Michael Cusack; Darby Bowers; and May von der Kammer

Sexism is defined as “prejudice or discrimination based on sex or gender, especially  against women and girls” (Masequesmay, 2020). It is usually against females since our society’s  male-dominated and views the male sex as superior,  however there are sexist views against males as well (Masequesmay, 2020).  In our society, we tend to think that cognitive and social psychology are completely separate from each other. Even though it seems like memory, the brain, and social issues never intersect, they are more connected than people believe. Our belief systems and our social behavior influence memory formation and neural pathways. The importance of memory can be seen through our brain functions, cultural impacts, and what role  sexism plays.

One of the underlying factors that connects all humans to one another is the functionality of the brain. More specifically, the connection is our ability to remember. Humans are generally an easily adaptable species that uses memory as another tool for survival and for the alteration of ourselves to better fit in a specific or uncomfortable environment. With our range of life experiences we are able to understand and overcome most situations that arise in our daily life. Looking at memory through a biological perspective informs us that the purpose of our ability in remembering past experiences is for our survival in the future. When we experience new terrain, we can use our memories to adapt more easily to the environment. (Baddeley et al, 2020, p. 12). An example of this would be the concept of  ‘mental time travel’ which was composed by Endel Tulving. He used the term to describe the ability of using episodic memory to retrieve information about the past and form an image for predicting the future (Baddeley et al, 2020, p.15). A majority of our past memories and schemas were influenced during early childhood when cultural and societal values were heavily present.

Along with our past experiences, one’s learned culture plays a big contributing role in what we choose to follow and adhere to. Throughout the world there is a myriad of cultures that all have very different characteristics such as priorities, beliefs, routines, and self concepts that make the whole process of memory (i.e., encoding, storage, and retrieval) inherently different between cultures. To clarify, everyone has the ability to encode, store, and retrieve memories and culture does not necessarily affect how much someone can remember. Instead it affects the content that one might remember based on what is considered important to that culture. For example, cultures that hold an autonomous view would create a more unique and individual personal view of self within the mind that then cues memory to focus on details pertaining more specifically to the self. Alternatively, if a cultural population followed a relational view of self then they would be more likely to conceptualize themselves in social roles (e.g., brother, husband, student, teacher) rather than on an individual level. This relational view affects the details retrieved in memories to be more focused on outside factors or generality (Wang & Ross, 2007). While cultures can be categorized into autonomous and relational focused views, everyone has the ability to think and conceptualize in both. The culture mainly directs and influences what their memories have the ability to remember.

The hippocampus and the mPFC create the ability to store, access, and update the schemas through their relationships. The mPFC is also proposed to be a factor in accessing a person’s schemas so it can be updated with new information (van Kesteren & Meeter, 2020). During childhood, children learn most of their information from their closest social connections. Through their development, they form their schemas around their long term memory and information they have learned. Sexism is a topic that starts in early childhood and continues throughout the span of their lives.

Consider an example people have seen many times, in which children are exposed from a young age to stereotypical gender roles. This impacts how a child sees their own gender role in society from a young age. If parents teach their children that their biological gender does not determine their self-identity then it can positively influence their schema development. In kindergarten, it is often seen that ‘boys’ play with toy guns and therefore are considered ‘masculine roles.’ On the other hand, girls are more likely to be seen to play with dolls and take part in stereotypical ‘feminine roles.’ If they choose to do the opposite of the norm, they might be seen as “not enough” of a particular gender. How often do people say “you are too feminine or too masculine” to the opposite gender? If young children hear those statements, then the memories they form are centered around sexist views, which are then normalized in their concept of society.

