Introduction to Memory Enhancement

Memory involves the process of encoding, storing, retaining, recalling data. According to cognitive psychologist Margaret W. Maitlin in the year 2005, memory is the process of maintenance of information over a duration of time. Sternberg (1999) has defined memory as the means through which humans use past experiences to solve present problems. It is often claimed that individuals perform better in memory tasks when they are motivated. While some researchers dispute this, considerable research has been performed on achievement motivation, social cognitive theory and problem solving approaches which stresses otherwise. The thesis will attempt to understand the relative contribution of each of these three Psychology theories coming from different perspectives on the memory enhancement of individuals.

Achievement Motivation and Memory Enhancement

While it is important to consider the role of psychological theories in totality in the studying of motivation in memory, the influence of mastery as well as performance approach goals has been studied with respect to the context of memory and motivation. Graham and Golan in the year 1991, found that the mastery approach improved recall for data that was attained through deep or elaborate processing. Achievement goals also impact the way people perform on memory tasks, because they show a desire for competence and want to prove themselves. Mastery, performance avoidance and performance approach are the three distinctive goals influencing achievement motivation. The achievement goals influence outcomes. In research on memory, qualitatively distinct differences are noted on immediate and delayed tests of memory. Hyllan, Dunk , Schwagert and Harackiewicz (2008) found that the mastery approach is linked to thirst for learning, exploration and an interest associated focus on learning.

Mastery goals may push forward attention beyond the target to notions that are linked with the critical information to be recalled. Performance approach, in contrast is aspiration linked and associated with specific information that has been remembered. Remembering and knowing are the 2 key areas most memory theorists differentiate. Remembering and recalling represent different factors influencing memory recollection and memory recall. Subjective states of awareness are associated with different aspects of memory recall. Researchers have held that time based effects of achievement goals on memory responses or recall implicate deep and not shallow processing aspects. Broad based encoding is determined by mastery goals and instrumental coding is influenced by performance goals. Mastery achievement as well as performance approach goals are vital for improving memory, but are integrating in motivating one to engage in memory improvement and positive outcomes and results. Conway, Gardiner, Perfect, Anderson & Cohen (1997) found evidence for this, as have Elliot & Thrash (2002). Conway et al. (1997) found those who scored high on tests showed greater memory performance for test material in the course the semester, but more knowledge after a twenty-five week interval.

The “remember to know” transition as proposed by Conway etc all shows the shift from episodic to semantic symbols. The link between achievement motivation and memory has thus been explored. The motivational difficulty of the task rises with motivational energy needed. Positive motivation and affect influence recall as it has been demonstrated by Kuhl and Kazen (1999) with respect to the Stroop Interference. The role of achievement motivation in influencing memory cannot be stressed enough.

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Human motivation focuses on the importance of social needs as well as motives as a impetus for goal directed activity. Energy persistence and direction is associated with the strength of the need for achievement as opposed to power and affiliation David McClelland (1985) also found support for this. The need for achievement has been found to be correlated to neurotransmitter substrates that initiate memory according to McClelland.

The emphasis here is that positive affect alone does not initiate recall in the absence of need for achievement in behavior that is intention based and goal directed, or memory recall. Task difficulty is essential for need fulfillment only in achievement motivation as opposed to other types of motivation such as Affiliation and Power. The need for achievement has been defined on the basis of of tendency to take part in behavior that is critical in attaining success in difficult tasks such as memory improvement and use of memory techniques. Easy, automatized responses do not require effort as opposed to complex, explicitly intended responses such as memory recall. Need over affect serve as powerful motivators of memory.

Research even shows that message forming that takes on differences in motivation into account yields positive outcomes. Positively framed N'Ach messages were better remembered.

Problem Solving Approach and Memory Enhancement

Central to the process of memory improvement is the problem solving approach. Lovett (2002) conceptualized a problem in terms of a question without an answer. Hambrich and Engle (2003) define it in terms of unattainable goals. Problem solving is a complex cognitive process requiring skills integration and executive control.

From the Gestalt to the information processing approach, there are many theoretical explanations. Some psychologists have theorized that problem solving is a kind of remembering. The problem solving approach proposed memory retention to be the problem and avoiding problem solving challenges and mental sets like functional fixedness proposed by Duncker (Holen & Masunago, 2000). A classic experiment by Ziegarnik shows problems are more memorable when subjects are unable to solve them. This interruption in the information acquisition may lead to heightened memory recall.

