Explicitation interview and memory (1) (english translation from french, 2015, Expliciter 106, 38-43)

Explicitation interview and memory (1)  Originality of the relation to remembrance Pierre Vermersch

(english translation from french, 2015, Expliciter 106, 38-43)

The explicitation interview is based on the practice of describing ones past lived experience. Therefore, it is, for one part, essentially based on the possibility of a remembrance[1] of this past. As such, it would seem logical for it to be associated to what can seem to be the most serious and therefore the most commendable: the results of several thousand pieces of research conducted on memory by experimental psychology. Yet, not only has this never been the case, but it seems like it is going to go on this way. The opposite may even happen, meaning that the explicitation interview practice could bring new knowledge on remembrance, as shown by the two recent publications on experience replications (Moguillansky, O’Regan et al. 2013, Petimengin, Remillieux et al. 2013). These first experiences showed that the subjects could easily be misled concerning the memory of their own judgements. Because, by simply guiding the subjects throughout the description of their own lived experience by using the explicitation interview, they were no longer taken advantage of by the experimenter’s manipulation (Nisbett and Wilson 1977).

How can one justify this lack of interest for experimental psychology? What choices guided me and still guide this position?

 

After a few weeks spent catching up on my readings on memory, getting up to date, updating my knowledge, recovering the content of my books (which I bought a long time ago), or buying new ones (most of the time to complete my collection of inescapable classics), downloading numerous papers that are now easily accessible on the internet. After being overwhelmed by all this material, by the feeling that it was hard to master the subject, even harder to overhang it. I realized that, in the end, the main issue is to clarify my own posture. Not to justify myself on the absence of references to the “science” of the memory, but to explain to myself the originality of my position. I progressively became aware that this paper would only be the first draft of a more extensive paper.

 

When I first made an attempt at creating the explicitation interview, I used it because I needed to clarify the subjects’ intellectual processes, when the observables were insufficient to make inferences on these invisible processes. Was it possible to become aware of them by asking the subject what he had experienced? Was it possible, against all the prevailing prohibitions (the 70s were radically “introspectophobes”), to remobilize introspection? I did it. What motivated me next was discovering that the subjects were able to give a flow of detail on their mental actions, on their information gathering, on their internal dialogue, on everything they were attentive to from moment to moment. But, furthermore, they did it in a much more bountiful way than what they should have been able to do according to the data in experimental psychology on memory such as it had been taught to me at university!

I was literally in contradiction with my training in experimental psychology!! My results were outrageous, impossible, according to the well-known (!) limits of the memory.

Because my questions always concerned a finalized and well-defined task, the strict validation issues were not crucial – nevertheless, see (Ancillotti and Morel 1994, Vermersch 1996) and (Vermersch 1996) – because it was, most of the time, easy to confront what the subject was saying with the restraints applied to the realization of the task and with the results. Therefore, I gave myself free rein to improve my practice: how to truly help the subject describe the action of his lived experience in relation to a singular moment? But, all the same, I was discovering what had to be avoided at all costs to not stop the subject from remembering his lived experience, to not compromise the evocation process.

I was lucky enough to practice, without asking myself beforehand if it would be possible!

I was lucky enough to be directly in a position to perform tests, to be overwhelmed, surprised, astonished[2] by what I was obtaining (Vermersch 2014). Otherwise, I would have stopped, or I would have never started!

I was proving the walk by walking, and in doing this I did not need to refer myself to the results of experimental psychology in order to validate my approach.

Nothing in the results – which I knew well – of experimental psychology would have prompted me to interrogate the details of a past lived experience, on the contrary, the idea back then was that it would be totally useless, because necessarily inaccurate, invented, rebuilt, rationalized, poor and, furthermore, or furthermost: what could the subject possibly know of himself, worst: what could he possibly know of his own cognitive functioning!!

I found myself in the situation of a practitioner building an expertise by the assiduous exercise of his own exercise but with the eyes, ears, categories, culture, motivation, of a researcher in psychology who was well acquainted with the field. In order to move forward, I did not need to conduct experiences in memory-focused psychology laboratories! Or, rather, if I had engaged myself in such a program, I would never have elaborated the explicitation interview!

Yet, here I am, back at the beginning! Where am I in relation to all this “scientific” research on memory? Why have I persisted in my refusal to take it as a reference, while regularly, through the years, buying books on it to stay up to date? I do not have a problem with the matter, but I realized that for some PhD candidates, or rather for some PhD candidates submitted to their supervisor’s dictate, the absence of references to the fashionable theories (for example, I will come back to this later, the episodic memory of Tulving, or the autobiographical memory of Conway) was a worrying sign which could lead them to reject the explicitation interview, only by principle.

When I was asked to write a chapter for a collective book on the “tracks”, I wanted to reflect on my relation to memory-focused experimental psychology. In order to do this, I will explain the originality of the explicitation interview position compared to the one defended in experimental psychology and provide arguments to demonstrate the scientific soundness of my own position.

The main idea of this paper would be to show the irreducible differences of posture between the explicitation interview and memory-focused experimental psychology, even though both approaches focus on memory: the first one aims at assisting the remembrance process, at overcoming its spontaneous limits, and the second one satisfies itself with objectifying its spontaneous limits.

