this question. Children who have more experiences of talking about their memories with their parents are able to recall more details about their lives later on (Reese & Newcombe, 2007).

“Memory talk” is a common process in which parents focus their attention on the contents of a child’s memories. A similar observation is that parents who participate in an “elaborative” form of communication have children with a richer sense of autobiographical recall. Elaborative parents talk with their children about what they, the children, think about the stories they read together. In contrast, “factual” parents – the classification designating parents who are found to talk only about the facts of stories, not a child’s imagination or response – have children with a less developed ability for recall of shared experiences. Similarly, “emotion knowledge” is higher in children whose parents elaborate on the nature and the emotional meaning of an experience in their discussions with their children (Bergen, 2009).

There is probably a range of communication styles between the extremes of these two research categories. Nevertheless, these findings support the general principle that interpersonal experiences appear to have a direct effect on the development of explicit memory, as well as on the understanding of the mind’s inner nature. As Bauer and colleagues have stated, “The talk in which children and parents engage prior to, during, and/or after an event works to organize, integrate, and, thereby, facilitate children’s memory for it” (Bauer, et al, 1998).

Are these merely genetic findings revealing that parents give rise to offspring who naturally, genetically, will have their same traits? To be sure, we must await further studies, such as those that might examine the narratives of identical twins raised apart, to clarify the origin of these differences in narrative style (Oliver & Plomin, 2007). There is clearly a difference in narrative experience, whatever the origin: Some families participate in frequent co-construction of narrative and elaborative memory talk. In reinforcing this kind of experience, parents may facilitate their children’s ability to describe their memories, as well as their imaginations. In a similar fashion, research has shown that children raised in families that discussed people’s emotional reactions tended to be more interested in and able to understand others’ emotions. Such children are also taught that what they have to say about the contents of their minds is important (Strayer & Roberts, 2004).

Nelson and Carver explain: “What makes possible the changes in explicit memory through the preschool period is the development of various prefrontal functions that can come to the assistance of the medial temporal lobe (explicit) memory system. For example, it is generally not until the preschool period that children begin to routinely employ strategies to help them remember things; the use of strategies, of course, is a quintessential prefrontal function in that the neural circuitry involved in long-term memory develops slowly over the infancy and preschool period. The relevant structures that are thought to develop during this interval include the circuits that pass along information from the medial temporal lobe, where initial encoding and consolidation is performed, and the cortex, where memory is stored. It is neural maturation that likely accounts for the gradual “recovery” from infantile amnesia” (Nelson & Carver 1998 p. 793– 810).

In general, childhood amnesia raises the larger issue about remembering and forgetting. Our internal sense of who we are is shaped both by what we can explicitly recall, and by the implicit recollections that create our mental models and internal subjective experience of images, sensations, emotions, and behavioral responses (p. 70).

Emotion and Memory

Is everything that is experienced remembered? No. Forgetting is an essential aspect of explicit memory; if we were to have easy access to every experience we have encoded, our working memory would be flooded with extraneous facts and images, and efficient functioning would become impaired (Levine, et al, 2009). Which events, then, are more likely to be remembered and which forgotten? It turns out that many studies of emotion and memory point to an inverted-U-shaped-curve effect (de Quervain, et al, 2007). Experiences that involve little emotional intensity seem to do little to arouse focal attention, and have a higher likelihood of being registered as “unimportant” and therefore of not being easily recalled later on. Events experienced with a moderate to high degree of emotional intensity seem to get labeled as “important” and are more easily remembered in the future (p. 71).

If events are overwhelming and filled with terror, a number of factors may inhibit the hippocampal processing of explicit memory, and therefore may block explicit encoding and subsequent retrieval. As Elzinga and colleagues report in a study of how the stress hormone cortisol influences subsequent recall. These results suggest that stress-induced cortisol specifically affects long-term consolidation of declarative memories. These findings may have implications for understanding the effects of traumatic stress on memory functioning in patients with stress-related psychiatric disorders” (Elzinga, et al, 2005).

