Can you imagine what it would be like to have no memories? Memories play an important role in our self-identity and without them we would being living in world that is completely unfamiliar to us. There are two main components to memory and those are short-term memory which has a limited and brief capability to hold and or store information whereas long term memory is virtually limitless in capacity and is more durable. When studying memory it is also important to understand how we encode or acquire knowledge along with how we as individuals are able to retrieve or recall memories. This paper will explain various concepts of memory and as part of the analysis of memory the results from a short term memory test will be included to explain the role of encoding and retrieval in the memory process as it relates to the selected test and results. Concepts of Memory
Once of the two main concepts in memory is that of short-term memory. Short-term memory is also referred to as primary or active memory because it is the information that and individual is actively thinking about or aware of. Short-term memory is brief, unless the information is rehearsed it then can be maintained (Terry, 2009). The information in stored in short-term memory is only kept for about 15 to 30 seconds however it can be less if rehearsal or preservation of the information is interrupted.
The amount of information that can be kept in short-term memory varies from one individual to the next however there is a limited capacity for each of us. According to Terry (2009), the average number of items that can be stored in short-term memory is seven, yet there is no clear description as to how large those seven items can be. The act of forgetting can occur within short-term memory when the contents of storage are displaced and or replaced by later occurring items. For example reading a second address can displace the first address from short-term memory. The last important aspect of short-term memory is that it serves to move information into one’s long-term memory (Terry, 2009). More rehearsal of information stored in the short-term memory makes it available longer for encoding and transfer to long-term storage. Working Memory
According to Alan Baddeley (2003), “the concept of working memory proposes that a dedicated system maintains and stores information in the short term and that this system underlies human thought processes” (p. 829). In other words working memory processes are used to temporarily store, organize and manipulate information. Working memory is a multicomponent model that proposes that individuals can truly do two things at much with either much r little cross interference (Terry, 2009). Historically there were three main components of working memory however in more recently a fourth component has been added. The four components include: the phonological loop, visuospatial memory, central executive and episodic memory.
The phonological loop is similar to verbal short term memory and it signifies brief storage of verbal material which is used in language processing (Terry, 2009). The characteristics of the phonological loop resemble those of short term memory in that it is brief and has a limited capacity. The visuospatial component stores and processes in a visual or spatial form. According to Terry (2009), the purpose of the central executive is to focus, allocate or distribute attention across multiple tasks. As humans we often encounter difficulty when trying to complete multiple tasks at once and this could be our inability to focus full attention on multiple tasks. Professionals continue to debate over how our attention is assigned when completing dual tasks. Some take the stance that the central executive divides our attention between two tasks while others believe that the central executive produces task switching between the two tasks. Long-Term Memory
Long-term memory is the ongoing storage of information that is relatively permanent. Often times the information that is stored in our long-term memory is outside of our awareness however it can be recalled into our working memory and used as needed. Some of the information that is stored in long term memory may be easily recalled while other information may be much more challenging. There are several different types of memories that are stored in our long-term memory such as factual knowledge, autobiographical memories along with other various skills and or habits (Terry, 2009).
Long-term memory can also be broken down into two different components known as episodic memory and sematic memory. Episodic memory is referred to our personal memory system The retrieved personal memories can be relatively dated an example would be remember moments from last year’s Christmas party. Semantic memory on the other hand is our storage of general knowledge (Terry, 2009). Semantic memory includes information such as facts, language, and words and it is typically knowledge that is common among many people. Semantic memory includes knowledge however it does not include the memory of how or when the information was learned. Selected Memory Test
For the purpose of this paper a short-term memory test was selected from Psychologist World to be used to evaluate not only my personal short term memory capacity but also how encoding and retrieval work. This short-term memory test consisted of taking a few moments to briefly concentrate on a list of twelve words. After studying the words a screen with 12 blank boxes is presented and the participant is asked to write one word in each box making sure that all words are spelt correctly. The last step is to enter the participant’s age, gender and country of origin. After following the steps listed above this author was able to recall correctly 9 out of the 12 words listed. The average number of items remembered in short-term memory is that of 7. For this particular test scoring between 5 and 9 indicates that my short-term memory is working at an average capacity (Psychologist World, n.d.). Role of Encoding and Retrieval
Memory encoding is the first step in developing a memory. According to Richard Mohs (n.d.), encoding is a biological phenomenon this is rooted in the senses and begins with perception. The better the encoding implies that both the ability to store and retrieve information will also improve (Terry, 2009). One way to better the encoding process is to engage in or separate the conditions of learning while not changing the conditions of storage and retrieval. This can be applied to the memory test this author participated in described above. Visual encoding took place as I focused on the words and the letters that made up each of the twelve words listed. My auditory system was used when I said the words out loud to myself to assist in trying to remember them. Each of these different sensations travel to a part of the brain known as the hippocampus which integrates these perceptions as they are occurring into one experience, my experience of being able to remember those words (Mohs, n.d.).
After information has become encoded and stored in memory it has to be retrieved or recalled in order to be used. Memory retrieval is highly important in our everyday life, from remembering to pack a lunch to learning new skills. Simply put memory retrieval is the processes of retrieving or recalling stored memories. According to Terry (2009), there are three general factors that can impact retrieval and those include distinctiveness of the memory, practice at recalling the memory and the presence of effective retrieval cues. Those three general factors can be applied to the retrieval that I engaged in when completing the short-term memory test. Since the event of focusing on the list of the twelve words was not a very distinct event there were no real retrieval cues that I could use. However, I was able to practice recalling the memory because I would repeat the words to myself and thus the repetition of the words assisted in learning. Also the more times I took the short-term memory test the more words I was able to remember. Thus the practice increased my ability to remember more. Another important factor to bring up when discussing retrieval is that of emotion. High levels of emotion such as fear and or anxiety can block or inhibit the recall of memories that would otherwise be easily recalled (Terry, 2009). Conclusion
Each and every one of us engage in making new memories and recalling old memories daily thus it is important to understand the memory process. The human memory consists of two major components and those include short-term memory and long-term memory. Short-term memory is brief storage of information while long-term memory is much more durable and permanent. There are a variety of short-term and long-term memory tests that individuals can engage in to see how their individual memory skills compare to the average skills of others. The process of encoding is the acquisition of new information while retrieval is the process of recalling stored memories. Each of these skills are used daily by us and thus it is vital that we have a clear understanding how our memory works and impacts us as humans.
Baddeley, A. (2003, October). Working memory: looking back and looking forward. Department of psychology, university of york, york, 4(), 829-837. 10.1038/r1201 Mohs, R. (n.d.) How human memory works. Retrieved July 22, 2013, from http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/human-memory1.htm Psychologist World (n.d.). Short-Term Memory Test. Retrieved July 22, 2013, from http://www.psychologistworld.com/memory/test2.php Terry, W.S. (2009). Learning and memory: Basic principles, processes, and procedures (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon