Subject's History

Memory is the basis of any psychological phenomenon. Without participation of memory, we would feel and apprehend things over and over again as if we have felt them for the first time, which would make impossible the cognition of the world. Memory ensures integrity and unity of personality. Individuals and society cannot function without memory.

Throughout centuries, many theories (psychological, physiological, chemical, etc.) of memory’s essence and regularity have been drawn. They emerged in various psychologies in attempt to find their own answer to all these questions. Currently, there is generally no accepted theory of memory, which, nonetheless, doesn’t prevent practitioners from using different practices rather successfully.

There are dozens of hypotheses, theories, and schools trying to explain the phenomenon of memory; however, a consistent theory is yet to be built.

Memory Theories


Representatives of various disciplines have suggested their own theories of memory: physical, chemical, biochemical, physiological, cybernetic, and a number of psychological theories.

Physical theory of memory. According to this theory, nervous impulses pass through a certain group of neurons (nervous cells) and invoke electrical and mechanical changes in points of their contact leaving a physical trace. These changes let the following impulse follow the same route, thus enabling memorization.

Chemical theory of memory. Advocates of this theory believe that information is memorized due to chemical changes in nervous cells under the influence of various irritants. Neurons’ proteins (nucleic acid above all) are regrouping. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is considered the carrier of genetic memory and ribonucleic acid (RNA) — the basis of individual memory.

Biochemical theory of memory.Authors of this theory have developed a hypothesis of two-staged nature of memory. According to them, at the first stage a short reaction takes place in the brain (about several seconds), which causes physiological changes. These changes are reversible and represent the mechanism of short-term memory. During the second, biochemical stage, new proteins are formed. This stage leads to irreversible changes in nervous cells and is reckoned to present the mechanism of long-term memory.

Psychological Theories of Memory


Associative theory of memory is one of the first psychological theories of memory, which still hasn’t lost its scientific importance. It originated from the idea of association, which means connection. The mechanism of association consists of building a link between impressions and certain logical, structure-functional, and semantic connection to other things.

This psychology has discovered lots of interesting facts. For example, Zeigarnik phenomenon: if you set a number of tasks before a group of people and then interrupt their performance, the experimental subjects remember uncompleted tasks twice as often as the completed ones. This psychology has also established the basis for almost all mnemonic techniques, i.e. techniques based on associations. Behavioral theory of memory — behavioral theory of memory emerged as a result of attempts to integrate objective methods of science into psychology. Due to this approach, psychology has developed various methods for measuring memory parameters. Achievements of this theory of memory helped to establish programmed education and human engineering.

Cognitive theory of memory — this theory is based on the "computer metaphor" — analogy between organization of memory of living forms and computer. This idea proved to be so fruitful and the research results were so fascinating that almost all modern memory theories now use cognitive memory models to some extent.