It is important to understand the terrible logic of the experimental method applied to the study of the human subject. The experimental study of memory really only began with Ebbinghaus’s works 1885, (Nicolas 1992), at a time when what mattered the most was to (become), to appear scientific, based on the model of everything that was being done in the perception threshold measurement field. Therefore, it was imperative to be able to quantify the results, to control the studied situation, in such a way that each experience would be strictly comparable to the other modulo, an independent variable that one could put into play in order to create potentially interesting contrasts. In practice, this would translate into the invention of well-controlled “experimental verbal material”, for instance a list of meaningless syllables. The material that was to be remembered was defined and it was easy to keep track of the successes, of what was missing and of the mistakes made in remembering or recognizing this material. One of the appalling secondary effects of this logic was that it became necessary to multiply the experimental, simple, numerous and quantifiable tasks. This is even true regarding the work of the Wurzbug School. But, in doing this, it is even less likely that we would observe the cognitive activity of the subject. We give him a simple, repetitive, multiple activity, and he must answer simply. In doing this, we simply minimized the intermediate times used to come up with an answer, and there is hardly anything else to say about the process of this production, apart from the final result.

We were doing science, but we had lost the subject!

Nearly one century was necessary for voices to be heard to underline the lack of interest expressed in the thousands of pieces of research that had been thus produced (see for example the remarkable chapter by Neisser (Neisser 1982), or (Neisser and Winograd 1988))[3]. A few more years were necessary (Koriat and Goldsmith 1994) to distinguish “controling what we gave to learn”, which leads with certainty to a quantification of the results, from “discovering what the subject remembers”, which supposes an a posteriori analysis to check up on the concordance between what the subject says and what he has experienced, which will necessarily lead to an analysis of the qualitative content, hard to quantify.

But even thusly, the fundamental difference of approaches between the explicitation interview and memory-focused experimental psychology is that the explicitation interview intervenes during the remembrance. Not being hindered by the obsession to control the experimental conditions, its basis is 1/ to intervene in order to help the subject connect with his past on the mode of a relived experience (guidance towards the evocation position, when we know, when we have experienced that it is possible!) and 2/ once this is done, on the one hand intervene to help the subject stay in this relived experience, on the other hand systematically intervene to guide his attentional radius towards the past in order to fragment what he says spontaneously, or to move his attentional focus towards the past (and just after, and then, and just before, and at the very beginning…).

Intervene? How dreadful! Where is the science, the a priori control?

The expert practice of the relation, the intimate knowledge of the effect of reviving the subject’s remembrance with neutral words, understanding the induced, researched perlocutionary effects, made it possible for us, with help from all the culture obtained through the Ericksonian “inventions” and other NLPs, to conceive “interventions” based on sophisticated techniques which never induce the content that is relative to what has been experienced. The specificity of working with a subject (not an animal nor an object) is that I can say what he his thinking, what he can see, what he feels, without knowing what it means, without knowing the content beforehand, because he knows and he can answer by himself, by turning towards his inner self towards WHAT is aimed at. The interviewer does not need to know the content of the thought, of the perception, of the inner state, in order to interrogate and to help the person become aware of it. This is what we call the “language void of content” (but not void of focus).

The essential of my argument is that, unlike experimental psychology, the explicitation interview intervenes. It does not work at objectifying what the subject knows how to remember on his own, but at helping the subject amplify his remembrance.

Of course, the researcher intervenes in a number of experimental paradigms. But as long as we are working with the “make one learn, in order to control what he has learnt” paradigm, the intervention will mainly concern the learning conditions, by manipulating the verbal material which has been given to learn or the instructions for instance. This is not of interest for us, because the explicitation interview never works on explicitating a content which was given to memorize. It always works on the lived experience, meaning what happened according to the subject, without him having the intention of memorizing everything while experiencing it. When we use memorizing tasks (learning the number grid for example, used a lot in training), our goal is not to make the subject explicit the number grid, but to make him explicit the actions employed to learn this grid. And the lived experience of learning is not itself intentionally memorized while it is experienced (however, all goes to show that he permanently and passively memorizes).

What is more interesting is the experimental manipulations at the moment of the restitution. A number of experiences have shown that one could create false memories quite easily, that one could manipulate his own judgement of the past to systemize, rationalize, complete this judgement in an abusive way, in an erroneous way in comparison with the starting point.  Both experiences that I quoted in the beginning were the demonstration of the difference between letting the subject answer with only his resources (in this situation the manipulation works in an efficient way, the subject makes mistakes) and simply guiding the subject to describe the moment of his past lived experience, and then, for most of the subjects, the manipulation no longer has any effect.

The spontaneous mistakes or the mistakes induced by the experimenter demonstrate the limits of the subject left to his own devices.