While cortisol may impede explicit processing by blocking the hippocampus functioning, other factors such as divided attention may also contribute to the blockage of explicit memory encoding (Clarke & Butler, 2008). At the same time, other elements occurring during an overwhelming event may actually increase the strength of implicit encoding. Such factors may include amygdala discharge and the release of noradrenaline in response to massive stress. Such conditions may allow and even reinforce implicit memory encoding, while divided attention and cortisol secretion may simultaneously impede explicit processing of the traumatizing event. This proposes that trauma may have a differential impact on implicit and explicit memory; however, the exact interactive mechanisms of these two layers of memory need to be clarified in future research (de Quervain, et al, 2007).

Although even one-time occurrences can alter synaptic strengths, repeated experiences and emotionally arousing experiences have the greatest impact on the connections within the brain. In other words, not all encounters with the world affect the mind equally. Studies have demonstrated that if the brain appraises an event as “meaningful,” it will be more likely to be recalled in the future. Some of these studies suggest that the interaction of stress-related neuromodulatory chemicals, cortisol and adrenaline, may be directly involved in the activation of regions involved in memory encoding (van Stegeren, et al, 2010). The brain appraises the significance of stimuli in numerous ways. This has been called strengths at the time of that specific experience. This emotionally charged value-laden memory is thus made more likely to be reactivated among the myriad of infinite engrams laid down throughout life (p. 72).

The relationship between emotion and memory suggests that emotionally arousing experiences are more readily recalled later on. The strength of memories depends on the degree of emotional activation induced by learning. Highly emotional stimulation may well, as William James (1890) suggested, “almost always leave a scar on the cerebral tissue” in the form of lasting changes in synaptic connectivity (McGaugh, 1992). The “emotion circuits of the brain” that are activated when we have an emotionally engaging experience also serve as evaluative centers that directly influence our focus of attention and our state of arousal. Concentrated attention may also increase the localized release of brain-derived neurotropic factor, which increases gene expression (Doidge, 2007). This view proposes that “emotion” is a process that helps focus attention and creates the neurochemical conditions that heighten neuroplastic changes in the brain (p. 73).

By creating meaning, our emotional neuromodulatory systems help organize and integrate our memories. Our lives are filled with implicit influences, the origins and impact of which we may not be aware. In the case of childhood amnesia, this intact implicit memory in the presence of an impairment in explicit recall is a typical finding, unrelated to trauma. As children’s lives unfold, they are able to recall more and more of the events in their lives as these are woven into a narrative picture of the self across time. This narrative emerges as value-laden memories are consolidated and become a part of the permanent explicit autobiographical memory system. Not every experience will be episodically recalled; this is a part of normal forgetting. Our minds must selectively inhibit the encoding, recollection, and consolidation of many events that have occurred. If we were to become bombarded by irrelevant explicit detail, we would become confused and overwhelmed (p. 74).

Stress, Trauma, and Memory

Stressful experiences may take the form of highly emotional events or, when the stress is overwhelming, overtly traumatizing experiences. The degree of stress will have a direct effect on memory: Small amounts have a neutral effect; moderate amounts facilitate memory; and large amounts impair memory. The effect of stress appears to be mediated by the characteristic neuroendocrine responses involving the immediate transient effects (lasting seconds to minutes) of noradrenaline release and the more sustained effects (lasting minutes to hours) of glucocorticoids such as cortisol, also known as “stress hormones” (p. 75).

Not only do high levels of stress transiently block hippocampal functioning, but excessive and chronic exposure to stress hormones may lead to neuronal death in this region – possibly producing decreased hippocampal volume, as found in patients with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Wang, et al, 2010). Highly emotional events may involve a certain degree of stress response. Particular cascades of physiological and cognitive reactions may reinforce the effects of stress on memory (p. 75).

Several factors working in concert promote better memory for highly emotional events. Prominent among these are the personal significance of the event, its distinctiveness or rarity and selective rehearsal. When emotionally aroused, the brain triggers reactions from the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system; the latter releases stress hormones into the blood stream, creating persistent arousal and reactivation of whatever thoughts are salient in the cognitive system. This arousal persists for several minutes and has an effect analogous to involuntary recycling of the stressful occurrence and the events leading up to it. Such rehearsal enhances the degree of learning of whatever aspects of the event were encoded. Beyond this physiological arousal that continues for several minutes, our minds have a tendency to return repeatedly over many hours or days to memories of emotionally upsetting events, perhaps triggered by external cues or ideational sequences that have been associated with the aversive event (Bower & Sivers, 1998). In this manner, emotionally arousing experiences become better remembered by a combination of direct physiological effects and complex cognitive effects on the encoding of memory via the retrieval, rehearsal, and re-encoding process (p. 75).

