Reconstructive Memory: A Computer Model


  • This work was supported in part by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense and monitored under the Office of Naval Research under contract N00014-75-C-1111 whole the author was in residence at Yale University. It is currently supported in part by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. IST-8116892.


This study presents a process model of very long-term episodic memory. The process presented is a reconstructive process. The process involves application of three kinds of reconstructive strategies—component-to-context instantiation strategies, component-instantiation strategies, and context-to-context instantiation strategies. The first is used to direct search to appropriate conceptual categories in memory. The other two are used to direct search within the chosen conceptual category. A fourth type of strategy, called executive search strategies, guide search for concepts related to the one targeted for retrieval.

A conceptual memory organization implied by human reconstructive memory is presented along with examples which motivate it. A basic retrieval algorithm is presented for traversing that stucture. Retrieval strategies arise from failures in that algorithm. The memory organization and retrieval processes are implemented in a computer program called CYRUS which stores events in the lives of former Secretaries of State Cyrus Vance and Edmund Muskie and answers questions posed in English concerning that information. Examples which motivate the process model are drawn from protocols of human memory search. Examples of CYRUS's behavior demonstrate the implemented process model. Conclusions are drawn concerning retrieval failures and the relationship of episodic and semantic memory.