Ecological and Traditional Approaches to the Study of Memory
Edited by Ulric Neisser
Edited by Eugene Winograd
Emory Symposia in Cognition (No. 2)
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 1988
Online Publication Date:March 2010
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511664014.003
This conference on ecological and traditional approaches to memory was held in 1985, 100 years after the publication of Ebbinghaus's monograph (1885/1964) marking the beginnings of a science of memory. Although this happens to be a centennial coincidence rather than an observance, I want to emphasize some continuities between the tradition deriving from Ebbinghaus and more ecologically oriented research. There is a tendency to view the ecological approach to memory as contrasting sharply in both method and theory with the Ebbinghaus tradition. Indeed, some psychologists might see the research represented in this volume as exciting in direct proportion to the liberation it shows from the presumed dreariness and artificiality of the verbal learning tradition descending from Ebbinghaus. I argue here that this would be a mistake and, instead, suggest that there is much in common between laboratory studies of memory and the study of memory for events that did not occur in a psychology laboratory. Further, I believe that Ebbinghaus himself would have approved of most of what he would have heard at the conference.
Continuities across approaches
Ebbinghaus's most important methodological contribution to the scientific study of memory, in my opinion, is that he carefully controlled the conditions at encoding. In the Ebbinghaus tradition, the experimenter is present at the encoding and can therefore score for the accuracy of remembering later on. The problem of verifiability, as Brewer puts it, presents difficulties for the majority of studies of autobiographical memory.