While cultural values and societal influences dictate a large portion of our earlier developed schemas, the structure and functionality of the brain also plays an important role in determining our belief systems and how we develop different views. We may all have cultural differences which impacts our cell assembly formations. One idea that captures this is the concept of Hebb’s Rule. Hebb’s rule is when one cell assembly activates and sets off a domino effect where other cell assemblies fire (Baddeley et al., 184). We learn new information when the same cell assemblies fire consistently and rapidly through repeated exposure. This encapsules how our brains encode new memories and information

The brain’s process of encoding new memories or ideas can be broken into two factors that work together to contribute; the experiencing self and the remembering self. The experiencing self uses sensation, perception, and emotion as reactions to the environment and encodes these sensory inputs as new memories or information. Opposite to this, the remembering self uses functions such as reflection, reminiscence, and prospection to recall generalizations of the past memories constructed over time. Where these two connect is through the encoding process. It is here that the remembering self adds previous knowledge to current experiences, increasing the likelihood of encoding that information and giving a full perspective of a situation (Kahneman, 2010). Mixing information from both the remembering self and experiencing self  is a valuable connection for memory because it allows us to be adaptable to unexpected situations and is what drives us to “learn from our mistakes.”

Memory storage is the capacity the brain has to hold information and retrieve when needed. The way memories are stored is by living an experience and gaining knowledge from the main sensory inputs. Sensory inputs such as eyesight and hearing take in new information which leaves a pieced impression in the brain about that experience. This compares and incorporates new information with schemas which are previous memories that act as building blocks of our knowledge. Mixing new information with schemas will create stronger connections and begin to add onto old information (van Kesteren & Meeter, 2020). With repeated exposure to that information and the connection it makes to schemas it starts to reactivate in the cortex with cell assemblies which go on to repeatedly fire (i.e., going from resting mode to action potential) until it makes the experience familiar.

During the development of computers; the human memory storage was falsely compared to a computer’s storage in that it can retrieve perfectly accurate information with little effort. Since then, this comparison to computer storage has been disproven and memory storage has been more accurately described as an efficient and flexible system that still has limitations on how specific or complete it can be.

Due to the heavy influence of culture and society, these variables are found to be the structures that act as building blocks or schemas for giving us a general knowledge about the world at a young age, which makes our ideas and beliefs more challenging to change later on. If something is repeated over and over in the early stages of life, it is more likely encoded as a stronger and well structured memory. While these early learned ideas are hard to break, they are changeable. It is the same process as new memory being encoded; if we want to relearn or update an idea in our mind it takes dedication and repeated exposure to new information. By keeping an open mind and learning from new experiences we are able to create new pathways and reimagine the original schemas in mind.

The importance with memory is not only focused on what we remember, but also what we choose to forget. The way our neurons and schemas are formed influences our beliefs and how we behave in our culture or society. It may be hard at first to break the building blocks we are so accustomed to, but critical thinking and ongoing education of these social issues will enhance the changes that are needed. Now that we know our minds are more complicated than a computer, we can integrate theories from social psychology to improve our own daily lives and the lives of others. People can educate themselves, listen to others’ experiences, understand the issue more in depth, and be surrounded by people and ideas that support anti-sexism. As we further understand how the process of learning works through memory, we can all help to develop a more equal and progressive society and culture together.

Using The Mind

Sexism thrives in a society where beliefs and thoughts are easily manipulated by our experienced memories. Memory is broken into three connecting systems known as working memory, episodic memory, and semantic memory. These systems allow us to thoughtfully navigate our current environments and adapt to a wide range of situations based on our past experiences. There are many outlets of sexist ideas in our society that work towards corrupting our thoughts and behaviors. Several memory devices can help break down these oppressive ideologies for a more accepting and equality based culture.

Working memory is part of our conscious awareness we feel in everyday life. It is often described as the idea of “what is in mind right now” that focuses both on the sensory inputs gained from the environment and the processes we go through to encode or make sense of those experiences. The idea of working memory was originally depicted in the Modal Model, designed by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin. The drive of this model was to show the “multi-storage” components within memory and how they interact. This includes how environmental inputs are registered in the mind and arranged into a short-term store and eventually in a long term-store, if activated enough. The short-term store is a term for describing a temporary working memory that uses control processes, rehearsal, coding, and retrieval strategies in attempts at consolidating lived experiences into a long-term store that is also attributed to being permanent memory (Baddeley et al., 2020, p.74). While the components of this model are all relatively correct there is a called for more extensive research to discover the true connections between these systems. Attempting to elaborate further on these ideas, Alan Baddeley created the next development of the working memory model known as the Multicomponent Model. What Baddeley had attempted to illustrate is that there were four main components that makeup working memory; the visuospatial sketchpad, phonological loop, episodic buffer, and the central executive.