Under some conditions, explicit memory may be blocked from encoding at the actual time of an experience. Trauma may be such a situation. During a trauma, the victim may focus his attention on a non-traumatic aspect of the environment or on his imagination as a means of at least partial escape. Divided-attention studies suggest that this situation will lead to the encoding of parts of the traumatic experience implicitly but not explicitly. (Clarke & Butler, 2008)

Furthermore, the release of large amounts of stress hormones in response to threat may impair hippocampal functioning. The outcome for a victim who dissociates explicit from implicit processing is an impairment in autobiographical memory for at least certain aspects of the trauma (explicit blockage may refer to “psychogenic” amnesia). Implicit memory of the event is intact and includes intrusive elements such as behavioral impulses to flee, emotional reactions, bodily sensations, and intrusive images related to the trauma (Amir, et al, 2010).

Individuals who dissociate during and after a traumatic experience have been found in some studies but not in others to be the most vulnerable to developing PTSD (Lensvelt-Mulders, et al, 2008). Under such conditions, future explicit processing and learning may be chronically impaired. Furthermore, in addition to damaging the hippocampus, early child maltreatment may directly affect the structure and epigenetic regulation of circuits that link bodily response to brain function such as the autonomic nervous system, the HPA axis, and the neuroimmune process. These ingrained ways in which adverse child experiences are “remembered” may explain the markedly increased risk for medical illness in adults with histories of childhood abuse and dysfunctional home environments (Heim, et al, 2008).

On the basis of this information, one can propose that psychological trauma involving the blockage of explicit processing also impairs the victim’s ability to cortically consolidate the experience (McGaugh, et al, 2006). With dissociation or the prohibition of discussing with others what was experienced, as is so often the case in familial child abuse, there may be a profound blockage to the pathway toward consolidating memory. Unresolved traumatic experiences from this perspective may involve an impairment in the cortical consolidation process, which leaves the memories of these events out of permanent memory. But the person may be prone to experiencing continually intrusive implicit images of past horrors. Nightmares, occurring during the dream stage of sleep and involving active REM sleep disturbances, may reveal futile attempts of the brain to resolve and consolidate such blocked memory configurations. Both the dream and the slow-wave stages of sleep are thought to play a central role in reorganizing memory and in reinforcing the connections between memory and emotion (Sterpenich, et al, 2009).

Traumatized children have also been found to have asymmetric brain abnormalities and altered development of the corpus callosum, the band of tissue that allows for interhemispheric transfer of information (Teicher, et al, 2004). These findings, combined with the clinical observation of REM sleep disturbances in those with PTSD, support the proposal that bilateral cooperation of the hemispheres may be necessary for the consolidation of memory in general – and that failure to consolidate memories of traumatic events may be at the core of unresolved trauma. Such a view also points to the generalization that impairment in bilateral integration of information (the flow of energy and representations across the hemispheres) may be proposed as a marker of psychological impairment following traumatic experience (Spaniola, et al, 2009).

In individuals with chronic PTSD, the damage documented in hippocampal structure and function may reveal one aspect of their difficulties in resolving traumatic experiences. (Bremner, 2007) Other studies suggest that childhood neglect and abuse lead to impairments in the growth of integrative fibers of the brain (Jackowski, et al, 2009). The resolution process can thus be proposed to involve the integration of the trauma into a larger associational matrix within the brain so that the mind can become “coherent.” In essence, such proposed integration may result in a more coherent autobiographical narrative and a resolution of disturbances in REM sleep (p. 78).