We learn that he is both limited, fragile, but that we are not going to learn anything useful. It is useful to not name information that the subject has not yet spoken of (see Loftus’ work on false memories), because doing so induces the subject to picture what is being talked about which, in turn, generates a confusion between what he is led to imagine and what has really been experienced.  The American system of justice was strongly impacted by this discovery and the written record of inductive interrogatories were discarded. Therefore, discovering the effects of manipulation was interesting. It confirmed our decision to not induce the content of the answers while reviving the subject’s remembrance with neutral words. We avoid doing it by using techniques that ask questions without any content. But discovering this did not tell us if it would be possible to help the person describe his past lived experience in a more detailed manner. The explicitation interview helps the person relate to his past, unlike experimental psychology which simply observes the spontaneous limits and the subject’s fragility when his memorization and remembrance activity has been tampered with. If I had not used a technique to help, guide, explore the past lived experience, experimental psychology would have never given us information on what the subject could find out when he is being guided! Reading the work undertaken in experimental psychology never gave me any information on the help one could bring to the subject in his relation to his past lived experience and it cannot provide me with such information because it does not intervene in any way to help the subjects. At best it intervenes in negative manipulation. Experimental psychology knows strictly nothing about the possibilities of remembrance when the subject is being helped.

There is nothing wrong with the principles of the experimental method. A tool is nothing in itself. What is questionable is the accordance between the tool and the aimed goal. Fundamentally, Human Sciences, and psychology in particular, is the only field of science where the studied object can talk to you and tell you what is happening inside of him. Yet, all the work undertook to build a scientific foundation for psychology was done by ignoring, vilifying, forbidding the exploitation of this potential source of information!! The explicitation interview bypassed these interdictions, benefiting from a favourable institutional context because marginal (work psychology, contact with the teachers and the trainers) when compared to the big psychology laboratories doing real science. The time would seem to have come to work on a complete psychology that combines the first, second and third person perspective! For example… a psycho phenomenology… named thusly in order to give a clear space to the introspective dimension. Notice that we are not asking the subject to make science out of his own subjectivity: in most cases he does not have the training that a researcher has and, even when does, he has to work on a two phased approach: the first phase is when his is an informer and describes his lived experience, the second phase is when he is a researcher and he analyses this lived experience. Introspection does not mean that one has the possibility to create immediate science from what is being said, but only that we have access to information that only the one who experiences the experience can provide us with. Then, you have to build the knowledge. Science has never been immediate, always secondary (and slow).

My critic of experimental psychology of the memory aims at being radical. Not acknowledging introspection, the strict limits of the experimental method, the deep disinterest for real situations in favour of the laboratories produced a great quantity of unusable and unused knowledge!!

Yet, my scrutiny never failed me, I monitored years of publications on the memory topic. When I saw the term “episodic memory” (Tulving, Donaldson and al. 1972), but that I discovered later) and understood that it was finally a memory referring to experienced events, I startled and immediately progressed in my readings. Weary. The idea was good, pertinent, but the work was undertook in a laboratory within the good old scheme of making the subject learn and controlling what had been learnt. Nothing about: is it possible to perfect, to help the remembrance of past events? Tulving is very interesting. He distinguishes an auto-noetic activity (introspection) from a noetic one, or, in other words, a remembrance in which the subject targets himself and a remembrance in which he targets an object, which is the basis of the distinction between event-related, personal, dated (episodic) memory and memory of general knowledge, not dated, not personal (semantic). The specificity of the explicitation interview is that it triggers, induces, carefully maintains this relation with the personal lived experience (incarnated speech positions) which, in turn, gives way to the evocation act. When one looks at all the manipulations (in a negative sense) made on memory by experimental psychology, one sees that their logic rests on the fragility of the abstract position (noetic in Tulving’s language) when the subject reflects on his past to find it. Then he rationalizes, infers, rebuilds, and… he easily makes mistakes, especially if we help him make them.

We know how to build a bridge with the past by using sensoriality, we know how because we have experienced and described (first person knowledge) the effects of retrieving the sensorial dimension of the past, in the sense of a quasi-relived experience. Tulving invents the term of “ecphoric stimulus” to refer to what generates access to the past lived experience, he observes it, he does not read French so he is not familiar with “Proust’s madeleine”, nor with Gusdorf’s book (Gusdorf 1951) on concrete memory. If one were to do a “Tulvingien” translation, one could say that the explicitation interview intentionally appeals to the ecphoric stimuli. But it is one thing to know it exists, it is another to know how to appeal to it and renew it.

More recently, two English authors wrote a collective book on “the memory of actions” (Zimmer 2001). Here, no doubt about it, there is hope. At last people are working on the same thing as us… sure enough, the field of study deals with actions, more specifically actions in the motor sense of the term, but we remain within the experimental paradigm of describing what exists, without opening up to what is possible.

We could still hope that the uncountable contributions on the theme of autobiographical memory would concern us directly. Titles such as “remembering our past” (Rubin 1986, Rubin 1996) or, better yet, “Autobiographical memory: Remembering what and Remembering when”. But, in fact, the entire research movement initiated by Conway (Conway 1990) on autobiographical memory deals with temporal scales of the life period – great episodes, major events – and does not at all show any interest in the lived experience, in the sense that I have defined it, as a moment studied in its micro temporality. The ideas that underlie the study of autobiographical memory are numerous, but what really comes through is the importance given to the link between this memory and the self, or for other authors the link between personal implication and the effects of this memory. But even then, with this obvious thematic proximity, there is no inclination for the process of guiding the remembrance. There are still more statements on the possibilities and the limits of spontaneous remembrance.