The visuospatial sketchpad is the subsystem based in the occipital cortex region of the brain that is assumed to be specialized for containing sequences of visually and spatially (i.e., the space in our range of sight) encoded items (Baddeley et al., 2020, p.80). In an experience, the visuo-spatial sketchpad is responsible for encoding what one would see and how one might perceive a specific event. Similar to the visou-spatial system, the phonological loop is a verbal sensory input that encodes spoken and written intakes produced in our current environment. The phonological loop is located in the temporal lobe and is effective at using rehearsal techniques to encode sequences of numbers or audio inputs in a short-term memory store. This component of working memory is something we use frequently for many situations such as decoding or understanding languages, creating a narrative when listening to a story or conversation, and speaking to ourselves and thinking things through in our head (Baddeley et al., 2020, p.74). Where these two sensory components of working memory collide is within the “placeholder” of the model known as the episodic buffer. This placeholder within working memory is responsible for connecting the stimuli we experience (i.e., phonological loop and visuo-spatial stimuli) and the long-term memory system (Baddeley et al., 2020, p.85). What this means is that the episodic buffer is where past visual and phonological details are pulled from our long-term memory bank to make sense of the current environment or experience and find the best-fit behavior to apply. What holds executive control and orchestrates all these systems within working memory is the central executive. While the central executive holds much power and operations throughout working memory, it is not a real place within the brain. Rather, the term central executive is used to describe the natural flow of energy in the brain. Energy is dispersed by the central executive for increased functioning in task switching, inhibition (i.e., where attention is activated), and memory span. This is the heart of the working memory system because it uses all these other components to decide what information is important to retrieve for specific situations and how we can best adapt. Where future developments can be made in the current working memory model is the addition of taste and smell sensory inputs (Baddeley et al., 2020, p.87). It is assumed that these two environmental simulations can add to the way we perceive experiences and would allow for further explanation of how taste and smell connect to specific memories that our long-term memory contains.

Working memory is generally a goal-orientated system that we do not have the ability to turn off. It is always actively intaking information and some knowledge from our lived experiences to help reach our common and mundane goals (Doolittle, 2013). This idea that we can store information and knowledge-based off of lived experiences is one of the four main functions of working memory. The other three are involved in the connection to long-term memory where we are enabled to pull information and knowledge as needed, mix old and new experiences or bits of information to better strengthen the memory, and finally process the information based on the focus of our current goal. We use the capacity of working memory to navigate our way through and apply meaning to the experiences we endure. While working memory contributes to the overall ease of navigating the environment, it also has limitations. It is mainly known to be limited in its capacity, duration, and focus (e.g., through fMRI testing, we have found that we can hold up to four things in mind for about 10-20 seconds before forgetting them). While these ideas about working memory limitations are more collectively understood, another pitfall that is often overlooked is that our minds and perceptions can often be misguided by negative reinforcements in our society. For example, if you were to walk into a hospital and see two medical workers (i.e., one male and one female both wearing scrub attire), oftentimes because of societal influence and our developed schemas, our brains would automatically assume the role of the doctor to be the male and the role of nurse to be the female. In our current society we have proven to break these oppressive gender and worker roles, however because of their strong stereotypes and correlations these ideas are challenging to overcome and accept within our minds. While these limitations prove to restrain our abilities within memory, we can attempt to be more aware and considerate of these changes by focusing further on the way we process information, how deeply we apply the change to something more than just a construct, and by sharing our experiences of what we learn (Doolittle, 2013). Working memory uses all these systems and components to help us to understand what we experience and how we can best organize that information into semantic and episodic memory.

Episodic memory is giving an insight into people’s history with formed contextual information. The ability to travel back through past episodes of memory and to anticipate future events is called “mental time travel” (Baddeley et al., 2020, p.164). Through the experience, people can learn from it and use it to understand some future events. People can anticipate the outcome for events they have exercised before, such as when crossing a busy street, people know they have to wait till they get the green from the traffic light before they can walk. Information people learn from their experiences, are organized and processed through a different process.

Like mental time travel, researchers have extended the dimension in which episodic memory extends backward and forward; this process was named remembering-imaging window (Conway, 2009). The ‘window’ is anticipated to create conscious awareness through a specific memory from recent experiences, preparing for future actions. As a result of the new episodic consciousness, people tend to feel a closer connection to current plans and goals.

