Chapter 2: Sensory, Short-Term/Working, and Long-Term Memory

“Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open”
– Thomas Dewar

Memory (psychology) – processes by which people and other organisms encode, store, and retrieve information. Encoding refers to the initial perception and registration of information. Storage is the retention of encoded information over time. Retrieval refers to the processes involved in using stored information. Whenever people successfully recall a prior experience, they must have encoded, stored, and retrieved information about the experience. Conversely, memory failure-for example, forgetting an important fact-reflects a breakdown in one of these stages of memory.

Memory is critical to humans and all other living organisms. Practically all of our daily activities-talking, understanding, reading, socializing-depend on our having learned and stored information about our environments. Memory allows us to retrieve events from the distant past or from moments ago. It enables us to learn new skills and to form habits. Without the ability to access past experiences or information, we would be unable to comprehend language, recognize our friends and family members, find our way home, or even tie a shoe. Life would be a series of disconnected experiences, each one new and unfamiliar. Without any sort of memory, humans would quickly perish.

Without memory we would be wanderers in a world that was perpetually new and unfamiliar. There are two methods psychologists use to study memory. The first is through self-reporting (introspection), and this approach involves asking participants to record the way they remember and forget. The second method is naturalistic study, and is often experimental in nature. Naturalistic experiments attempt to reproduce events that are more representative of real life, and participants are often asked to remember natural material such as stories, films, events, maps or other visualised material, instead of lists of letters, nonsense syllables or digits

Click on the Link Below:

The Modal Model of Memory1.ppt

The basic characteristics of the model include:

  1. the existence of several linked processing systems;
  2. stage-by-stage processing of information;
  3. a unidirectional flow of information.

The modal model, or multistore model, of memory has become one of the most well-known theoretical memory models. The creators of this approach hypothesize that all parts of the memory system can be divided into two main categories: the control processes and the permanent structure. The control processes are the procedures that one performs in order to encode, maintain, and retrieve memories. The permanent structure includes the different memory stores, which are described in detail below.

The Sensory Store

The sensory store, or the register, records information that comes in through the senses. The information only remains in this store for a few seconds after the stimulus is gone.

The two senses that have been studied the most in terms of their role in memory are vision and hearing. The term “iconic memory” refers to visual impressions in the sensory store. Auditory information that enters the sensory store is called “echoic memory”. One’s iconic memory might hold, for instance, the visual impression of a firework, while the echoic memory will hold for a few seconds the loud noise of the firework.

Most of the information in the sensory store vanishes forever after a few seconds. If all of these information were kept and focused on, we would be so bombarded with stimuli that we would be unable to function. Instead, the brain is constantly going through a selection process to decide which sensory memories are necessary to keep and which should be thrown away. The information that is kept and processed passes into the short-term memory store.

  • visual sensory is very limited. Only seven to nine pieces of information are processed at any given time, and much of that decays rapidly. Information held in visual sensory memory receives only limited processing (less than 0.5 second for iconic register and recall)
  • auditory register and recall (echo) – slightly more than 3 seconds – ability of the echo to retain information seems related to the processing of language
  • Knowledge and context play important role in our perceptual processes – previous knowledge and past experiences!
  • attention = a person’s allocation of cognitive resources to the task at hand
  • attention is maximized if one engages in resource-limited tasks (focusing on one task at a time – e.g. watching television while reading?) and avoid data-limited tasks (tasks that you do not possess much knowledge and skills about) – e.g. learning advanced math without having proper foundation in basic math
  • the role of automatic processes (vs. controlled processes) – require fewer cognitive resources than nonautomated processes

Q: Will being exposed to stimuli from various modality (visual, auditory, gustatory, tactile/haptic, olfactory, etc.) help to enhance memorization of a particular experience? Why do you say so? – enhancement in exposure!

Sensory memory briefly processes a limited amount of incoming stimuli. Visual registers hold about 7 to 9 pieces of information for about 0.5 second. Auditory registers hold about 5 to 7 pieces of information for up to 4 seconds. Incoming stimuli are perceived, then matched to a recognizable pattern, and then assigned a meaning. How much information we can process depends on two things: 1)the complexity of the information and 2)our available resources. Automated tasks are easy to perform because they require fewer attentional resources. Resource-limited tasks are difficult no matter how much attention we allocate because the information itself is deficient.

Short-Term Memory (7 plus/minus 2) –
the size of the chunks doesn’t really matter!

