What Is Memory?

Stages of MemoryEncoding Storage and Retrieval

What Is Memory?

Saul McLeod, published 2013

“Memory is the process of maintaining information over time.” (Matlin, 2005)

“Memory is the means by which we draw on our past experiences in order to use this information in the present’ (Sternberg, 1999).

Memory is the term given to the structures and processes involved in the storage and subsequent retrieval of information.

Memory is essential to all our lives. Without a memory of the past, we cannot operate in the present or think about the future. We would not be able to remember what we did yesterday, what we have done today or what we plan to do tomorrow.  Without memory, we could not learn anything.

Memory is involved in processing vast amounts of information. This information takes many different forms, e.g. images, sounds or meaning.

For psychologists the term memory covers three important aspects of information processing:

1. Memory Encoding

When information comes into our memory system (from sensory input), it needs to be changed into a form that the system can cope with, so that it can be stored.

Think of this as similar to changing your money into a different currency when you travel from one country to another.  For example, a word which is seen (in a book) may be stored if it is changed (encoded) into a sound or a meaning (i.e. semantic processing).

There are three main ways in which information can be encoded (changed):

1. Visual (picture)

2. Acoustic (sound)

3. Semantic (meaning)

For example, how do you remember a telephone number you have looked up in the phone book?  If you can see it then you are using visual coding, but if you are repeating it to yourself you are using acoustic coding (by sound).

Evidence suggests that this is the principle coding system in short-term memory (STM) is acoustic coding.  When a person is presented with a list of numbers and letters, they will try to hold them in STM by rehearsing them (verbally).

Rehearsal is a verbal process regardless of whether the list of items is presented acoustically (someone reads them out), or visually (on a sheet of paper).

The principle encoding system in long-term memory (LTM) appears to be semantic coding (by meaning).  However, information in LTM can also be coded both visually and acoustically.

2. Memory Storage

This concerns the nature of memory stores, i.e., where the information is stored, how long the memory lasts for (duration), how much can be stored at any time (capacity) and what kind of information is held.

The way we store information affects the way we retrieve it.  There has been a significant amount of research regarding the differences between Short Term Memory (STM ) and Long Term Memory (LTM).

Most adults can store between 5 and 9 items in their short-term memory.  Miller (1956) put this idea forward and he called it the magic number 7.  He though that short-term memory capacity was 7 (plus or minus 2) items because it only had a certain number of “slots” in which items could be stored. 

However, Miller didn’t specify the amount of information that can be held in each slot.  Indeed, if we can “chunk” information together we can store a lot more information in our short-term memory.  In contrast, the capacity of LTM is thought to be unlimited.

Information can only be stored for a brief duration in STM (0-30 seconds), but LTM can last a lifetime.

3. Memory Retrieval

This refers to getting information out storage.  If we can’t remember something, it may be because we are unable to retrieve it.  When we are asked to retrieve something from memory, the differences between STM and LTM become very clear.

STM is stored and retrieved sequentially.  For example, if a group of participants are given a list of words to remember, and then asked to recall the fourth word on the list, participants go through the list in the order they heard it in order to retrieve the information.

LTM is stored and retrieved by association.  This is why you can remember what you went upstairs for if you go back to the room where you first thought about it.

Organizing information can help aid retrieval.  You can organize information in sequences (such as alphabetically, by size or by time).  Imagine a patient being discharged from hospital whose treatment involved taking various pills at various times, changing their dressing and doing exercises. 

If the doctor gives these instructions in the order which they must be carried out throughout the day (i.e., in the sequence of time), this will help the patient remember them.

Criticisms of Memory Experiments

A large part of the research on memory is experiments conducted in laboratories.  Those who take part in the experiments — the participants — are asked to perform tasks such as recalling lists of words and numbers.

Both the setting — the laboratory — and the tasks are a long way from everyday life.  In many cases, the setting is artificial and the tasks fairly meaningless.  Does this matter?

Psychologists use the term ecological validity to refer to the extent to which the findings of research studies can be generalized to other settings.  An experiment has high ecological validity if its findings can be generalized, that is applied or extended, to settings outside the laboratory.

It is often assumed that if an experiment is realistic or true-to-life, then there is a greater lihood that its findings can be generalized.  If it is not realistic (if the laboratory setting and the tasks are artificial) then there is less lihood that the findings can be generalized.  In this case, the experiment will have low ecological validity.

Many experiments designed to investigate memory have been criticized for having low ecological validity.  First, the laboratory is an artificial situation.  People are removed from their normal social settings and asked to take part in a psychological experiment.

They are directed by an 'experimenter' and may be placed in the company of complete strangers.  For many people, this is a brand new experience, far removed from their everyday lives.  Will this setting affect their actions, will they behave normally?

He was especially interested in the characteristics of people whom he considered to have achieved their potential as individuals.

Often, the tasks participants are asked to perform can appear artificial and meaningless.  Few, if any, people would attempt to memorize and recall a list of unconnected words in their daily lives.  And it is not clear how tasks such as this relate to the use of memory in everyday life.