A lack of cortical consolidation may be seen clinically in the absence of a narrative version of a traumatic experience. An individual may find a way to “stick together” as a cohesive but constricted way of functioning – but more fluid, flexible, and adaptive “coherence” may be lacking. This impediment to coherent functioning may be at the heart of a range of compromises to mental and interpersonal well-being. Furthermore, there may also be an inability to establish a sense of coherence and continuity across various states of mind. Traumatic states may remain isolated from the typical integrative functioning of the individual and thus impair development. Implicit elements of major and perhaps even minor traumatic events may continue to shape the individual’s life without conscious awareness of their origins. In other words, the implicit impact of trauma may influence a person’s nonconscious and conscious experience, but without a sense of its origins from the past. In this view, negative influences on development may impair mental health by blocking the typically unrestricted flow of information within the mind (p. 79).

This restricted flow may impair the creation of life stories that would otherwise allow for emotionally significant events to be placed in the larger associational network of permanent, consolidated memory. Schemata of the self and of others in the world help shape the structure of such a cognitive framework of memory. In other words, implicit mental models help shape the organization of explicit autobiographical memory. Traumatic memories that are unresolved do not reach this point of being consolidated into the larger framework of implicit/explicit consolidated narrative memory. They can be seen instead as remaining in an unstable state of potential implicit activations, which tend to intrude upon the survivor’s internal experiences and interpersonal relationships (p. 79).

The Accuracy of Memory and the Impact of Trauma

Clinicians, educators, journalists, attorneys, and lawmakers all share questions concerning remembering and forgetting, especially in cases involving allegations of childhood abuse. As one reviews the research findings and wades through the controversies and politics, a few simple truths become clear. Individuals can experience traumatic events and be unable to recall them explicitly later on; a wide range of research over the last hundred years supports this view, with recent findings supporting the proposal that implicit memory for traumatic events may be greater in those with PTSD (Elzinga, et al, 2005).

Research has also supplied a neuroscientific explanation for this old knowledge (de Quervain, et al, 2009). Years can go by before a contextual change in an individual’s life occurs and the recollection of a traumatic event can become available to conscious recollection (Brewin, 2007). This has sometimes been referred to as “delayed recall.” Although delayed recollection may be quite accurate, explicit memory is exquisitely sensitive to the conditions of recall. Recounting the elements of explicit autobiographical memory is a social experience that is profoundly influenced by social interaction. Thus what is recounted is not the same as what is initially remembered, and it is not necessarily completely accurate in detail (p. 80).

The human mind is extremely suggestible throughout life, particularly in childhood (Karpinski & Scullin, 2009. This suggestibility allows us to attend schools and to permit our minds to become deeply influenced by the views of others. Often we maintain critical analyses of whether the information we are being supplied is trustworthy (as in the current online “Fake News” syndrome), and thus whether it should become a part of our memory systems. However, the determination by such “metamemory” processes of the accuracy of a memory can be distorted by a number of factors, including drug states, hypnosis, and intense and repeated questioning within certain forms of interrogation. Some individuals may be more susceptible to suggestive influences than others. Suggestibility studies indicate that it is possible for an individual to be firmly convinced of the veridicality of a “recollection” when in fact the event being recalled has never occurred (p. 80).

Thus a person’s degree of conviction about the accuracy of a memory may not correspond to its accuracy (Loftus, 2006). The use of internal corroborations may be useful in understanding how past experiences have influenced a person’s life. These can include the structure of memory systems and the relationship between implicit and explicit components of the memory of an event. External corroborations, such as the reported experiences of other family members, police reports, photo albums, and journals, may be useful in creating a fuller picture. Knowing that memory is social and suggestible, and that the act of retrieving a memory can actually alter its form for subsequent storage, is important for interviewer and interviewee a like (p. 80).

Victims of childhood abuse may be especially susceptible to feeling that they are “not being believed” and will be wary of revealing their hidden pain to a nonsupportive listener. For example, a therapist who is not able to entertain the possibility that a given individual may indeed have an accurate, perhaps delayed recall of a traumatic event may inhibit proper therapy from occurring. The investigation of trauma and memory is challenging because the laboratory setting of experiments, as well as available naturalistic experiences of highly stressful events (e.g., visits to the doctor, invasive medical procedures, or even natural disasters), are in some ways inherently different from intra-familial child maltreatment (p. 81).