In fact, when one browses through all the literature, one tends to think that numerous researchers have, themselves, searched for their identity by promoting particular memories. Therefore, the question of the number of different memory systems is still in debate (Schacter and Tulving 1996).

 

All in all, if I keep looking for ways to help a subject to better memorize his past lived experience, there are few resources in memory-focused experimental psychology. In the last 20 years, to answer the critics made by Neisser on the fact that nobody was studying memory in real life (not in a laboratory), a large number of publications have tackled the theme of “applied research on memory”. Most of the time, this qualifies experimental research conducted in fields indexed on social practices: early childhood, geriatrics, justice and police, education, psychiatry, neuropathology. But I did not notice any contributions dealing with helping remembrance. The only innovation came in the same way as mine. A researcher in cognitive science (Geiselman), from an anecdote experienced with one of his colleagues who had forgotten something the previous evening, managed to help him find the object with his questions. From this experience, he got the idea of improvising a number of recommendations to improve the police’s interrogation techniques (Geiselman 1984, Geiselman, Fisher et al. 1986, Fischer and Geiselman 1992) and developed a “cognitive interview” which became widespread in the police and justice circles, with an example of it being used in the educative field (Perraudeau and Pagoni 2010).

I will have to come back to this theme of guiding remembrance. Particularly to show the coherence between the techniques that we develop and the theoretical hypothesis which underlie them. With this first paper, I would like to have opened the panorama of the memory issue, and particularly the relations with memory-focused experimental psychology, or as it is called today, with memory-focused cognitive psychology. It seems to me that the main argument lies in the difference between recording the spontaneous performances and helping the remembrance process by overcoming the limits of these performances. I would like to open the debate with this article.

 

Ancillotti, J.-P. and M. Morel (1994). A la recherche de la solution perdue. Paris GREX, Collection Protocole n° 4.

Cohen, G. (1989). Memory in the real world. USA, Lawrence Erlbaum.

Cohen, G. and M. A. Conway (2007). Memory in the real world, Psychology Press.

Conway, M. A. (1990). Autobiographical memory : an introduction. Milton Keynes England ; Philadelphia, Open University Press.

Davies, G. and D. B. Wright (2010). Current issues in applied memory research. New York, NY, Psychology Press.

Fisher, R. P. and R. E. Geiselman (1992). Memory-enhancing techniques for investigative interviewing: The cognitive interview, Charles C Thomas, Publisher.

Geiselman, R. E. (1984). « Enhancement of eyewitness memory: An empirical evaluation of the cognitive interview. » Journal of Police Science & Administration.

Geiselman, R. E., et al. (1986). « Enhancement of eyewitness memory with the cognitive interview. » The American journal of psychology: 385-401.

Gusdorf, G. (1951). Mémoire et personne(2). Paris, PUF.

Herrmann, D. J. (1996). Basic and applied memory research. Mahwah, N.J., Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Koriat, A. and M. Goldsmith (1994). « Memory in naturalistic and laboratory contexts: distinguishing the accuracy-oriented and quantity-oriented approaches to memory assessment. » Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 123(3): 297.

Moguillansky, C. V., et al. (2013). « Exploring the subjective experience of the “rubber hand” illusion. » Frontiers in human neuroscience 7.

Neisser, U. (1982). Memory observed Remembering in natural contexts. New York, Freeman and Company.

Neisser, U. and E. Winograd (1988). Remembering reconsidered : ecological and traditional approaches to the study of memory. Cambridge England ; New York, Cambridge University Press.

Nicolas, S. (1992). « Hermann Ebbinghaus et l’étude expérimentale de la mémoire humaine. » L’année psychologique 92(4): 527-544.

Nisbett, R. E. and T. D. Wilson (1977). « Telling more than we can know : verbal reports on mental processes. » Psychological review 84(3): 231-259.

Perraudeau, M. and M. Pagoni (2010). L’entretien cognitif à visée d’apprentissage, ENS Editions.

Petitmengin, C., et al. (2013). « A gap in Nisbett and Wilson’s findings? A first-person access to our cognitive processes. » Conscious Cogn 22(2): 654-669.

Rubin, D. C. (1986). Autobiographical memory. Cambridge Cambridgeshire ; New York, Cambridge University Press.

Rubin, D. C. (1996). Remembering our past : studies in autobiographical memory. Cambridge ; New York, NY, USA, Cambridge University Press.

Schacter, D. and E. Tulving, Eds. (1996). Systèmes de mémoire chez l’animal et chez l’homme. Marseille, Solal, éditeurs.

Tulving, E. (1983). Elements of episodic memory. Oxford Oxfordshire

New York, Clarendon Press ;

Oxford University Press.

Tulving, E. (2009). « J’ai révélé « la mémoire épisodique ». » La Recherche(432): 88.

Tulving, E., et al. (1972). Organization of memory. New York,, Academic Press.

Vermersch, P. (1996). « Pour une psycho-phénoménologie : esquisse d’un cadre méthodologique général. » Expliciter 13(1-11).

Vermersch, P. (1996). « Problèmes de validation des analyses psycho-phénoménologiques. » Expliciter(14): 1-12.

Vermersch, P. (2014). « L’entretien d’explicitation et la mémoire passive, surprises, découvertes, émerveillement. » Expliciter(102): 41-47.