The artificiality of many experiments has led some researchers to question whether their findings can be generalized to real life.  As a result, many memory experiments have been criticized for having low ecological validity.

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How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2013, August 05). Stages of memory — encoding storage and retrieval. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/memory.html

APA Style References

Matlin, M. W. (2005). Cognition. Crawfordsville: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63 (2): 81–97.

Sternberg, R. J. (1999). Cognitive psychology (2 nd ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

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Memory Matters

What Is Memory?

Remember that great summer vacation you took last year? When you think back on it, you might see flashes of a day you spent swimming or a night spent watching fireworks explode high in the sky.

But how do you store those images, so you can enjoy them later? It's your memory — and it's part of your complex and multitalented brain.

What Is Memory?

When an event happens, when you learn something, or when you meet someone, your brain determines whether that information needs to be saved. If your brain judges the information important, it places it in your memory «files.»

You probably know your brain has different parts. Some of them are important for memory. The hippocampus (say: hih-puh-KAM-pus) is one of the more important parts of the brain that processes memories.

Old information and new information, or memories, are thought to be processed and stored away in different areas of the cerebral cortex, or the «gray matter» of the brain — the largest, outermost part of the brain.

What Can Go Wrong With Memory?

As wonderful as memory is, it isn't always perfect. It's normal to occasionally forget the name of somebody you just met or where you put your shoes. And of course, everyone has forgotten an answer on a test. Darn! You knew that one, too!

It's also typical for people to forget more things as they grow older. Your parents or grandparents might joke about having a «senior moment.» That's when they forget something.

But some memory problems are serious, such as when a person has Alzheimer's disease. In this disease, deposits build up and nerve cells stop working leading to memory loss.

Strokes, which also affect older people, are another medical problem that can affect someone's memory. A stroke is when blood doesn't get to all the parts of the brain, either because there is a blockage in the pathway or because a blood vessel (which carries the blood) bursts.

Brain Injuries Affect Memory

At any age, an injury to the head and brain can cause trouble with somebody's memory.

Some people who recover from brain injuries need to learn old things all over again, how to talk or tie their shoes.

That's why it's so important to protect your head by wearing your seatbelt in the car and wearing a helmet when you skate, play football, ride your bike, skateboard, or wear roller sneakers.

You may have heard about a memory problem called amnesia (say: am-NEE-zhuh). This is when someone can't remember things that happened recently and sometimes even things that happened long ago.

It's not usually you see on TV or in the movies.

People rarely forget their own names and they usually get better slowly, instead of all at once because something dramatic happens — getting kissed by a dreamy prince or princess!

The most common cause of amnesia is a traumatic brain injury(TBI). A TBI is caused by a severe hit to the head. Traumatic brain injuries can happen in a lot of ways and can be severe enough to cause a coma (prolonged unconsciousness), or a person may just be stunned without even being knocked out ( in some concussions).

Car accidents, bike accidents, and falls can cause TBIs.

If you've ever seen someone take a hit to the head in a National Football League game, you may have seen the player being questioned on the sidelines.

The doctor may ask the person some basic questions — what happened, where they are, and what team they're playing. Not knowing the correct answers could be the first sign of a brain injury.

Abusing alcohol or using illegal drugs is another way to injure the brain and cause memory problems. Hallucinogens ( LSD or PCP) can alter certain chemicals in the brain that actually make memories harder to recall.

Signs of a Memory Problem

A person might — or might not — be able to notice signs of his or her own memory problem. If someone has suffered a brain injury, doctors, nurses, and family members will be on the alert for signs of trouble.

Someone who has a memory problem will be unable to remember important things for varying lengths of time. The more severe the illness or injury, the longer the memory loss is ly to last. Some people forget just the moments right before and after an injury, which is not unusual with a concussion. Sometimes, these memories come back.

More significant problems with memory, such as in Alzheimer's disease, might make it hard to remember what happened days, weeks, months, or even years ago, and it can be difficult to learn and remember new things.

What Will the Doctor Do?

Any time a person has been hit in the head, it's important to see a doctor. A doctor will test the person's ability to recall events, names, or places by asking lots of questions. In the case of a suspected brain injury, a doctor may also want to take a picture of the patient's brain and skull using something called a CT scan.

If the person has memory loss from a head injury, the doctor will design a treatment plan to help the brain heal and, if necessary, to help the person relearn things that have been forgotten. If the memory problem is due to drug or alcohol use, the person needs to stop abusing these substances before his or her memory will improve.

With strokes, memory can return but it depends on severity and location of the stroke in the brain. With Alzheimer's, lost memory cannot be restored, but scientists are working on medicines they hope someday will prevent this kind of memory loss.

Most memory problems affect older people, so what can you do for your memory if you're 8, not 88? In addition to remembering to wear your helmet, use your brain! By doing challenging activities, reading and doing puzzles, you can exercise your mind so you'll be remembering great memories for many years to come!

Источник: https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/memory.html

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