Lecture: Memory & Forgetting
Reading Assignment 14:
Memory and Information Processing (pp.189-202)
Click for Objectives for Reading Assignment 14

The fourteenth reading assignment introduces students to Memory and the many components that make up its processes. The scientific investigation of Memory only began in the late nineteenth century (Kowalski & Westen, 2009). Memory can be defined as a mechanism that permits the encoding, storing, and retrieval of experiences. The term mechanism is almost a necessary aspect of the definition, as the notion of what Memory is and how it works has changed over the years and may change in the future. However, it will remain true that the Brain uses a mechanism to preserve experiences that can be used at times when the original stimulus is no longer present. These experiences are preserved through what has been referred to as Mental Representations. These representations are necessary to recall locations, favorite songs, or being able to describe persons, places, or things that we have observed. There is some debate, however, as to exactly how Mental Representations are stored in everyday situations. Are Mental Representations stored and retrieved as sensory reproductions or as Sensory Representations or are they stored through verbal descriptions of the original stimulus, as Verbal Representations.

Modern theories of Cognition, state that Memory consists of three distinct components or mechanisms: Sensory Registers, Short-Term Memory, and Long-Term Memory. In order for a Memory to be recalled later, in a different time or setting from the original observation, it must pass through all three components. Sensory Registers are the least popular of the three components, but are arguably the most fascinating. Without Sensory Registers, none of the more popular forms of Memory would be possible. Our ability to perceive information that is no longer present, even if for a fleeting period of time, is essential for the two more well-known components to occur. Short-Term Memory also has a limited a capacity and duration, but it has comparably longer than that of the Sensory Registers. The likelihood that information is stored in Long-Term Memory and to later be able to be recalled from it is influenced by how it was handled in Short-Term Memory. To extend the duration of Short-Term Memory, two forms of Rehearsal are frequently used: Maintenance Rehearsal and Elaborative Rehearsal. The latter of the two types, Elaborative Rehearsal, is more effective than the other. Long-Term Memory is unique from the previous two components of Memory, as it has no size or storage limits. However, that does not guarantee that the information can be Recalled when needed.

Short-Term Memory has been compared to a seven stool lunch counter; since only seven stools are available, current customers will need to leave before new customers can sit down (Kowalski & Westen, 2009, p.192). It is in the waitress’s best interest to keep who is sitting where in her Short-Term Memory. However, to help her do this she might use Chunking. She grew up in this town and knows that the 4th and 5th stools are occupied by Bob and Ralph, inseparable cousins. Having information about them in her Long-Term Memory frees up one of the stools in her Short-Term Memory. This occurs because they are not encoded and processed as “Bob” and “Ralph” (2 bits of information) but rather as “Bob and Ralph (1 bit of information).” Chunking is one of the many techniques that people can use to expand the utility of their Short-Term Memory by storing information as meaningful or related bits, rather than distinct bits.

One of the earliest theories proposed to explain how Memory works is called the Serial Processing Model. The logic behind this theory contributes to a very reliable and easily replicated Memory effect known as the Serial Positioning Effect. While the Serial Positioning Effect cannot be disputed, modern theories of Memory no longer believes that all information is processed in a serial fashion.

Types of Long-Term Memory

There are four types of Long-Term Memory that are addressed in this reading assignment. The first distinction is relevant to the types of information that is stored. The two types of information discussed here are (1) memory of factual information and (2) memory of skills and habits. Factual information is stored in Declarative Memory, while skills and habits are stored in Procedural Memory. Memory of such things like playing video games or how to use a keyboard can bring our attention to how they differ. If charged with the task of recreating the layout of letters on a QWERTY keyboard, many of us would have an assortment of errors after spelling QWERTY. However, put us in front of a keyboard and we can find almost any key with minimal thought. Typing is a form of Procedural Memory; however, answering the question of where is the “J” key is requires Declarative Memory task that many of us would struggle with.

The second distinction is relevant to our conscious awareness of the Memory. While the Declarative-Procedural dichotomy refers to the type of knowledge stored, the Explicit-Implicit dichotomy refers to how knowledge is retrieved and manifested. Declarative Memory and Procedural Memory are often used synonymously with Explicit Memory and Implicit Memory, although they are different and the reader should be aware of the differences (Watch the Recorded Lecture below for more on their similarities and differences).


Required Reading


A. Lefton, L.A. & Brannon, L. (2003). Psychology (8th Ed.). Allyn & Bacon: Pearson Education, Inc.

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