Christianson and Lindholm write: “Although there are documentation of forgotten, as well as of remembered, childhood trauma, it seems that most often the memory processes associated with traumas experienced in early age are not simply a matter of either/or, such that we either remember or forget them. Instead, both forgetting and remembering can occur selectively, and individuals may represent these memories in very different ways. . . . Children lack the experiences and resources to handle trauma on their own and therefore they need a lot of support from parents to overcome these experiences (p. 82).

Children who have been involved for example in accidents or catastrophes usually process the experience by talking about it with their parents who help them come to terms with the event. If a close relative, on the other hand, is responsible for inflicting the trauma, such as in incest cases or domestic violence, a child is not in the same position to deal with the experience. . . . Unprocessed and disintegrated memories of a childhood trauma may not only cause problems and suffering for the individual him/ herself, but can also constitute a serious threat for other people. Perpetrators of serious crimes, such as murder or rape, have often experienced severe traumas in childhood for which they have never received any help (Christianson & Lindholm, 1998).

Violence in our society has multiple causes. (Henry, 2009) The impact of violence on children may be complicated by the fact that their inherent mental models of the world as a safe place are directly affected by their witnessing of violence in the community. According to Lynch and Cicchetti: Children exposed to ongoing stress and trauma, such as that associated with exposure to community violence, may develop schemas of the world as a hostile place (Cicchetti and Lynch, 1993, Dodge, 1993) and experience changed attitudes about people, life, and the future (Terr, 1991).

Significant figures such as children’s caregivers may come to be viewed as incapable of keeping children safe from the dangers present in their environment. Likewise, children may feel that they are not worthy of being kept safe. If such beliefs persist, then they may contribute to the development of insecure relationships with caregivers among children who live in threatening and violent environments (Lynch & Cicchetti, 1998). These learning experiences in the community may thus have a direct effect on children’s models of attachment to their caregivers (p. 83).

Lynch and Cicchetti describe one aspect of the cascading effect of trauma on security of attachment by noting that: secure children may attend to interpersonal information more flexibly, resulting in increased relationship success. If children who have been traumatized can develop and maintain representational models that are open and secure, then the likelihood that they will experience successful interpersonal relationships and more positive overall adaptation may be greater. Traumatized children with insecure representational models may be more likely to experience traumatic stress reactions, in part because they may be less able to engage in successful and supportive interpersonal relationships (Lynch &Cicchetti, 1998).

The impact of trauma is also mediated by the direct toxic effects of chronic stress on the brain. As Bremner and Narayan have stated findings of hippocampal atrophy and memory deficits in stress have broad implications for public policy. With recent data showing that 16% of women have a history of childhood sexual abuse, it is clear that childhood trauma is a major public health problem. If stress results in damage to the hippocampus, this could have far reaching effects on childhood development. Given the important role that the hippocampus plays in learning and memory, victimized children may suffer in terms of academic achievement. These deficits in academic achievement may plague them throughout the rest of their lives. An increased emphasis is needed to direct resources and attention to the prevention and treatment of childhood victimization as well as stress at other stages of development (Bremner & Narayan, 1998).

Memory forms the foundation for both the implicit reality (behavioral responses, emotional reactions, perceptual categorizations, schemata of the self and others in the world, and possibly bodily memories) and explicit recollections of facts and of the self across time. We must understand the many layers of memory in order to comprehend other persons’ present and past life experiences and the ways they anticipate and plan for the future.

The disorganizing effects of trauma and its lack of resolution can be passed from generation to generation. The emotional suffering, the stress-induced damage to cognitive functioning, the internal chaos of intrusive implicit memories, and the potential interpersonal violence created as a result of trauma produce ripple effects of devastation across the boundaries of time and human lives. Disruptive interpersonal relationships produce incoherent functioning of the individual mind. This connection between interpersonal and individual processes is clearly seen in an important aspect of memory: the narrative telling of our life stories (p. 83).

Memory and Narrative

The telling of stories has a central place in human cultures and plays a crucial role in the interactions between adults and children (Hauser, et al, 2007). From an early stage in development, children begin to narrate their lives – to tell the sequence of events and internal experiences of their daily existence (Bruner, 2003). What is so special about stories? Why are we as a species so consumed by the process of telling and listening to stories (p. 84)?