Vermersch, P. (2014). Le dessin de vécu dans la recherche en première personne. Pratique de l’auto-explicitation. Première, deuxième, troisième personne. N. Depraz. Bucarest, Zetabooks: 195-233.

Zimmer, H. D. (2001). Memory for action : a distinct form of episodic memory? New York, Oxford University Press.

 

 

 

[1] For the moment, I am using the word « remembrance » to avoid using the word « recall » which has strong connotations in experimental psychology research. When I specifically qualify the precise act which we use in the explicitation interview, I will come back to the term “evocation”.

[2] Vermersch P., 2014, Education permanente, 200 – Surprises, découvertes, étonnements : l’entretien d’explicitation et l’éveil de la mémoire passive.

[3] Neisser, U. (1982). Memory observed Remembering in natural contexts. New York, Freeman and Company. Neisser, U. and E. Winograd (1988). Remembering reconsidered : ecological and traditional approaches to the study of memory. Cambridge England ; New York, Cambridge University Press.

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Explicitation interview and memory (1)  Originality of the relation to remembrance Pierre Vermersch

(english translation from french, 2015, Expliciter 106, 38-43)

The explicitation interview is based on the practice of describing ones past lived experience. Therefore, it is, for one part, essentially based on the possibility of a remembrance[1] of this past. As such, it would seem logical for it to be associated to what can seem to be the most serious and therefore the most commendable: the results of several thousand pieces of research conducted on memory by experimental psychology. Yet, not only has this never been the case, but it seems like it is going to go on this way. The opposite may even happen, meaning that the explicitation interview practice could bring new knowledge on remembrance, as shown by the two recent publications on experience replications (Moguillansky, O’Regan et al. 2013, Petimengin, Remillieux et al. 2013). These first experiences showed that the subjects could easily be misled concerning the memory of their own judgements. Because, by simply guiding the subjects throughout the description of their own lived experience by using the explicitation interview, they were no longer taken advantage of by the experimenter’s manipulation (Nisbett and Wilson 1977).

How can one justify this lack of interest for experimental psychology? What choices guided me and still guide this position?

 

After a few weeks spent catching up on my readings on memory, getting up to date, updating my knowledge, recovering the content of my books (which I bought a long time ago), or buying new ones (most of the time to complete my collection of inescapable classics), downloading numerous papers that are now easily accessible on the internet. After being overwhelmed by all this material, by the feeling that it was hard to master the subject, even harder to overhang it. I realized that, in the end, the main issue is to clarify my own posture. Not to justify myself on the absence of references to the “science” of the memory, but to explain to myself the originality of my position. I progressively became aware that this paper would only be the first draft of a more extensive paper.

 

When I first made an attempt at creating the explicitation interview, I used it because I needed to clarify the subjects’ intellectual processes, when the observables were insufficient to make inferences on these invisible processes. Was it possible to become aware of them by asking the subject what he had experienced? Was it possible, against all the prevailing prohibitions (the 70s were radically “introspectophobes”), to remobilize introspection? I did it. What motivated me next was discovering that the subjects were able to give a flow of detail on their mental actions, on their information gathering, on their internal dialogue, on everything they were attentive to from moment to moment. But, furthermore, they did it in a much more bountiful way than what they should have been able to do according to the data in experimental psychology on memory such as it had been taught to me at university!

I was literally in contradiction with my training in experimental psychology!! My results were outrageous, impossible, according to the well-known (!) limits of the memory.

Because my questions always concerned a finalized and well-defined task, the strict validation issues were not crucial – nevertheless, see (Ancillotti and Morel 1994, Vermersch 1996) and (Vermersch 1996) – because it was, most of the time, easy to confront what the subject was saying with the restraints applied to the realization of the task and with the results. Therefore, I gave myself free rein to improve my practice: how to truly help the subject describe the action of his lived experience in relation to a singular moment? But, all the same, I was discovering what had to be avoided at all costs to not stop the subject from remembering his lived experience, to not compromise the evocation process.

I was lucky enough to practice, without asking myself beforehand if it would be possible!

I was lucky enough to be directly in a position to perform tests, to be overwhelmed, surprised, astonished[2] by what I was obtaining (Vermersch 2014). Otherwise, I would have stopped, or I would have never started!

I was proving the walk by walking, and in doing this I did not need to refer myself to the results of experimental psychology in order to validate my approach.

Nothing in the results – which I knew well – of experimental psychology would have prompted me to interrogate the details of a past lived experience, on the contrary, the idea back then was that it would be totally useless, because necessarily inaccurate, invented, rebuilt, rationalized, poor and, furthermore, or furthermost: what could the subject possibly know of himself, worst: what could he possibly know of his own cognitive functioning!!

I found myself in the situation of a practitioner building an expertise by the assiduous exercise of his own exercise but with the eyes, ears, categories, culture, motivation, of a researcher in psychology who was well acquainted with the field. In order to move forward, I did not need to conduct experiences in memory-focused psychology laboratories! Or, rather, if I had engaged myself in such a program, I would never have elaborated the explicitation interview!

