• Memory – processes that allow us to record and later retrieve experiences and information

Memory as Information Processing

  • Encoding – getting information into the system by translating into a neural code that your brain processes
  • Storage – retaining information over time
  • Retrieval – the process of accessing information in long term memory

Three-Component Model

  • Three major components of memory:
    • Sensory memory – holds incoming sensory information just long enough for it to be recognized
      • Composed of sensory registers:
        • Iconic store (visual sensory)
        • Echoic store (auditory sensory) – lasts longer than iconic
    • Short-Term/Working memory – type of memory that holds the information that we are conscious of at any given time
      • Working memory refers to fact that it consciously processes, codes, and works on information
      • Mental representations are how information is coded to be retained in short term memory
        • When reading words, information is stored as phonological codes
      • Short term memory can only hold limited information
        • Most people can hold no more than five to nine meaningful items
        • Chunking – combining individual items into larger units of meaning
        • Maintenance rehearsal – simple repetition of information
        • Elaborative rehearsal – involves focusing on the meaning of information or relating it to other things we already know
      • Three components of working memory (according to Alan Baddeley):
        • Auditory working memory – repetition of information to self
        • Visual spatial working memory – temporary storage and manipulation of images and spatial information
        • Central executive – decides how much attention to allocate to mental imagery and auditory rehearsal
    • Long-Term memory – vast library of more durable stored memories
      • Serial position effect – recall of information is influenced by a word’s position in a series of items
        • When given a long list of words, the beginning and ending words are most remembered
          • Primacy effect – superior recall of early words
            • At first, brain rehearses beginning words, storing into long term memory
            • List gets longer, and short term memory fills up
          • Recency effect – superior recall of recent words
            • Last words remembered since they aren’t bumped out of short term memory by newer words

Encoding: Entering Information

  • Effortful processing – encoding that is initiated intentionally and requires conscious attention
  • Automatic processing – encoding that occurs without intention and requires minimal attention

Levels of Processing

  • Structural encoding – processing based on structure of information
  • Phonological encoding – processing based on sound
  • Semantic encoding – processing based on meaning
  • Levels of processing concept: the more deeply we process information, the better it is remembered
    • Semantic encoding involves most processing, since meaning must be focused on
    • Reason why elaborative rehearsal is more effective than maintenance rehearsal

Organization and Imagery

  • Hierarchies and chunking
    • Takes advantage of principle that memory is enhanced by associations between concepts
    • Chunking widens information processing caused by limited capacity of short term memory (e.g. encoding phone number in sets of numbers)
  • Mnemonic devices
    • Mnemonic device is any type of memory aid (including hierarchies and chunking)
    • Does not reduce amount of information to encode, but provides extra cues to retrieve information
  • Visual imagery
    • Dual coding theory – encoding information using both codes (verbal and nonverbal) enhances memory
      • Odds improve that at least one of the codes will be available
  • Schema – an organized pattern of thought about some aspect of the world
    • Create a perpetual set

Storage: Retaining Information

Memory as a Network

  • Associative network – a massive network of associated ideas and concepts
    • Priming – activation of one concept by another (e.g. “fire engine” primes the node for “red”)
  • Neural network – each concept is represented by a particular pattern or set of nodes that becomes activated simultaneously

Types of Long-Term Memory

  • Declarative and Procedural memory
    • Declarative – involves factual knowledge, broken into two subcategories:
      • Episodic memory – store of factual knowledge concerning personal experience
      • Semantic memory – general factual knowledge about the world and language, including words and concepts
    • Procedural – memory reflected in skills and actions
      • One component consists of skills involved in “doing things” in particular situations
      • Other component reflects classical conditioning effects
  • Explicit and Implicit memory
    • Explicit – involves conscious or intentional memory retrieval
    • Implicit – occurs when memory influences our behaviour without conscious awareness (e.g. riding a bike, driving)

Retrieval: Accessing Information

  • Retrieval cue – any stimulus (internal or external) that stimulates the activation of information stored in long-term memory
    • Multiple self-generated cues is most effective way to maximize recall
  • Flashbulb memories – recollections that seem so vivid and clear, that they can be pictured as if they were a snapshot of a moment of time
    • Accuracy of these memories fades over time

Context, State, and Mood Effects on Memory

  • Encoding specificity principle – memory is enhanced when conditions present during retrieval match those that were present during encoding
  • Context dependent memory – phenomenon that it is typically easier to remember something in the same environment in which it was acquired
  • State dependent memory – ability to retrieve information is greater when our internal state at the time of retrieval matches the original state during learning
    • Does not extend to mood states
      • Mood congruent recall – tendency to recall information or events that are congruent with our current mood


  • Forgetting tends to occur more rapidly at first, then slows down
    • Most of forgotten information occurs right away, then only a little forgotten over rest of time

Why Do We Forget

  • Encoding failure – information was never encoded into long term memory
  • Decay theory – proposes that with time and disuse, the physical memory trace in the nervous system fades
    • Problem in prediction that longer intervals of disuse cause increased decay of information
      • Reminiscence – phenomenon where more material is recalled during second testing of information than the first
  • Two types of interference:
    • Proactive interference – occurs when material learned in the past interferes with recall of new material (e.g. learning a new phone number)
    • Retroactive interference – occurs when newly acquired information interferes with the ability to recall earlier acquired information (e.g. recalling an old phone number)
    • Tip of the tongue phenomenon does not always reflect a retrieval of information problem (sometimes the answer is never known to begin with)
  • Motivated forgetting – motivational processes (e.g. repression) may protect us by blocking the recall of anxiety-arousing memories


  • Retrograde amnesia – memory loss for events that occurred prior to the onset of amnesia
  • Anterograde amnesia – memory loss for events that occur after the initial onset of amnesia
  • Infantile amnesia – memory loss for events that occurred during the first few years of our lives
    • Experienced by everyone

Forgetting to do Things

  • Prospective memory – concerns remembering to perform an activity in the future
    • People with better retrospective memory don’t have better prospective memory

The Misinformation Effect and Eyewitness Testimony

  • Misinformation effect – distortion of a memory by misleading post-event information
  • Source confusion – tendency to recall something or recognize it as familiar, but to forget where it was encountered

The Biology of Memories

Where in the Brain are Memories Formed?

  • Hippocampus and Cerebral Cortex
    • Hippocampus and adjacent tissue help encode and retrieve long term declarative memories
    • Cortex encodes by processing information from sensory registers
    • Memory consolidation – creation and binding together of neural codes that allow information to be transferred from short term memory into long term memory
      • Consolidation in hippocampus allows for many components to become a unified memory
  • Thalamus and Amygdala
    • Damage to thalamus can produce amnesia
    • Amygdala encodes emotionally arousing and disturbing aspects of events
      • Damage can disrupt conditioned fear response
  • Cerebellum
    • Plays an important role in the formation of procedural memories
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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