Writing and Memory

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Writing and Memory

Writing and Memory

Writing and Cognition?

Writing On Autobiographical Memory

Reisberg (2013) has said little about the act of writing, but a bit of creative thinking reveals that it does, in fact, fit into the subject of cognitive psychology. In discussing language, Reisberg (2013) stated that sentences are “coherent sequences of words that express the intended meaning of the speaker” (p. 325). Furthermore, sentences can be broken down into phrases, then words, and finally morphemes (Reisberg, 2013). It is obvious that in writing one uses these building blocks of language by composing sentences made up of these attributes. Writing, just like language, must also follow syntax, which Reisberg (2013) has defined as “rules governing the sequence of words in a phrase or sentence” (p. 337). Thus, it seems writing is language without any of the phonology, or the “sounds of speech” (Reisberg, 2013, p. 326). Berninger and Richards (2012) found that the writing brain is composed of many areas that work together. For instance, the brain areas involved in arousal, idea generation, language generation, transcription, attention, and memory help the writer in his task (Berninger & Richards, 2012, p. 540). Memory is especially important, as was found by studies considering writing as a form of problem-solving. These studies are discussed in the next section.

Alamargot and Chanquoy stated that writing “is conceived as a problem-solving activity, consisting in transforming domain knowledge into a linguistic form in order to achieve a communicative goal” (as cited in Alamargot, Caporossi, Chesnet, & Ros, 2011, p. 505). Thus, the problem solving aspect seems to come from transforming ideas into words that others can read and translate back into the original ideas. Alamargot et al. (2011) argued that “experts” in writing are more able to do this because their text composition “is controlled by pragmatic knowledge and audience awareness” (p. 506). But how exactly are experts able to take this “audience awareness” into account? Alamargot et al. (2011) had twenty-five graduate students take part in a writing task in which the goal was to compose a text that allowed the reader to correctly assemble a turbine. The results showed that the graduates with higher working memory capacity were more able to consider their audience and successfully write a text in which the reader could understand the instructions (Alamargot et al., 2011). Several other studies have linked writing to memory. Quinlan, Loncke, Leijten, and Waes (2012) designed an experiment in which participants had to complete a series of sentences read aloud to them by a computer, while also correcting any errors in the incomplete sentences. The participants were also asked to complete the sentences using the one to three words flashed to them on the computer screen (Quinlan et al., 2012). Furthermore, the errors in the sentences varied in difficulty, and there may not have been an error at all (Quinlan et al., 2012). Quinlan et al. (2012) found that participants often chose to finish the sentence first with the flashed words before correcting any error within the sentence (p. 358). Quinlan et al. (2012) argued that by freeing their working memory of the words flashed to them, participants were able to fix the error “unencumbered” (p. 358). In other words, the participants were more likely to search for the error once their working memory and central executive were freed, allowing “sufficient working memory resources available for doing other things, such as detecting and correcting errors” (Quinlan et al., 2012, p. 359).

Discovering Working Memory in Writing

The previous studies seem to link memory to intellectual writing, or writing that has been proofread and designed to deliver a message. What about less controlled forms of writing? Medeiros, Mosby, Hanley, Pedraza, and Brandt (2010) set out on improving autobiographical memory, mood, and self-concept in older adults through a writing workshop intervention. The adults attended an 8-week literary workshop in which they were given a weekly genre (memoir, poem, etc.) and asked to simply write something autobiographical using that genre (Medeiros et al., 2010, p. 806). The participants' episodic memory after the workshop were then compared to their memory before; unfortunately, there were no significant effects (Medeiros et al., 2010). However, the possibility that the adults had less depressive symptoms was noted (Medeiros et al., 2010, p. 810). Another study sought to reduce overgeneral memory, or the tendency to recall autobiographical information in an unspecific manner, in depressed people (Maestas & Rude, 2011). Non-depressed college students participated in the study by writing about “their very deepest thoughts and feelings about any difficult or emotionally disturbing experiences” (Maestas & Rude, 2011, p. 236). While there was no significant change in depressive symptoms, Maestas and Rude (2011) uncovered the reduction of cognitive avoidance, which is theorized to influence overgeneral memory, and its association with increased autobiographical memory (p. 243). These studies seem to suggest that writing done in a less technical, or more literary manner, can prevent autobiographical memory from becoming too general. Also, writing about previous traumatic memories seems to lessen cognitive avoidance of these traumatic events in depressed persons, possibly allowing them a path to overcoming their depression.

According to research done by Quinlan et al. (2012),the central executive can become overwhelmed and memory needs to be "freed" in order to find errorsin sentences.

Writing can be seen as language withoutthe phonology, or the sounds of speech (Reisberg, 2013, p. 326).

Maestas and Rude (2011) found that avoidance influenced overgeneral memory, and its reduction was associated with increased autobiographical memory in their study. Additionally, writing may be a tool in avoiding overgeneral memory and confronting issues that cause depression.


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