The brain is processing episodic information through the network of frontal, occipital, and temporal lobes. People will experience a feeling of reliving, which is better known as autonoetic consciousness. Episodic memory focuses strongly on sensory modalities, emotions, and thoughts a person experiences during a specific event (Baddeley et al., 2020, p.187). During a particular occasion, the brain will take in information in order to process those clues after the event. People are likely to recall specific information during an uncertain event later in life. The reason behind this is the Spatio-temporal context of episodic memory, which will form people’s memory around the particular place, the time, and information about the environment while the event occurred (Baddeley et al., 2020, p.188). During a later time, a person is likely to recall specific details of the event because of how the brain processes the detailed information. Taking a look back at the hospital stereotype example, while originally roles were expected to be placed on specific genders, our society is currently working towards shifting the stereotypes of these gender roles within hospital settings. Due to the changes in perception of worker gender positions, we are creating new schematic memories about who could fill those roles (i.e., when forming our episodic memories we will start to not assume their positions automatically). Also,  seeing female doctors and male nurses more often, can help to change and further educate our schemas regarding all gender roles within society.

Relevant information is formed as the result of the cell assemblies process in which essential memories are converted into long term memory. When learning new information, the cell assemblies will connect pre-existing concepts to the latest ideas to deepen the understanding (Baddeley et al., 2020, p.175). The integration process can function to combine learned information, such as when learning new information about sexism. When building upon a person’s knowledge, they can retrieve their past education and connect it with more in-depth information. Depending on what someone has learned throughout their life, they might positively or negatively connect newly discovered information to their existing knowledge, influencing a person to change and grow a better understanding of sexism and the importance of fighting against it.

When people experience an event, their schema will understand and associate it with existing structures, which will enable them to remember those impressions later on. The brain categorizes memories through different sequences of events, which often can be found to use prototypical sequences when people retrieve information. Some memory might seem after a while to be more generalized, which can be organized through guided structure and in content areas. Human brains are able to remember details of instances, but those particular memories are limited. When an event is recurring, the brain forms episodes of the information that is stored in long-term memory. This form of memory allows for the process of retrieval to be much quicker and often times more comfortable (Baddeley et al., 2020, p.183). In some circumstances, people will experience sexism in different situations, which can occur consciously (e.g., through a gender wage gap and job opportunities) or unconsciously (e.g., as seen through gender role stereotypes in Disney movie characters). After a while of recurring experiences, a person might see sexism as ordinary and usual if not learned differently.

Semantic memory differs from episodic memory because semantic memories are missing contextual information Schematization is the process of transforming episodic memories into a semantic form . Episodic memories need to erase their unique detail for the brain to be efficient. The schematization process works by smoothing, omission, commission, and transmission. The process allows for paraphrasing and condensing the information for better clarity. The semantic memory houses most of the overlying structure for information formation. According to Barlett, what we remember in our daily lives is affected by our schematic knowledge (Baddeley et al., 2020, p. 223).

Schemas are “a network of neocortical representations that are strongly interconnected and that can affect online and offline information processes” (Kesteren, Ruiter, Fernandex,  & Henson, 2012). Schemas are interconnected units that form when similar events occur and become integrated. Schemas also lack specific details, but adapt and change with new information. Scripts and frames are the two main categories in schema formation. Scripts are information involving sequences of events. Frames are knowledge structures that include information about objects referring to some aspect of the world (Baddeley et al., 2020, p.223). In the brain, semantic memory of concepts is located on the anterior temporal lobe, while semantic knowledge for scripts involves the prefrontal cortex. Schemas make the world more predictable because semantic information causes us to have expectations. Schemas are useful for reading and listening because they support us in making inferences and understanding concepts (Baddeley et al., 2020, p. 225).

Schemas are for making sense of the world which allows for the formation of stereotypes. Stereotypes are oversimplified generalizations about specific groups (Baddeley et al., 2020 p. 226). Stereotypes are connected with schemas to create consistent biases that guide attention and recollection, which can lead people to misrepresent the capabilities of women in our society. Some examples of stereotypical ideologies about women are that they are meant to only be mothers, they do not understand math and science, and women are weak. Those stereotypes influence our schema formations and semantic memory because what we remember is impacted by our thinking. The way we form ideas about sexism is based on how we remember personal experiences or events, and how we are raised.