This can be applied in the context of memory enhancement as well. Yaniv and Meyer (1987) have proposed the Tip of the Tongue phenomenon which provides support for this theory. Metcalfe (1986) has also studies the importance of errors in improving learning. In contrast, another effect central to problem solving is the generation effect. This involves students generating information and answers themselves better able to recall the information.

The differential impact of these two effects can be used to ensure memory improvement. Subjects in one study were found to remember story details that conformed to schemes better in studies of reconstructive memory. Past literature has shown positive relations between comprehension and late recall of memory. Dooling & Lachman (1971) originally came to this conclusion. According to Craik and Lockhart's levels of processing perspective, solved problems were processed elaborately and easily remembered.

Social Cognitive Approach and Memory Enhancement

Three decades ago, social cognitive researchers starting with the founder of this school of thought, Albert Bandura studied numerous concepts like response inhibition, adoption of self regulatory standards. More concepts were proposed. Bandura and Cervone (1983, 1986) have applied the social cognitive theory to motivation. Other fields where it has been applied successfully include health control, mental health improvement and career development. Self regulation is a concept in Bandura's social cognitive theory. Modelling and reinforcement are not enough to achieve better recall. The role of self-reinforcement and self-regulation is the concept central to this theory which applies to memory improvement in this present context. Standard setting, evaluation and self-reinforcement play a critical role here. Mastery modeling is also powerful in the educational setting.

Cognitive rules of self-regulation influence higher order cognitive processes like memory. Bandura (1969) has proposed a model of self-regulation comprising judgmental processes, performance observation, and self-reactive responses. Self-motivation was emphasized by Bandura in 1977, resulting from triadic reciprocal determinism involving the person, environment and behavior.

Constructs of the social cognitive approach are as follows. Behavioral capability refers to skill and knowledge to perform a certain behavior; promote mastery learning through skills training. Environmental factors impact the individual, and vice versa. Strategies and/or tactics used by the individual to deal encapsulate his/her emotion-centric resources for coping. Outcome expectations are the belief about the likelihood and value of their choices. The self efficacy is the individual's confidence in engaging in a certain behavior to bring about positive outcomes. Finally the beliefs that are necessary to impact the behavior of the person to impact the outcomes come into play. Observational learning forms the core of the social learning or social cognitive approach whereby learning takes place through the observation of others including important role models concerning the targeted behavior. Incentive motivation involves the use of positive reinforcement and punishments to influence desirable outcomes while facilitation provides the resources necessary for this. Finally, self regulating goal directed behavior and the individual's ability to control their outcomes through multiple methods include self monitoring, self reinforcement, feedback, knowledge of results, self instruction , goal setting,and social support.

Reciprocal Determinism is the interaction between the individual, and the environment in which the behavior is performed.

Studies have shown vicarious and direct problem solving outcomes influences perception of student self efficacy and motivation for better recall. Metacognitively, behaviorally and motivationally self directing their learning processes, students can benefit from self regulations. The concept proposed by Bandura has implications which hold relevance for the enhancement and improvement of recall. Self regulation of learning strategies are important. Perception of self efficacy influences motivation necessary for self regulated learning (McCombs 1984).


This thesis attempts to study the impact of the three prominent schools of thought on the problem of memory recall and retention specially the social cognitive approach, the problem solving approach and the theory of achievement motivation. The social cognitive approach was proposed by Albert Bandura and it is one of the chief and most complex explanations of how social behavior results. But what Bandura, who conducted the famous Bobo Doll experiment study found out was a key to the study of memory. Essentially, Bandura focused on social learning and self efficacy, thereby laying the ground work for reciprocal determinism. This was so very different from the approach taken by the problem solving theorists belonging to the information processing approach, specially laying the groundwork for relevant effects like the Ziegarnik effect which lay the foundation of social behaviors and individual outcomes for complex, higher order cognitive processes like memory. Finally, the theory of Achievement Motivation proposed by David McClelland has captured the essence of what constitutes superior memory performance. This forms the basis of the examination of how achievement motivation can influence human behavior including higher order, complex, cognitive processes like recognition, recall and memory improvement.


  • Atkinson, J. W. (1953). The achievement motive and recall of interrupted and completed tasks. Journal of Experimental Psychology.
  • Bartlett, F.C. (1932). Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bertsch, S., Pesta, B.J., Wiscott, R., & McDaniel, M.A. (2007). The generation effect: A meta- analytic review. Memory & Cognition
  • Bransford, J.D., & Johnson, M.K. (1972). Contextua1. 1 Introduction

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