The short-term memory store holds memories for about thirty seconds. Much of this memory is then forgotten. However, the more important information is then transferred into the long-term memory store. The brain engages in this process naturally, but we can also to an extent control this process by rehearsing, or repeating new memory in order to encode it.

Short-term memory is often referred to as “working memory”. This is because the short-term memory store does not only hold memories, but it also manipulates information and uses it to perform tasks. Working memory consists of three parts. The first component involves perceived sounds, and the second is concerned with visual and spatial information. The third part, the “central executive”, uses information from the first two parts as well as from the long-term memory store.

Like sensory memory, the capacity and duration of short-term memory are quite limited. We hold approximately 7 (plus/minus 2) pieces of information in working memory at a time. This information is forgotten quickly because of interference, decay, and replacement by new information.

The working memory includes a central executive, articulatory loop, and visual-spatial sketch pad. The central executive coordinates the two remaining slave systems, which are responsible for maintenance of verbal and spatial information. Research suggests that each subsystem possesses some unique resources that enable individuals to distribute information processing load.

How do we access information in the STM?

people search the contents of short-term memory in a serial (search one by one) and exhaustive (detailed and meticulous – going through all the items) fashion NOT parallel or search all item in memory simulataneously and self-terminating or ending search when one finds something he/she is looking for

Long-Term Memory

The long-term memory store contains nearly all of what we consider our memory. There are several ways to code memory into this store, some more effective than others. One technique used to improve encoding is elaboration, the connecting of new information to information already in the long-term store. Elaboration may be conscious, such as when mnemonic devices are used, or it may be unconscious.

Note: It is possible for information to enter long-term memory (LTM) without ever entering short-term memory (STM). Researchers have found that individuals with severe STM damage still somehow encode new memories into LTM.

Cognitive Load Theory

States that learning is constrained by limited processing capacity. The higher the cognitive load of the to-be-learned information, the harder it is to learn that information (in other words, minimizing the number of internal mental processes that take place in the ‘mind’ enhances the process of learning)

  • intrinsic cognitive load – caused by the inherent properties of the to-be-learned information and is unalterableother than by schema acquisition
  • extraneous cognitive load – results from the manner in which to-be-learned information is presented or from activities required of the learner

For additional reading and reinforcement:

Sensory memory is everything that you are exposed to at a given instant in time. The best way to think of sensory memory is to consider what happens as you watch a ice-hockey game. You are constantly aware of the location of all the players, but two seconds later as the play continues, you are unable to recall where each player was on the ice.

Short term memory (STM) does not have a lot of capacity and it doesn’t last very long (5-7 seconds). An example of short term memory is when someone gives you a phone number to remember and you forget it before you get to dial the number.

Long term memory (LTM) on the other hand lasts indefinitely, like your student ID number.

It used to be thought that the process of remembering was like an “assembly line” and that stimuli (words, pictures, actions etc.) passed from one station on the assembly line to the next (unidirectional flow of information)

Working Memory: A Modern Advance (needed because STM cannot explain the kind of processes that took place in it)

In the early 1990s, Alan Baddeley (University of York, UK) and his colleagues proposed a newer model of memory: with an additional component known as the working memory.

20 thoughts on “Chapter 2: Sensory, Short-Term/Working, and Long-Term Memory”

  1. I found this a very interesting chapter. The way memory is acquired/retained is fascinating – just wish I could remember important details when needed. Age is definitely a factor in memory retrieval. Is this connected with the chemical decline in the brain?

  2. Dr Roy,
    In the class, we discussed about the memory and dream. I agree that human brain will reorganize the memory during the dream. Dreaming is like opening a door to the rest of your mind. All your experiences before, wishes, hopes, friends, good times and bad are there.
    Dreaming is full of the information that you gained during the daytime, not only recent days, but also the ancient mind.

    I found a very interesting thought from internet, and I also heard this thought before. it is that improving your memory for your dreams will help you to improve your memory during the daytime.
    I don’t know it is true or not, but it is sounded very interesting. Here is some strategies to improve the memory of dream.
    Firstly, you should pay attention to your dream mind and nurture it.You create your own ritual of morning dream remembering, for example, stare at the ceiling and recite the dream into a tape recorder

    Secondly, give your dreams a home. For example, prepare a notebook for you dream.
    Thirdly, go ot sleep thinking of dreaming.As you are lying in bed on your way to sleep, think about dreams and about how you’ll enjoy exploring them in the morning.
    Wake as gently as possible.
    The most potent dream exercise you can do during the day is to share your dreams with other’s who will regard them with favor.
    There are also many other strategies that improve the memory of the dream. it is quite interesting. Maybe I will try them and check whether they can improve my memory or not.