There are tricks and tools to help people become less sexist and fewer biases in our daily experiences. By having these tools, we can start to slowly change our thinking, affecting the way we remember and retrieve information. Personal experiences and events can be shared to provide specific examples of how sexism can affect a person’s life or relationships. If someone explains the concept of sexism without describing the full meaning and justification why it needs to change, then views are not able to change. If a woman describes how she lost her job due to being a mother and having different priorities, that specific example can be used to tell someone how this concept affects personal lives.

Another trick for being less biased is being aware of what you are remembering and bringing it into your mind. This can go back to conscious awareness and working memory. When you are mindful of your interactions in society and hold space for other people’s views, finding ways to incorporate new information can become more manageable.

Elaboration is useful when you are explaining and describing ideas with many details. This is similar to concrete examples, but you are using semantic facts instead of personal experiences. Some of these details could be stating facts about having fewer women in government, unequal pay, discrimination based on sex.

Dual Coding is combining words and visuals. One way that can be done is hearing words or a conversation about sexism through our lived experiences. When seeing sexism occur or being experienced, those will then be connected to each other. These can have positive and negative effects on someone’s interaction later in life. Having a visual example can also help someone understand the concept of sexism better because they can recall an image of their or someone else’s experience. By having a visual connection, sexism can be better understood than just having a written format.

What we remember in our daily lives is based on the way we remember and retrieve information. Drawing from the hospital worker stereotype example, when attempting to reimagne gender role working positions, using an open mind and awareness of the inequality within our society can assist in working towards developing a new schema that holds no opposition of one sex over the other. By creating awareness of these hurtful sexist ideas that commonly flow throughout our society, we can work towards accepting the issues and collectively finding a solution. Once we are able to come to terms that our society reinforces oppressive ideas, we can then start to correct them within our own minds and enforce for a different message to be shared overall. Humans thrive at innovating and creating new ideas through collaboration and equality. In order to effectively change and grow throughout our lives, we need to learn from our mistakes and strive to live in an equal society that is accepting of everyone’s unique ideas and beliefs.

Boundaries of the Mind

 A person’s self-concept is established through the experiences they have throughout life and their culture or society they are most influenced by. Where these two self identifiers connect is within the autobiographical memory system which slowly builds our idea of self overtime. For cultural attributes of autobiographical information, there are both collectivist and individualist cultures that share different values when describing one’s “self”. Within a collectivist culture there are typically boundaries of unity and selflessness, while western cultures focus on independence and personal identity. Both of these cultural values are effective in their own ideal ways, however in a western culture where a society is desired to strive on unique ideas and beliefs, there is potential for biases and sexist ideas to infiltrate one’s self-concept. Sexist views and beliefs are developed across the lifespan based on specific events, societal inputs, and cultural values. These are all challenging and uncomfortable barriers to break, but with awareness and dedication, we can work towards breaking down these schematized ideologies.

Autobiographical memory (i.e., AM) is the connection between specific events and self-related information throughout an individual’s life (Baddeley et al., 2020, p.351). Through experiences from our memories, which creates a sense of self. AM connects episodic and semantic memory to form a better understanding of personal experiences. AM can be focused on specific events, personal information, or experiences and emotional connections a person experienced in the past. Our self-representation is created through AM, and by daily interactions, people continuously add to it. The difficulty of studying AM is that researchers do not know what an individual has initially experienced, and their past interactions. The accuracy of recalled memory can influence the results of research studies regarding AM. Furthermore, if the research intends to understand how self concepts and future goals are related to AM, researchers have found less concerns about the accuracy of an individual’s memory while conducting the research. However, AM studies have been used to get a better understanding of memories.