Yet, here I am, back at the beginning! Where am I in relation to all this “scientific” research on memory? Why have I persisted in my refusal to take it as a reference, while regularly, through the years, buying books on it to stay up to date? I do not have a problem with the matter, but I realized that for some PhD candidates, or rather for some PhD candidates submitted to their supervisor’s dictate, the absence of references to the fashionable theories (for example, I will come back to this later, the episodic memory of Tulving, or the autobiographical memory of Conway) was a worrying sign which could lead them to reject the explicitation interview, only by principle.

When I was asked to write a chapter for a collective book on the “tracks”, I wanted to reflect on my relation to memory-focused experimental psychology. In order to do this, I will explain the originality of the explicitation interview position compared to the one defended in experimental psychology and provide arguments to demonstrate the scientific soundness of my own position.

The main idea of this paper would be to show the irreducible differences of posture between the explicitation interview and memory-focused experimental psychology, even though both approaches focus on memory: the first one aims at assisting the remembrance process, at overcoming its spontaneous limits, and the second one satisfies itself with objectifying its spontaneous limits.

It is important to understand the terrible logic of the experimental method applied to the study of the human subject. The experimental study of memory really only began with Ebbinghaus’s works 1885, (Nicolas 1992), at a time when what mattered the most was to (become), to appear scientific, based on the model of everything that was being done in the perception threshold measurement field. Therefore, it was imperative to be able to quantify the results, to control the studied situation, in such a way that each experience would be strictly comparable to the other modulo, an independent variable that one could put into play in order to create potentially interesting contrasts. In practice, this would translate into the invention of well-controlled “experimental verbal material”, for instance a list of meaningless syllables. The material that was to be remembered was defined and it was easy to keep track of the successes, of what was missing and of the mistakes made in remembering or recognizing this material. One of the appalling secondary effects of this logic was that it became necessary to multiply the experimental, simple, numerous and quantifiable tasks. This is even true regarding the work of the Wurzbug School. But, in doing this, it is even less likely that we would observe the cognitive activity of the subject. We give him a simple, repetitive, multiple activity, and he must answer simply. In doing this, we simply minimized the intermediate times used to come up with an answer, and there is hardly anything else to say about the process of this production, apart from the final result.

We were doing science, but we had lost the subject!

Nearly one century was necessary for voices to be heard to underline the lack of interest expressed in the thousands of pieces of research that had been thus produced (see for example the remarkable chapter by Neisser (Neisser 1982), or (Neisser and Winograd 1988))[3]. A few more years were necessary (Koriat and Goldsmith 1994) to distinguish “controling what we gave to learn”, which leads with certainty to a quantification of the results, from “discovering what the subject remembers”, which supposes an a posteriori analysis to check up on the concordance between what the subject says and what he has experienced, which will necessarily lead to an analysis of the qualitative content, hard to quantify.

But even thusly, the fundamental difference of approaches between the explicitation interview and memory-focused experimental psychology is that the explicitation interview intervenes during the remembrance. Not being hindered by the obsession to control the experimental conditions, its basis is 1/ to intervene in order to help the subject connect with his past on the mode of a relived experience (guidance towards the evocation position, when we know, when we have experienced that it is possible!) and 2/ once this is done, on the one hand intervene to help the subject stay in this relived experience, on the other hand systematically intervene to guide his attentional radius towards the past in order to fragment what he says spontaneously, or to move his attentional focus towards the past (and just after, and then, and just before, and at the very beginning…).

Intervene? How dreadful! Where is the science, the a priori control?

The expert practice of the relation, the intimate knowledge of the effect of reviving the subject’s remembrance with neutral words, understanding the induced, researched perlocutionary effects, made it possible for us, with help from all the culture obtained through the Ericksonian “inventions” and other NLPs, to conceive “interventions” based on sophisticated techniques which never induce the content that is relative to what has been experienced. The specificity of working with a subject (not an animal nor an object) is that I can say what he his thinking, what he can see, what he feels, without knowing what it means, without knowing the content beforehand, because he knows and he can answer by himself, by turning towards his inner self towards WHAT is aimed at. The interviewer does not need to know the content of the thought, of the perception, of the inner state, in order to interrogate and to help the person become aware of it. This is what we call the “language void of content” (but not void of focus).

The essential of my argument is that, unlike experimental psychology, the explicitation interview intervenes. It does not work at objectifying what the subject knows how to remember on his own, but at helping the subject amplify his remembrance.

Of course, the researcher intervenes in a number of experimental paradigms. But as long as we are working with the “make one learn, in order to control what he has learnt” paradigm, the intervention will mainly concern the learning conditions, by manipulating the verbal material which has been given to learn or the instructions for instance. This is not of interest for us, because the explicitation interview never works on explicitating a content which was given to memorize. It always works on the lived experience, meaning what happened according to the subject, without him having the intention of memorizing everything while experiencing it. When we use memorizing tasks (learning the number grid for example, used a lot in training), our goal is not to make the subject explicit the number grid, but to make him explicit the actions employed to learn this grid. And the lived experience of learning is not itself intentionally memorized while it is experienced (however, all goes to show that he permanently and passively memorizes).

What is more interesting is the experimental manipulations at the moment of the restitution. A number of experiences have shown that one could create false memories quite easily, that one could manipulate his own judgement of the past to systemize, rationalize, complete this judgement in an abusive way, in an erroneous way in comparison with the starting point.  Both experiences that I quoted in the beginning were the demonstration of the difference between letting the subject answer with only his resources (in this situation the manipulation works in an efficient way, the subject makes mistakes) and simply guiding the subject to describe the moment of his past lived experience, and then, for most of the subjects, the manipulation no longer has any effect.