  3. In my opinion, I think that attention plays an important role in working memory process. It helps to enter information through working shorterm memory to longterm memory. Moreover, if we really pay attention and concerntrate on something, we will remember it longer. Therefore, if we wants to keep something in our long term memory, we should pay attention to it. In addition, I also agree that our brain is “selective”. It selects the information that is important to us to store in the long term memory. That’s why we tend to remember about our home telephone number than other’s. I have the same ideas with Mrs Shipton that age affects the retrieval process. But when people grow older, their experiences also increase. Especially, they can remember the experiences that they have been through effectively.

  4. Dr Roy,
    I agree with Linh’s comment about the important role of attention in the process of working memory.
    However, there is one more important factor I want to add, that is the type of the person’s long term memory. For example, some people I know they really good at remember what they has seen, while some have good ability to remember what they has heard. Therefore, I think if we know what type of long term memory we are, we will find the better way to improve our long term memory.

  5. In this chapter i learned how the memory works. In my opinion, i believe that in order to have a long term memory, the sensory memory have to play a big role. Looking, hearing and touching will record the information longer even though sometimes these three senses does not always comes together. Even if our brain is selective in recording the information, these senses will automatically grasps the attention of a person. This idea works with children. However, adult’s brain have a different way in recording the information for long term memory. Adult’s brain will store the information longer if they relate the information with their experience.

  6. Dr. Roy

    The modal model of the mind is kinda like the Rubix’s cube.. When you frist see it you pay attention to where all the color’s are. But, in time the color’s get mixed around. However, the more you rehearse where the color’s go, it encod’s it in your mind and you are able to use, your memory to put the color’s back in a row. In conclustion, like the Rubix’s cube there is always a different approach, so in the future I personaly feel that the modal model of the mind will change with more complex and detailed ideas..

    Thank you!

    Dustin Pittman

  7. Dr Roy
    i have found this quote and i think it talks about our discussion in previous class.
    “We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they’re called memories. Some take us forward, they’re called dreams.” by Jeremy Irons

  8. Dr Roy,
    I agree with Linh about the importance of attention in the process of working memory. However, I want to add one important factor, which affect how good people mind can store information in long term memory. I experienced some people have ability to remember what they has seen, while some remember best what he has heard. For example, while people are inclined to affect reading and spelling, some will often experience difficulty in understanding of words, remembering definitions, and information that has been presented orally. Therefore, I think attention and what type of people mind both are important to the working process memory.

  9. Well, it is a interesting chapter. In the class period i found that we have different ideas about the sensory memory, working memory and long term memory. They all right. One thing that interest me is that our brain is selective. It is true that we will remember what are important, but for unimportant things, we just automatically forgot. By the way i know that it is hard to cover everything in the book for each chapter, but i wish you provide the summary that you haven’t cover as a handout for us. It can help some students who don’t have a book.

  10. Dr. Roy:

    After learning about the working memory. I think as a future teacher, we really need to think how it works deeply. As we know, working memory is limited due to capacity and duration. Therefore, teachers can not overload students’ with information because if the mental load exceeds the limits of working memory, learning is hindered. So should we discuss more about those memory strategies to apply future teaching?

  11. Talking about memory reminds me of the lady working in the cafeteria as cashier. it’s really amazing how she can actually remember almost all the student’s id in this school. however, rehersal and cues does play an important role in retrieval.

    My first visit to the cafeteria after a month break, she actually forgot my id number!.. she asked me twice for my first two visits to the cafeteria and now i believe she got it all back.

  12. I studied this theory in other classes that related to this class Biopsychology; sensation and perception. It’s my all interesting subject. In biopsychology class, I read some article about “Smart Pill” that due with the exchange ion between synapses. We do have some of the “smart pill” in the market. In sensation and perception, I remain that the particular emotion – fear – and the manner in which specific events or stimuli come, through individual learning experience able to affect our perception. And all lost of interesting that we never know about our brain.
    In Scientific American magazine ( have many interest topics to extra read. It has blog ( that we can discussion other readers

  13. As I learn about memories, something comes in my mind, which is about the abnormal/mentar retarded people. It makes me think about their memories; what kinds of memories they still have and what kinds of memories they lost. What I know is that they can still think and have some kind of memory because they can remember something in the past. So I wish to know about this issue from you.

