Memories That Matter: How we remember important things

What makes some experiences more memorable than others? How can you better remember specific information later? Memories That Matter addresses these questions and more.

The book is divided into three parts with each part focusing on a different aspect of memory. Part 1 discusses everyday uses of memory and why we remember, establishing a foundation for how memory is structured and stored in the brain. Part 2 dives into what makes us remember. Emotional and rewarding experiences are both more memorable than mundane experiences but are often studied using different approaches. Self-relevance and objects we can interact with are remembered better than less relevant information. The author explores these motivation-related influences on memory and considers whether a common mechanism underlies them all. Part 3 changes the focus, discussing how we sometimes want to remember specific information that does not automatically capture our attention. The book considers evidence-based learning strategies and memory strategies, whilst also exploring real-world applications, with discussion of professions that accomplish amazing memory feats daily. The book concludes with a reflection on how the role of memory is changing as our world makes information increasingly accessible, particularly with the ever-expanding influence of the internet.

Drawing from a variety of literatures and perspectives, this important book will be relevant for all students of memory from psychology, cognitive neuroscience and related health backgrounds.


The book is intended for senior-level undergraduate course, graduate seminar, as well as for researchers. I’ve taken a different approach relative to other memory texts—with more emphasis on the function of memory, rather than the structure. A few chapters at the start set the foundation: memory systems, how we test memory, individual differences (like aging), but the core chapters go through different motivation-related factors (emotion, reward, self, actions) and deliberate strategies (learning science/mnemonics, expertise, external aids). I’ve also tried to make the text more engaging and conversational than how textbooks usually are.​

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Table of Contents

I Introduction

[1] Pondering the past and fantasising about the future
1.1 Why study memory?
1.2 Memory is special
1.3 Memory as a recording
1.4 Memory is a reconstruction
1.5 Memory is the basis of imagination

II Fundamentals

[2] Considering the functional purpose
2.1 Memory for everyday events
2.2 Story narratives
2.3 Truths and lies
2.4 Verbatim recall
2.5 Availability

[3] Structure and organisation
3.1 Taxonomy of memory
3.2 Memory strength and precision
3.3 Associations and order
3.4 Memory capacity
3.5 Broader memory principles

[4] Individual variability
4.1 Aging
4.2 Variability in memory ability
4.3 Ability to imagine: Phantasia
4.4 Memory abilities at the extremes
4.5 Patient H.M.

[5] Neurobiological architecture
5.1 Memory is distributed, yet modular
5.2 Cortical specialisation
5.3 Medial temporal lobe
5.4 Role of the hippocampus
5.5 Progression of Alzheimer’s disease

III Motivation

[6] Memories of emotions past
6.1 Flashbulb memories
6.2 Emotional experiences
6.3 Confounds and considerations
6.4 Memory is multifaceted
6.5 Good is not merely the opposite of bad

[7] Remembering the wins
7.1 Experimental procedures
7.2 Choices and lingering biases
7.3 Decisions from experience
7.4 Variations in procedures
7.5 Individual differences in reward sensitivity

[8] Making it personal
8.1 Autobiographical memory
8.2 Lifespan distribution of memories
8.3 Self narratives and identity
8.4 Self-reference effect
8.5 Egocentric bias

[9] Moving to remember
9.1 Enactment
9.2 Semantic properties of motoric stimuli
9.3 Neurobiology
9.4 The treachery
9.5 Drawing

[10] A domain-general influence of motivation
10.1 Considering a common motivational process
10.2 Neurobiology of motivational domains
10.3 A generalised view of availability
10.4 Animacy effects
10.5 Adaptive memory

IV Deliberate Strategies

[11] Strategies for deliberate memorisation
11.1 Repetition, repetition
11.2 Content-specific mnemonics
11.3 Scaffold mnemonics
11.4 Understanding and information relevance
11.5 Gamification

[12] Memory expertise across domains
12.1 Structured knowledge
12.2 Perceptual identification
12.3 Schematic frameworks
12.4 Verbatim recall
12.5 Memory champions

[13] Extended mind, expanded memory
13.1 Daily external aids
13.2 Veridical recordings, but also highlight reels
13.3 Remembering how instead of what
13.4 Memory in a digital society
13.5 Fictional future technologies

V Conclusion

[14] Final thoughts
14.1 Memory systems and taxonomy
14.2 Neurobiology of cognition
14.3 Technological innovations
14.4 Assumptions and generalisations
14.5 Here be dragons