As fundamental creations of social experience, stories embody shared cultural rules and expectations, exploring the reasons for human behavior and the consequences of deviations from the cultural norm. Meaning embedded in culturally transmitted stories can directly influence how individuals interpret overwhelming events, as well as how those events are subsequently processed (Anderson-Fye, 2010). Stories also captivate our attention, in that they require us to participate in the active construction of the characters’ mental lives and experiences. In this way, a story is created by both teller and listener.

By the second year of life, children begin to develop the “later” form of memory, called declarative or explicit, which includes both semantic (factual) and episodic (remembering oneself in an episode in time) memory (Wang, 2006). “Narrative” memory is a term referring to the way in which we may store and then recall experienced events in story form. “Co-construction of narrative” is a fundamental process, studied across cultures by anthropologists, in which families join together in the telling of stories of daily life (Fivush, et al, 2010). Children can be encouraged to see themselves as the focus of action; this “agentic self-focus” influences the way memory is encoded and retrieved.

Wang (2006) has noted in exploring the interplay of cultural and parental practices, “Regardless of culture, children who had a greater agentic self-focus showed more advanced independent memory skills than those who were less oriented toward their agency when defining themselves. Children’s cultural background remained significantly related to their shared and independent autobiographical memories when controlling for other factors. Mediation analyses further indicated that maternal elaborations and evaluations functioned as potent mediators in explaining cultural differences in children’s shared memory reports, and maternal evaluations and child agentic self-focus accounted for cultural differences in children’s independent memory reports. The present findings thus lend support to the social interactionist theories that view autobiographical memory development as a result of collaborative construction of personal narratives of the past between children and significant adults (p.184).

The developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1934-1986) said that a child’s internalization of her experiences with parents creates thought. In this view, children who narrate life events with their parents will begin to narrate such events to themselves. Their imaginings and the contents of their memories will become active parts of their internal and conscious worlds. This view also reveals the possibility that some of our most cherished personal processes, such as thought or even self-reflection, may have their origins as interpersonal communication. Our sense of self is shaped by our relational experiences with our parents, within the larger culture in which we live (Hammack, 2008).

Conway states, “Self-systems with an independent focus feature the early establishment of a coherent, elaborate, emotionally charged, and self-focused autobiographical history. In contrast, self-systems with an interdependent focus show a later establishment of a brief, skeletal, emotionally unexpressive, relation-centered autobiographical history” (Conway, et al, 2005, p.337). Independent self-focus has been found to be characteristic of Western cultures, whereas interdependent self-focus has been found in many East Asian cultures (Markus & Kitayama, 1991).

Conway further concludes, “The presence of similar periods of childhood amnesia (less than five years) and reminiscence bump (ten to thirty years of age) across cultures suggests that culturally independent processes may mediate the emergence of these periods in the life-span retrieval curve. These processes might be related to an alignment of cultures and/or they may be neurodevelopmental. In contrast, general differences in memory content across cultures point to society-specific influences on the relation of memory to the self during development. Cultural (e.g., independent vs. interdependent self-focus) and individual (including neurological) factors thus exhibit a complex, dynamic, and interactive relation in shaping the content, accessibility, and life-span distribution of autobiographical memory and further creating cultural diversity and commonalities in individuals’ life stories” (Conway, et al, 2005, p.747). The unit of a day, marked by the consolidation process of sleep, may thus be seen as a form of chapter in a life story. Each day is literally the opportunity to create a new episode of learning, in which recent experience will become integrated with the past and woven into the anticipated future (p. 86).

Stories involve the perspective of the teller (first or third person, past or present), various characters’ activities and mental states (emotions, perceptions, beliefs, memories, intentions), and the depiction of conflicts and their resolution (Bruner, 2003). Several genres of narrative are present from early life onward: fictional, schematic (general descriptors of events), and factual. These stories can be about others, or they can be autobiographical. Stories of each type may actually overlap to varying degrees with the other genres. For example, fictional stories often involve elements of the teller’s own life story, even if this is unintentional on the part of the teller. Autobiographical accounts may often incorporate generalizations from repeated experiences or aspects of imagined events. Thus the emergence of a story may involve multiple layers of narrative genres (p. 86).

