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Psychology Factsheets Number 06

Cognitive Psychology - Memory

This Factsheet:
• Introduces and define the topic of memory;
• Explains the concepts of sensory, short-term and long-term memory;
• Explains how these differ in respect of encoding, capacity and duration;
• Explains Primacy and Recency effects;
• Evaluates the levels of processing approach;
• Discusses different types of long-term memory: procedural, declarative, episodic and semantic memory.

Introduction Main Concepts of Memory

We sometimes forget things quite quickly. For example, if we look 1. Sensory Memory (SM)
up a telephone number in the directory we are likely to forget it • The temporary store for information (5 – 9 items) which is to be
almost immediately unless we keep repeating it to ourselves. processed and passed on to short-term memory.
However, some information, such as our telephone number or PIN
• Includes Iconic memory (memory for visual information) and
number, is easy to recall and no longer has to be rehearsed, even
Echoic memory (memory for auditory information).
though we may have had to at first when it was new to us. This has
lead to the claim that there are different types of memory and that
• Holds information for approx. 0.5 to 0.75 seconds
we should distinguish between memory for new information that
will be forgotten quickly, and memory for other information that will
• Information is rapidly lost as image fades.
last a long time.
Definition of Memory • Paying attention to information in SM allows it to be passed to
Memory is defined as the ‘internal representation of learned short-term memory.
knowledge’. There are three main types of memory (see Atkinson
& Shiffrin below) Sperling (1960) showed participants three rows of four characters
1. Sensory Memory (SM) for between 0.05 and 0.1 seconds. He then played them either a
2. Short-term or working memory (STM or WM) high, medium or low tone to prompt them to recall the top, middle
3. Long-term memory or bottom line. Sperling found:
Memory involves three basic processes • recall was very good if the tone was played immediately after
• Encoding (putting incoming information into a form that can the visual display.
be stored) • the image faded rapidly - even a short delay lead to poor
• Storage (retaining the encoded information) recall.
• Retrieval (retrieving the encoded information from memory)
• the capacity of SM is potentially very large, but is limited due
Atkinson & Shiffrin’s multistore model of memory to the very short duration that information is held.
Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) suggest that memory is made up of a
series of stores which differ in encoding, storage and retrieval
characteristics (Fig 1).

Fig 1. Atkinson & Shiffrin’s multistore model of memory

Sensory Short-term Long-term

memory memory memory
(SM) Encoding (STM) Encoding (LTM)


06 - Cognitive Psychology - Memory Psychology Factsheet

2. Short-Term Memory (also referred to as working memory)

Think about it : Can you think of a way to chunk the following
• Information can be stored in STM for 15-30 seconds but is usually
numbers to aid recall ?
lost quite quickly through interference or decay.
• STM can only hold a limited amount of information whereas 106619452001
LTM is considered to have an unlimited capacity. Most of us would chunk as dates eg 1066 1945 2001
• Most information stored in acoustic form.
• Some information can be encoded either visually or semantically
(see Baddeley 1966). The working memory model
• Information is often ‘chunked’. Baddeley and Hitch (1974) argued that STM contains the ideas we
• Most of us can remember about 7 ± 2 (i.e. between 5 and 9) are currently considering in our conscious mind. They developed
chunks of information. the working memory model. This comprises a central executive,
• Rehearsal of information in STM allows it to be transferred to articulatory loop and visuo-spatial scratchpad (Fig 2).
Conrad (1964) gave participants a list of six consonants (viewed Fig 2. Working memory model
for about 0.75 secs) and them asked them to write down the letters
they had been shown. Most recall errors could be attributed to The central executive deals with many different
the sound of the letter eg B, P and V. Very few errors were made if types of information, and is involved in complex
the sound of the letters were very different eg S and B. tasks like solving problems and deciding what to
do next.
Peterson & Peterson (1959) asked participants to remember a Central
consonant trigram (a string of 3 consonants eg BLK) and then a Executive
large number. He asked participants to count backwards in threes
from this number and then recall the trigram. Participants were Articulatory Visuo-spatial
unable to do so after 18 – 30 seconds. Loop sketchpad

Try this: Quickly look at the following number once-then The articulatory loop is concerned The visuo-spatial sketchpad is
immediately cover it up and try to write down as much of it as with verbal information. concerned with visual and
you can remember spatial information.
Now do the same for the next number.
3. Long Term Memory
7483629153689247 • Stores rehearsed or learned information
How did you do? You probably found the first number fairly easy to • Appears to have unlimited capacity and indefinite life-span
remember, but the second one was just impossible. What does this tell • Most information stored in semantic form
us about STM ?
Baddeley (1966) again presented participants with words that
Baddeley (1966) presented participants with words that were were either:
either: • acoustically similar e.g. ‘cab’, ‘cat’ and ‘can’
• acoustically similar e.g. ‘cab’, ‘cat’ and ‘can’ • acoustically different e.g. ‘dog’, ‘car’ and ‘flat’
• acoustically different e.g. ‘dog’, ‘car’ and ‘flat’ • semantically similar e.g. ‘boat’, ‘ship’ and ‘yacht’
• semantically similar e.g. ‘boat’, ‘ship’ and ‘yacht’ • semantically different e.g ‘book, ‘tree’ and ‘box’
• semantically different e.g ‘book, ‘tree’ and ‘box’ He found that in LTM there was no difference in recall of
He found that: acoustically similar and acoustically different words but that
• in STM there was a much better recall of acoustically different participants had a much better recall of semantically different
words than of acoustically similar words. words than of semantically similar words. i.e the opposite
• recall of semantically different words was only slightly better conclusion to that one from the same experiment in STM.
than of semantically similar words.

