The value of memory and the variety of things that memory does for us need to be considered, says cognitive psychologist Douglas L. Hintzman.
"Cognitive psychologists are trying to be like physicists and chemists, which means doing controlled laboratory experiments, getting numbers out of them and explaining the numbers," says Hintzman, now retired from the University of Oregon.
"Researchers often completely forget that they have memories and they can see how their memories work from the inside," he continues, "-and that this may be very relevant to the theory they are developing."
Contemplating evolution, Hintzman has come to believe that a crucial role is played by what he calls "involuntary reminding"-the process by which current experiences evoke memories of earlier experiences, creating a coherent record of our interactions with the environment.
"Animals-mammals in particular-evolved in a complex world in which patterns of related events are distributed over time. It's essential for survival that you learn about these patterns." Humans have developed the additional ability to learn and retrieve memories deliberately, he continues.
But "the evolutionary purpose of memory is revealed" by these everyday remindings, "not by what typically goes on in the lab," he added.
The study will be published in an upcoming issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.