For 120 years, cognitive psychologists have sought general laws of learning and memory. In this review I conclude that none has stood the test of time. No empirical law withstands manipulation across the four sets of factors that Jenkins (1979) identified as critical to memory experiments: types of subjects, kinds of events to be remembered, manipulation of encoding conditions, and variations in test conditions. Another factor affecting many phenomena is whether a manipulation of conditions occurs in randomized, within-subjects designs rather than between-subjects (or within-subject, blocked) designs. The fact that simple laws do not hold reveals the complex, interactive nature of memory phenomena. Nonetheless, the science of memory is robust, with most findings easily replicated under the same conditions as originally used, but when other variables are manipulated, effects may disappear or reverse. These same points are probably true of psychological research in most, if not all, domains.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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