When forming our Autobiographical memory, researchers have found that our brain forms an autobiographical knowledge base, composed of facts about ourselves and our past as the base of AM (Baddeley et al., 2020, p. 360). For the autobiographical memory system to work, our autobiographical knowledge base and our working memory have to interact with each other (Baddeley et al., 2020, p. 361). In addition to the autobiographical memory system, Tulving proposed autonoetic consciousness which is a part of self-awareness to reflect on our self-concept and episodic memories (Baddeley et al., 2020, p. 362). For example, when experiencing sexism for the first time, that experience will be our base for further information. Through pre-existing cell assemblies, sexist information creates our memory structures by joining similar information together which is processed into our long-term memory for quicker recall.

Emotions can also influence our autobiographical memory because events connected to emotions are often found to be easier to remember for a more extended period. Experiencing a traumatic event can cause the formation of flashbulb memories. Those events could have been life-changing or highly impactful for an individual. If someone experiences significant discrimination because of their gender, they might create a mental picture of the event. Every time they experience something similar, it can recall the experience, that could impact their behavior or emotional state.

Autobiographical memory is for our daily survival in the world, and it begins when we are children. This memory system develops and maintains our self-concepts by encoding and retrieving our personal experiences and self-views for a unique-self identity (Ross & Wang, 2010). Culture, society, and family influence our self-concepts. Culture tells us what and how we remember our experiences, which form our schemas (Ross & Wang, 2010). Parents influence our views and beliefs, and they tell us how we should use our memories for emotional regulation and our behaviors (Ross & Wang, 2010). While schools and the overall society influence and reinforce “the correct” knowledge, beliefs, and views (Ross & Wang, 2010). In Western Culture, we tend to remember more positive experiences, which might be one reason we remember more in our teens and twenties. We have a higher rate of encoding and retrieving memories in our tweens and twenties since there are a lot of emotional experiences: falling in love, attending college, marriage, having children (Baddeley et al., 2020, pg. 358). These experiences create emotional memories easily encoded and retrieved to build stronger cell assemblies and schema formations (Baddeley et al., 2020,p. 358). However, we tend to forget our memories from the first few years of our life because infants do not have a self-concept (Baddeley et al., 2020, p. 453).

The spreading activation model is how we form schemas and our self-concept. This model is activated when we see, hear, or think about a concept (Baddeley et al., 2020,p. 214). When we think of an object, our cell assemblies spread to very closely related concepts or semantic knowledge. Activating one cell assembly then sets off a domino effect, linking closely related schemas to ones with longer activation times, similar to a web of thoughts. For example, when women hear the word sexism, it could trigger a cell assembly that produces the semantic knowledge of oppression or feminism. This then can lead to more spreading activation, which can activate schematic cell assemblies for other biases or oppression, such as racism or ableism. Since we live in a sexist society, sexism is represented in all of our knowledge networks, for example we have semantic beliefs about men being powerful and worthy, while activating our stereotypical views of women being weak, dumb, and only capable of being mothers.  These spreading activation assemblies get stronger the more they interact, and over the lifespan, these views are stabilized if no one challenges their beliefs.

Memory is often represented as a flawless system that leaves little room for mistakes when cognitive abilities appear less functional than usual. While this idea is fairly common in our society, memory is, in fact, a flawed system that frequently makes mistakes throughout our lives. When we think back to the studied initial ideas about memory, one of the more prominent insights that may have created this false assumption was the comparison of memory accuracy to the flawless accuracy of computers. Cognitive psychologists quickly understood that the mind was not designed to be a perfect memory bank; however, this comparison is still often believed to be true throughout some of the general public.

When looking at the accessibility and accuracy of autobiographical memory, it is understood that our memories and self-concepts are affected and influenced by many different factors we experience every day. Some of the common variables that disrupt the accuracy of our memories are the lengths of time between encoding and recalling a memory, impairing health conditions that destroy and harmfully alter normal brain functions, and the intensity of an afflicting event that leaves a lasting imprint on one’s memory (e.g., such as experiencing followed by reliving a trauma that occurred) (Conway and Loveday, 2015). These variables only represent a few examples that illustrate why memory is viewed as imperfect and why our minds leave room for error when we mentally construct experiences that occurred. Memories have many details that are inferred when mentally built, and although we cannot recall every detail, our minds attempt to maintain a fair amount of accuracy in order to fill the expectations of our self-concept.