The spontaneous mistakes or the mistakes induced by the experimenter demonstrate the limits of the subject left to his own devices.

We learn that he is both limited, fragile, but that we are not going to learn anything useful. It is useful to not name information that the subject has not yet spoken of (see Loftus’ work on false memories), because doing so induces the subject to picture what is being talked about which, in turn, generates a confusion between what he is led to imagine and what has really been experienced.  The American system of justice was strongly impacted by this discovery and the written record of inductive interrogatories were discarded. Therefore, discovering the effects of manipulation was interesting. It confirmed our decision to not induce the content of the answers while reviving the subject’s remembrance with neutral words. We avoid doing it by using techniques that ask questions without any content. But discovering this did not tell us if it would be possible to help the person describe his past lived experience in a more detailed manner. The explicitation interview helps the person relate to his past, unlike experimental psychology which simply observes the spontaneous limits and the subject’s fragility when his memorization and remembrance activity has been tampered with. If I had not used a technique to help, guide, explore the past lived experience, experimental psychology would have never given us information on what the subject could find out when he is being guided! Reading the work undertaken in experimental psychology never gave me any information on the help one could bring to the subject in his relation to his past lived experience and it cannot provide me with such information because it does not intervene in any way to help the subjects. At best it intervenes in negative manipulation. Experimental psychology knows strictly nothing about the possibilities of remembrance when the subject is being helped.

There is nothing wrong with the principles of the experimental method. A tool is nothing in itself. What is questionable is the accordance between the tool and the aimed goal. Fundamentally, Human Sciences, and psychology in particular, is the only field of science where the studied object can talk to you and tell you what is happening inside of him. Yet, all the work undertook to build a scientific foundation for psychology was done by ignoring, vilifying, forbidding the exploitation of this potential source of information!! The explicitation interview bypassed these interdictions, benefiting from a favourable institutional context because marginal (work psychology, contact with the teachers and the trainers) when compared to the big psychology laboratories doing real science. The time would seem to have come to work on a complete psychology that combines the first, second and third person perspective! For example… a psycho phenomenology… named thusly in order to give a clear space to the introspective dimension. Notice that we are not asking the subject to make science out of his own subjectivity: in most cases he does not have the training that a researcher has and, even when does, he has to work on a two phased approach: the first phase is when his is an informer and describes his lived experience, the second phase is when he is a researcher and he analyses this lived experience. Introspection does not mean that one has the possibility to create immediate science from what is being said, but only that we have access to information that only the one who experiences the experience can provide us with. Then, you have to build the knowledge. Science has never been immediate, always secondary (and slow).

My critic of experimental psychology of the memory aims at being radical. Not acknowledging introspection, the strict limits of the experimental method, the deep disinterest for real situations in favour of the laboratories produced a great quantity of unusable and unused knowledge!!

Yet, my scrutiny never failed me, I monitored years of publications on the memory topic. When I saw the term “episodic memory” (Tulving, Donaldson and al. 1972), but that I discovered later) and understood that it was finally a memory referring to experienced events, I startled and immediately progressed in my readings. Weary. The idea was good, pertinent, but the work was undertook in a laboratory within the good old scheme of making the subject learn and controlling what had been learnt. Nothing about: is it possible to perfect, to help the remembrance of past events? Tulving is very interesting. He distinguishes an auto-noetic activity (introspection) from a noetic one, or, in other words, a remembrance in which the subject targets himself and a remembrance in which he targets an object, which is the basis of the distinction between event-related, personal, dated (episodic) memory and memory of general knowledge, not dated, not personal (semantic). The specificity of the explicitation interview is that it triggers, induces, carefully maintains this relation with the personal lived experience (incarnated speech positions) which, in turn, gives way to the evocation act. When one looks at all the manipulations (in a negative sense) made on memory by experimental psychology, one sees that their logic rests on the fragility of the abstract position (noetic in Tulving’s language) when the subject reflects on his past to find it. Then he rationalizes, infers, rebuilds, and… he easily makes mistakes, especially if we help him make them.

We know how to build a bridge with the past by using sensoriality, we know how because we have experienced and described (first person knowledge) the effects of retrieving the sensorial dimension of the past, in the sense of a quasi-relived experience. Tulving invents the term of “ecphoric stimulus” to refer to what generates access to the past lived experience, he observes it, he does not read French so he is not familiar with “Proust’s madeleine”, nor with Gusdorf’s book (Gusdorf 1951) on concrete memory. If one were to do a “Tulvingien” translation, one could say that the explicitation interview intentionally appeals to the ecphoric stimuli. But it is one thing to know it exists, it is another to know how to appeal to it and renew it.

More recently, two English authors wrote a collective book on “the memory of actions” (Zimmer 2001). Here, no doubt about it, there is hope. At last people are working on the same thing as us… sure enough, the field of study deals with actions, more specifically actions in the motor sense of the term, but we remain within the experimental paradigm of describing what exists, without opening up to what is possible.