  14. Long Term Memory is just like a hardisk in the computer even though some times you think you forget it or you can’t rember it . but actually the information exist in you brain.

    just like in the computer. If you save you picture in to the hardisk, then you erase (delete)it out from the computer. There is always ways (program)for getting those picture back. example i bought a 2hd computer the owner already format it and i try to use that special program to recall the picture which the old owner had and in his computer and i had found alot of good picture _ _ll

    Come back to our mind , i think that long term memory is permanet in our mind, we just don’t know how to recall those information, plus we have to much information in our brain… i think in the future Dr Roy will come out with a solution…

  15. Dr. Roy,
    I have gained quite lots of benefits by studying this topic ” Modal Model-Memory”. Some of the written statements that mentioned in the text book have enhanced my knowledge and understanding about the memory. i personally assume that LTM plays a significant role with old-age people, while SM or WM seem to be very limited with them. For instance, my grandpa, in his 76s could remember every single event that happened with him during WWII, but had a very hard time to recognize my brother when my brother visited him last time. It is quite sad that he could not recognize my brother, yet his mental processes (LTM) is marvellous and admirable.

  16. Dr. Roy,
    I have gained quite lots of benefits by studying this topic ” Modal Model-Memory”. Some of the written statements that mentioned in the text book have enhanced my knowledge and understanding about the memory. i personally assume that LTM plays a significant role with old-age people, while SM or WM seem to be very limited with them. For instance, my grandpa, in his 76s could remember every single event that happened with him during WWII, but had a very hard time to recognize my brother when my brother visited him last time. It is quite sad that he could not recognize my brother, yet his mental processes (LTM) is marvellous and admirable.

  17. Some times I wonder how precise the studies were done because many times the studies were with the assistance of some technologies and those technonogies were invented by men. So, how much we can rely on that? Most of the time educators use the analogy of computer information processing to illustrate how human brain work. In this case, because men invented computer and all the required components men can pinpoint out how they work. Since men we created/invented by God, there might be some limitations because until now human can’t exactly/thoroughly explain how our mind work even though we might be able to tell how our brain work. How do we explain mind and brain?

  18. Memory is like akind of computer that we save the important informations in it. The problem is if we put too much information, it works slower.I often memorize the whole things in one night for the tests, but then suddenly i forgot them all.SoTreating our brain properly is a good strategy to improve our memory and functioning of our brain for memory is important.

  19. From chapter 2, I came to learn how wonderful God creation is. Moreover our chapter 2 also indicates that human are does not exist by accidentally, but there is someone who create them purposely.
    For example, when God create human He already knows that when we open our eyes and look around us, even only for one second thousand and thousand of information will come into our mind both things that we interest and not interest. If our memory retains all of those information that come and across our different senses we will not have a happy life and our life will become miserable. That’s why God created our memory with three different rooms to deal with information that come across our senses and they are called sensory, short-term/working, and long-term memory.

    How I can apply this to my teaching?
    Sensory memory: In this stage students need variety of styles or examples to across their senses in order to acquire knowledge of the lesson. Because different students interesting in different learning styles. As I am a teacher I will use different strategies and methods to help them in learning.

    Short-term/working memory: This is when students are interested and pay attention to my teaching. In this stage I will know which method or strategy is suitable for them to learn for that particular topic to transfer the information into long-term memory.

    Long-term memory: In this stage students will remember what they are learning for along time. For information to transfer into long-term memory I will rehearse the lesson in a meaningful way for them.

  20. I’m truly fascinated to learn about our memory processes. Especially when it comes to connecting the sensory memory and long term memory. I believe that sometimes we don’t necessary have to go through working memory in order for us to transfer the information from sensory memory to long-term memory. For example, when I was very young I came across with one old lady begger to whom my mother provided food. I didn’t see her again or paid that much attention to the incident but now I can still remember how she looked like. I believed that that incident automatically went into my long-term memory without me being conscious about it. This is just one example. Sometimes I can remember a person’s voice on the phone and can automatically recognize who that is if I recieve a second phone call after a long time.So this mean there is a high possibility that the information from our sensory memory can be directly transfered into long-term memory.

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