Kintsch and Buschke (1969) asked people to recall long lists of

Miller (1956) estimated the capacity of STM to be ‘7 ± 2’ (i.e.
words after a delay of several minutes. They found that people
between 5 and 9) chunks of information. A ‘chunk’ is a meaningful
often made errors by recalling words with a similar meaning to the
unit of information. For example, it could be a letter, word, a phrase,
correct word, e.g. recalling ‘quick’ instead of ‘fast’. This offers
a single number or a string of digits. This explains why
further support for the suggestion that semantic coding is
remembering a string of letters is harder like this:
important in LTM – and of course we have already seen how
RA – CBB – CGP – OUS – ACI – A than like this: recall can be improved by imposing meaning on material.
The letters are the same in both lists, but they are easier to recall
in the second list because they are grouped into meaningful units
(ie we know the acronyms). We can think of STM, then, as having
about seven ‘slots’ available in which to put information. Just
how much information goes into a slot depends in part on how
effectively we can organise (or chunk) it.


06 - Cognitive Psychology - Memory Psychology Factsheet

Primacy and Recency effects in Processing Explicit and implicit memory

Murdock (1962) gave participants a list of words at the rate of one Graf and Schater (1985) distinguished between explicit and implicit
per second and asked them to free recall as many words as possible. memory:
He found that most participants remembered words at the beginning
or the end of the list. Remembering words at the beginning of a list • Explicit memory involves the conscious recollection of
is known as the primacy effect and remembering words at the end information and is used in tests of recognition or recall.
as the recency effect. Declarative memory usually involves explicit memory.
The primacy effect is said to occur through rehearsal (eg participants
• Implicit memory involves unconscious memory. Information that
repeated them) and are transferred to LTM. The recency effect is
we cannot consciously recall can nevertheless affect what we
due to the words still being ‘available’ in STM/WM.
think or do. Procedural knowledge involves implicit memory.
A variation of Murdock’s study was carried out by Glanzer & Cunitz
(1966). In this study recall was delayed by 30 seconds (thus
preventing rehearsal) and although the recency effect remained, Practice Essay Questions
the primacy effect disappeared. 1. (a) Describe four types of memory.

(b) Highlight the key differences between these, linking your

Levels of Processing responses to any relevant studies.
Craik and Lockhart (1972) criticised Atkinson & Shiffrin's model,
arguing that memory is more concerned with the level at which we 2. What is the multistore model of memory ? Illustrate your answer
process information. They suggested that processing could be either with diagrams where appropriate
Shallow (encoding only the physical properties of the information
eg its sound) or could be Deep (encoding the meaning, relating the 3. (a) What was suggested by Craik & Lockhart’s 1972 study ?
meaning to similar words etc). Deep processing entails more elaborate
consideration and rehearsal and thus leads to longer retention. (b) Why did this give rise to further studies ?
This approach tends to identify the ‘what’ rather than the ‘why’ of
processing and several later studies have suggested 4. Why are words presented in the middle of a list those which are
modifications….. least recalled ?

Craik & Tulving (1975) – retention was linked to the elaboration 5. Distinguish between explicit and implicit memory, using relevant
of the information as well as to the depth of processing. examples where appropriate.
Rogers et al (1977) – if the memory has personal relevance it will
be recalled better.
Eyesenck (1979) – if a memory is unusual, personal or distinctive
we remember it better.
Tulving (1979) – the context in which the encoding takes place is
also important.

Procedural and declarative memory

Cohen and Squire (1980) suggested we can distinguish between
declarative memories and procedural memories.

• Declarative memory is to do with ‘knowing that’. It includes

information we know (can ‘declare’) eg where the local pub is.

• Procedural memory is knowledge of how to do things, (‘ knowing

how ‘) eg how to ride a bike.

Episodic and semantic memory

Tulving (1972, 1985) also distinguishes between procedural memory
and two broad types of declarative memory, episodic and semantic

• Episodic memories are memories for particular life events (things

that you have done or that have happened to you)

• Semantic memories are memories for concepts, rules (including

the rules of language) and general knowledge of the world.

Broadly, knowing how to catch a bus involves semantic memory Acknowledgements: This Psychology Factsheet was researched and written by Linda Bishop.
(there are rules about queuing, signalling, paying etc.). If you remember The Curriculum Press, Bank House, 105 King Street, Wellington, Shropshire, TF1 1NU.
Psychology Factsheets may be copied free of charge by teaching staff or students, provided
catching the bus this morning, then that involves episodic memory. that their school is a registered subscriber. No part of these Factsheets may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any other form or by any other means, without
the prior permission of the publisher. ISSN 1351-5136


06 - Cognitive Psychology - Memory Psychology Factsheet

Worksheet: Cognitive Psychology - Memory


1. Who Researched What and When – complete the blanks in the table…

Who What When

Multi-store model of memory

Sperling 1960

Acoustic storage in STM 1964

Consonant Triagrams

Recall in STM 1966


Working memory model

Baddeley 1966

Kintsch & Buschke 1969

Declarative & Procedural Memory 1980

Episodic & Semantic Memory

Graf & Schater

2. Complete the following summary table





3. Identify the following as either procedural, episodic or semantic memory

procedural episodic semantic

The capital of France is Paris
How to drive a car

Wasps can sting

Where you went on your last holiday
How to format an exam question

How to use the telephone

How to catch a train
Your journey to school today