Stories, in the form of bedtime routines, myths, films, plays, novels, diary entries, dinner conversations, or psychotherapy sessions, are present throughout our lives. Many forms of human interaction – from children’s play and drawing to adults’ joint attention to autobiographical reflections – involve the co-construction of narrative around the memory talk between individuals (Nelson, 2006). Narrative can be seen as a fundamental process that reveals itself in various ways. It creates shareable stories (“narratives”), determines patterns of behavior (called “narrative enactments” or “performances”), and may influence our internal lives (in the form of dreams, imagery, sensations, and states of mind). We can also propose that the narrative process directly influences emotional modulation and self-organization (p. 87).

The storytelling and story-listening process often involves the essential features of social interaction and discourse. The teller produces verbal and nonverbal signals that are received by the listener, and then similar forms of communication are sent back to the teller. This intricate dance requires that both persons have the complex capacity to read social signals, to share the concept of a subjective experience of mind, and to agree to participate in culturally accepted rules of discourse. Stories are thus socially co-constructed. One can argue that even writers working in “isolation” have an imagined audience with whom they are engaged in active discourse. It is no wonder that the story process requires an intact social system of the brain to mediate this exquisite circle of communication (Mar, 2004).

Narrative enactments can be seen in the patterns of behavior, of relating, and of decision making that steer the course of an individual’s life (Riessman, 2003). Why call this “narrative” and not just “learned behavior”? Recognizing the central role of themes in bringing some sense of continuity to a person’s life directions is helpful in understanding why the person does what he does— and how to help him change that behavior if necessary. Our nonconscious mental models may be revealed as narrative themes. The central, coherence-creating, narrative process has a unifying quality that links otherwise disparate aspects of memory within the individual. Enactments, then, are the behavioral manifestations of this core narrative process that links past, present, and future. Awareness of the role of early life experiences in shaping both what is processed and how information about the mind itself is handled can help us to negotiate our way through the complexities of the mind and social relationships (p. 88).

Narratives reveal how representations from one system can clearly intertwine with another. Thus the mental models of implicit memory help organize the themes around which the details of explicit autobiographical memory are expressed. Though we can never see mental models directly, their manifestation in narratives allows us at least to view the shadows they cast on other systems of the mind (p. 88).

The Remembered and the Remembering Self

Each of us has innumerable anecdotes that can serve to illustrate particular sentiments or sets of events from our pasts. The notion of a single narrative for a human life is too limited, as memory and the nature of our selves are forever changing. As our present state of mind reflects the social context in which our narrative is being told, we weave together a tapestry of selected recollections and imagined details to create a story driven by past events as well as by the need to engage our listeners. Thus the expectations of the audience play a major role in the tone of storytelling. This social nature of narrative means that the remembering self is perpetually in a process of creating itself within new social contexts (Mar, 2004). Indeed, as we continue to change as individuals through time, our narratives will also evolve as a reflection of the dynamic nature of life and human relationships (p. 88).

Edward Reed states, “The perception is to self as memory is to selves,” (Reed, 1994 p. 278-292) emphasizing the important point that in any given moment we perceive and interpret experience from a new view. As we accumulate lived moments across time, we are capable of recalling not as one self, but as the many types of selves that have existed in the past. Narrative recollection, then, is the opportunity for those varied states to be created anew in the present (p. 88).

To extend this argument a bit further, we actually perceive in the present in various dimensions. The “self” at any given moment in time is filled with myriad layers of mental representations, only some of which are selected as a part of conscious experience. Thus the remembered self is multilayered. As time passes and we shift across various states, we can indeed recall various ways of being from the past. As our state in the present may also vary from one moment to the next, the state-dependent quality of retrieval suggests that we will also narrate our lives from the standpoints of multiple selves (p. 88).

With all of this flexibility and change in response to the environment and to internal factors, what makes for any kind of continuity in the narrative process? Though states of mind, social context, and selective recollection certainly influence narrative telling, specific and consistent patterns in the structure of the narrative process do appear to emerge within an individual. One feature that may lend longitudinal continuity to the narrative process is the important role of mental models in shaping the themes of stories. These pervasive elements of implicit memory help create the “between-the-lines” messages of the stories we tell and the lives we live. Another element is the structure of the individual’s narrating process itself (p. 88).


