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Cambridge, MA 02142-1399
Memory was one of the first subjects of study in the first European psychological laboratories in the late
19th century. This 407-page edited book brings the most recent theorizing and study of human memory into a well-organized and systematic presentation. What is new about the developments in understanding memory is the recognition that memory is not a single unitary function but rather that there are multiple memory systems. While there is attention to the processes of memory, it is the structure of memory that is of most interest in the current research. The 12 chapters in this volume are the expanded and revised presentations made earlier in a 1990 special issue of the
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. The charge given to the authors was to relate their concepts to the ideas of the other contributors. The contributors have
succeeded admirably and this makes the book more unified and cohesive than many edited works.
Three criteria are suggested to
identify separate and distinct memory systems. A memory system permits performance of a large number of tasks of a specific class or category. A memory system can be described with properties so that it can be identified and related to other memory systems. Finally, it must be able to dissociate task performances so as to be differentiated from others. The editors propose five memory systems as established at the present level of study. They anticipate
further study will lead to greater specificity, if not more systems. The five are procedural, perceptual representation, semantic, primary, and episodic.
Episodic memory is the system that may be of most interest to those involved in responding to allegations of child abuse. Episodic memory allows
individuals to recollect events experienced in the personal past. It is associated with the neuroanatomical
location of the medial-temporal-lobe regions. Specifically, the hippocampus is thought to mediate episodic
memory development of elaborate representations of past events. Nevertheless, the relationship between physical brain structures and the properties of memory systems remains elusive. Perhaps further study may resolve the questions one way or another but it does not appear that a simple monistic is able to account for all observed phenomena as memory is investigated.
For those who need to know the current state of scientific knowledge of human memory, this is an indispensable volume. It is a laborious read for those not at least familiar with the elementary methods and facts of memory research but will still yield greater knowledge and understanding to those willing to put in the effort. For those who are acquainted with memory research at a higher level, this book is an valuable summary of the best and most recent applicable research. It should be bought and read with attention and respect for the effort the editors and contributors put into making such a volume available.
Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.