We could still hope that the uncountable contributions on the theme of autobiographical memory would concern us directly. Titles such as “remembering our past” (Rubin 1986, Rubin 1996) or, better yet, “Autobiographical memory: Remembering what and Remembering when”. But, in fact, the entire research movement initiated by Conway (Conway 1990) on autobiographical memory deals with temporal scales of the life period – great episodes, major events – and does not at all show any interest in the lived experience, in the sense that I have defined it, as a moment studied in its micro temporality. The ideas that underlie the study of autobiographical memory are numerous, but what really comes through is the importance given to the link between this memory and the self, or for other authors the link between personal implication and the effects of this memory. But even then, with this obvious thematic proximity, there is no inclination for the process of guiding the remembrance. There are still more statements on the possibilities and the limits of spontaneous remembrance.

In fact, when one browses through all the literature, one tends to think that numerous researchers have, themselves, searched for their identity by promoting particular memories. Therefore, the question of the number of different memory systems is still in debate (Schacter and Tulving 1996).

 

All in all, if I keep looking for ways to help a subject to better memorize his past lived experience, there are few resources in memory-focused experimental psychology. In the last 20 years, to answer the critics made by Neisser on the fact that nobody was studying memory in real life (not in a laboratory), a large number of publications have tackled the theme of “applied research on memory”. Most of the time, this qualifies experimental research conducted in fields indexed on social practices: early childhood, geriatrics, justice and police, education, psychiatry, neuropathology. But I did not notice any contributions dealing with helping remembrance. The only innovation came in the same way as mine. A researcher in cognitive science (Geiselman), from an anecdote experienced with one of his colleagues who had forgotten something the previous evening, managed to help him find the object with his questions. From this experience, he got the idea of improvising a number of recommendations to improve the police’s interrogation techniques (Geiselman 1984, Geiselman, Fisher et al. 1986, Fischer and Geiselman 1992) and developed a “cognitive interview” which became widespread in the police and justice circles, with an example of it being used in the educative field (Perraudeau and Pagoni 2010).

I will have to come back to this theme of guiding remembrance. Particularly to show the coherence between the techniques that we develop and the theoretical hypothesis which underlie them. With this first paper, I would like to have opened the panorama of the memory issue, and particularly the relations with memory-focused experimental psychology, or as it is called today, with memory-focused cognitive psychology. It seems to me that the main argument lies in the difference between recording the spontaneous performances and helping the remembrance process by overcoming the limits of these performances. I would like to open the debate with this article.

 

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Fisher, R. P. and R. E. Geiselman (1992). Memory-enhancing techniques for investigative interviewing: The cognitive interview, Charles C Thomas, Publisher.

Geiselman, R. E. (1984). « Enhancement of eyewitness memory: An empirical evaluation of the cognitive interview. » Journal of Police Science & Administration.

Geiselman, R. E., et al. (1986). « Enhancement of eyewitness memory with the cognitive interview. » The American journal of psychology: 385-401.

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Neisser, U. (1982). Memory observed Remembering in natural contexts. New York, Freeman and Company.

Neisser, U. and E. Winograd (1988). Remembering reconsidered : ecological and traditional approaches to the study of memory. Cambridge England ; New York, Cambridge University Press.

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Petitmengin, C., et al. (2013). « A gap in Nisbett and Wilson’s findings? A first-person access to our cognitive processes. » Conscious Cogn 22(2): 654-669.

Rubin, D. C. (1986). Autobiographical memory. Cambridge Cambridgeshire ; New York, Cambridge University Press.

Rubin, D. C. (1996). Remembering our past : studies in autobiographical memory. Cambridge ; New York, NY, USA, Cambridge University Press.

Schacter, D. and E. Tulving, Eds. (1996). Systèmes de mémoire chez l’animal et chez l’homme. Marseille, Solal, éditeurs.

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Vermersch, P. (1996). « Pour une psycho-phénoménologie : esquisse d’un cadre méthodologique général. » Expliciter 13(1-11).

Vermersch, P. (1996). « Problèmes de validation des analyses psycho-phénoménologiques. » Expliciter(14): 1-12.

Vermersch, P. (2014). « L’entretien d’explicitation et la mémoire passive, surprises, découvertes, émerveillement. » Expliciter(102): 41-47.

Vermersch, P. (2014). Le dessin de vécu dans la recherche en première personne. Pratique de l’auto-explicitation. Première, deuxième, troisième personne. N. Depraz. Bucarest, Zetabooks: 195-233.

Zimmer, H. D. (2001). Memory for action : a distinct form of episodic memory? New York, Oxford University Press.

 

 

 

[1] For the moment, I am using the word « remembrance » to avoid using the word « recall » which has strong connotations in experimental psychology research. When I specifically qualify the precise act which we use in the explicitation interview, I will come back to the term “evocation”.

[2] Vermersch P., 2014, Education permanente, 200 – Surprises, découvertes, étonnements : l’entretien d’explicitation et l’éveil de la mémoire passive.

[3] Neisser, U. (1982). Memory observed Remembering in natural contexts. New York, Freeman and Company. Neisser, U. and E. Winograd (1988). Remembering reconsidered : ecological and traditional approaches to the study of memory. Cambridge England ; New York, Cambridge University Press.

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