Siegel (2012) stated, “The more a person studies a particular subject the more connectors are created to that information thus the value rote memorization. It may not be fun but it works (p. 38). In elementary-school years – grades 1 through 4 – the mind is ready to absorb information since children at this age actually find memorization fun. (Wise, 2004)

Retention and Reflection

But when I tell them to turn to each other, use prior knowledge, explore and work through it, that’s when some of the best, deepest learning happens” (Berdik, 2015). Learning is difficult, and students need to hear things more than once before they can expect themselves to be able to remember it, use it, and apply it (Johnson, 2016).

As Dewey (1916) said “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” Reflection is that part of learning that reinforces knowledge retention. Without knowledge retention there can be no reflection and without reflection there can be no wisdom. Studies over the years have been conducted in attempts to determine which teaching techniques have proven to be the most effective in knowledge retention.

In the early 1960s the National Training Laboratories (NTL) for Applied Behavioral Sciences produced “The Learning Pyramid” which represents the average “retention rate” of information following teaching or activities. According the NTL the source data for the study included a reference to a similar pyramid referenced in a 1954 book written in 1954 “Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching, published by the Edgar Dale Dryden Press, New York (Wood, 1998).

The pyramid contains seven teaching and learning method which are listed in a hierarchy according to student retention rates based on the percentage of new learning that students could recall after 24 hours. The ability for students to recall information after 24 hours is defined as long-term storage and is critical to school success (Sortino, 2015).

The seven teaching categories on the pyramid (from top to bottom – lowest to highest retention) included the most common instructional method of lecturing, then reading, followed by audiovisual, demonstration, discussion, practice doing and, the highest retention rate – Teaching others. The following lists the retention categories and their 24 hour percentage retention rates:

• Lecture 5%
• Reading 10%
• Audiovisual 20%
• Demonstration 30%
• Discussion 50%
• Practice Doing 75%
• Teaching Others 90%

A study in 2005 showed that after three days, learning retention was lowest, only 10 percent with classroom lectures, but higher, 20 percent, when lectures consisted of demonstration (Sortino, 2015). The top three (lecturing, reading and audiovisual), which produce the lowest retention rates, are normally taught in a traditionally deductive teaching method; while the bottom four (demonstration, discussion, practice, doing and teaching others, are taught in an inductive teaching method.

With the lecture format retention relies on verbal processing with little active participation or mental preparation. The instructor verbalizes and the student converts the teacher’s auditory output to written notes. The reason that the lecture format is the most predominate teaching method in K-12 and college is that it allows a lot of information to be presented in a short period of time (Sortino, 2015).

The doing format requires the use of new information immediately. When you explain, you learn which is why cooperative learning groups and even hands-on programs might explain why underachieving students often succeed in programs that are more hands on. Studies have shown for decades that the best way to retain learned material is to prepare to teach it (Sortino, 2015). However, just with Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory, no one teaching method is best for all students all the time.

Students often complete an extensive educational program without being given a fair opportunity to scrutinize their beliefs, explore their motives, test their values, or compare their convictions. Even if for no other reason than enlarging intellectual experience, a systematic effort to examine the bases on which ideas are claimed to be meaningful and defensible is a worthy undertaking. And if it be feared that philosophy questions everything and settles nothing, some reassurance may be found in the words of the late English journalist-critic G. K. Chesterton, who remarked: “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it on something solid” (Horner, et al, 2002).

Students often complete an extensive educational program without being given a fair opportunity to scrutinize their beliefs, explore their motives, test their values, or compare their convictions. Even if for no other reason than increasing intellectual experience, a systematic effort to examine the bases on which ideas are claimed to be meaningful and defensible is a worthy undertaking. If it be feared that philosophy questions everything and settles nothing, some reassurance may be found in the words of the late English journalist-critic G. K. Chesterton, who remarked: “Merely having an open mind is not the goal. The object of opening the mind is to allow for new ideas and reflect on existing ones (as cited in Horner, et al., 2002, p. 24).