Centre for Advanced Study

at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

Towards a Comprehensive Model of Human Memory


Former 2003/2004 Social Sciences - Law

End Report

The main goal of the project was to develop a general framework for understanding human memory in the context of everyday memory. After preliminary discussions at the beginning of the project, we decided to pursue this goal along two paths of joint activities:

  • To write a book on everyday memory that sums up the state of the art and adds novel contributions to the literature.
  • To carry out a large-scale national survey of what people believe about memory – are people’s ideas about memory in harmony with scientific beliefs?

The memory survey was carried out in two steps, in November 2003 and in March 2004. On both occasions a representative sample of 1000 adult Norwegians were recruited and asked a total of 13 questions probing people’s beliefs on such general issues as the possibility of training memory, capacity limitations of memory, memory and aging, how far back can we remember, memories for emotional events, social influences on memory and so on. The results of this survey, which to our knowledge is the first such survey conducted, will be published as a separate paper. The paper is co-authored by all participants.

The main report of the CAS activities of the memory group is the volume on Everyday Memory. A contract has been signed with Psychology Press, UK, and the book is scheduled to appear in 2005. The book is organized in four thematic sections headed by an introductory chapter devoted to a discussion of what people believe about memory and how they talk about memory. The chapter reports results from the survey, and discusses the folk psychology conception of memory by analysing the everyday metaphors people use. The first thematic section of the book contains three chapters on types of memory, the second thematic section of the book focuses on memory in social contexts, the third thematic section focuses on control processes in memory, and the last thematic section examines individual and group differences in everyday memory.

To write and compose this book has been a challenge because it has required close cooperation across the participants of the project group. With expertise background in different fields of cognition and human memory, the participants have made an effort to arrive at a joint focus defined by everyday memory issues. The carrying out of this project has, in our opinion, resulted in improved understanding of the examined everyday memory topics, as well as a contribution to a broader platform to understand human memory in general.

Within the broader project frame, the group members have also had occasion to, and have been inspired to, cooperate on different related research questions that will be followed up in laboratories subsequent to the project period at the Centre. Thus, for example, Cornoldi and Helstrup have discussed how to design better tests of visual-spatial span task performance, so as to be able to extend the methods to cover three dimensional task situations. Zimmer, Magnussen, Endestad and Melinder have initiated a broader collaborative project on the utilization of electrophysiological methods (evoked potentials in the EEG) for evaluation of eyewitness memory; a series of experiments concerning false memory has been proposed. Additionally, they decided to enhance their collaboration on research into memory for pictorial events and on the development of neuropsychological memory paradigms. Larsson and Melinder have developed a project on source memory for odors in a forensic context, and Goodman, Magnussen and Melinder have planned a larger study on the development of cross-gender and cross-age facial recognition.

The opportunity for concentrated work over the two-semester period also gave both project leaders occasion each to write books already in the process of being published about themes that are anchored in the memory project.

In sum, the working conditions at the Centre for Advanced Study made possible unusually close cooperation among research group members and they have also made it possible for the participants to concentrate on particularly interesting and important problems.


  • Andersson, Jan
    Dr. Swedish Defens Research Agency (FOI) 2003/2004
  • Cornoldi, Cesare
    Professor University of Padova 2003/2004
  • De Beni, Rossana
    Professor University of Padova 2003/2004
  • Endestad, Tor
    Dr. University of Oslo (UiO) 2003/2004
  • Goodman, Gail S.
    Professor University of California, Davis 2003/2004
  • Koriat, Asher
    Professor University of Haifa 2003/2004
  • Larsson, Maria
    Associate Professor Stockholm University 2003/2004
  • Melinder, Annika M. D.
    Research Fellow University of Oslo (UiO) 2003/2004
  • Nilsson, Lars-Göran
    Professor Stockholm University 2003/2004
  • Rönnberg, Jerker
    Professor Linköping University 2003/2004
  • Zimmer, Hubert Dieter
    Privat Dozent Saarland University 2003/2004

Group leader

  • Tore Helstrup

    Title Professor Institution University of Oslo (UiO) Year at CAS 2003/2004
  • Svein Magnussen

    Title Professor Institution University of Oslo (UiO) Year at CAS 2003/2004