In order to better understand and organize the more common variables impacting memory accuracy, Daniel L. Schacter developed “The Seven Sins of Memory” in hopes that more of the public would read through this information and understand the true capabilities of memory. As Schacter (1999) lays out, the seven sins of memory firstly consist of three sins of omission, meaning when a desired piece of information needs to be remembered, but the content is inaccessible or unavailable. The sins of omissions are transience, which is when the memory of specific facts or events gradually become less accessible over time, absent-mindedness referring to the forgetting caused by an insufficient or superficial amount of attention devoted to stimulation during the time of encoding, and finally blocking that reflects the “tip of the tongue” phenomenon (i.e., when memory attempts to cue specific information, but it is temporarily inaccessible). While the first three sins focus on types of forgetting, the second way of characterizing memory imperfections is through sins of commissions or types of distortion. The sins of commissions consist of misattribution where forms of memory are present but misattributed to an incorrect person, place, or time, suggestibility referring to the incorporation of others information into one’s recollection  (e.g., misleading questions prompting false memories), and bias that essentially depicts how most of our memories are constructed and dependent upon our preexisting knowledge and beliefs. Bias and suggestibility are the most common memory sins where sexist ideas can be recognized. For example, people’s sexist biases and social influences dictate their beliefs and consistent knowledge that then impacts their behavior and how they act towards others in the world. When we match our new knowledge to our prior knowledge then we are not learning and challenging ourselves, instead we are maintaining our schema category. Finally, the last sin of memory is persistence, which involves remembering an event or experience that one wishes to forget (e.g., intrusive recollections of traumatic events, phobias, and chronic fears) (Schacter, 1999).

While all of these factors illustrate the imperfections within the accuracy of memory, this is not to say we are hopelessly inaccurate. The accuracy of our memory can cause uncomfortable and potentially harmful outcomes in a range of situations; however, the education of these “sins” works to create awareness of what they are, how they occur, and potentially how to avoid them. The imperfection of memory should not only be commonly recognized, but it should be a factor applied to most human situations, such as when controversial or activist concepts are discussed. Everyone is unique in their own way, and this will cause many differences in how people use memory, so for our example of discussing sexism, it is important to realize that all participants came from their own background and have their own ideas that impact the way they think and remember.

Throughout our lifetime, ideas surrounding sexism find ways to coexist within our society and personal beliefs persistently. These impairing ideas illustrate a lifestyle filled with inequality and hurtful stereotypes that always look for ways to suppress the other sex. When our thoughts and beliefs match with these oppressive ideas, unconsciously, our self processes can change. Our self-concepts are influenced by the way we encode and recall our autobiographical memories; when sexist concepts are reinforced within the experiences of society, it is significantly harder to break down these barriers. Through repeated awareness and education of where these ideas are constructed in society or culture, we have the ability to change our perceptions and view the world through an equality-based perspective. Some ways to challenge your bias ideas can include reading articles, or watching news reports with different perspectives, journal entries, Surrounding yourself with equality accepting ideas (e.g., social media influencers, social groups, communities), and open discussions. When you take the steps to become anti-sexist, you are actively changing the length of the links in your semantic webs of knowledge and extending your ideas of what it means to be human.

About the Authors

Hi, I’m Michael Cusack and I’m a psychology major at Pacific University located in Forest Grove. I am originally from a small town in Oregon that hardly held any strong activist views, so when writing these papers it was important to me that the message of equality in terms of sexism is shared. Without people collectively striving to be better as a culture and society it is hard for everyone’s voice to be heard and for real change to occur. This project opened my eyes to the possibilities of collaborative work and how we should all speak our minds and listen to others, even if the ideas are opposing our own. I can only hope the information we share here will influence growth within those smaller towns that have less opportunities and support.

May is an international student from Germany majoring in Psychology at Pacific University. This project has helped her understand the importance of sexism’s underlying factors and how it can influence people’s mindsets.

My name is Darby Bowers and I am a senior at Pacific University majoring in Psychology. The project helped me understand how sexist views are maintained in our society. I also learned how to have better conversations with people who have different perspectives.




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Cultivating Your Practice of Justice & Inclusion: Explanation and Advice from Cognitive Science Copyright © 2020 by Michael Cusack; Darby Bowers; and May von der Kammer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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