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Memory is the faculty of the brain by which data or information is encoded, stored, and retrieved when needed. It is the retention of information over time for the purpose of influencing future action. If past events could not be remembered, it would be impossible for language, relationships, or personal identity to develop. Memory loss is usually described as forgetfulness or amnesia.

Memory is often understood as an informational processing system with explicit and implicit functioning that is made up of a sensory processorshort-term (or working) memory, and long-term memory. This can be related to the neuron. The sensory processor allows information from the outside world to be sensed in the form of chemical and physical stimuli and attended to various levels of focus and intent. Working memory serves as an encoding and retrieval processor. Information in the form of stimuli is encoded in accordance with explicit or implicit functions by the working memory processor. The working memory also retrieves information from previously stored material. Finally, the function of long-term memory is to store data through various categorical models or systems.

Types of memory:

Short-term memory:

Short-term memory is also known as working memory. Short-term memory allows recall for a period of several seconds to a minute without rehearsal. Its capacity, however, is very limited. In 1956, George A. Miller (1920-2012), when working at Bell Laboratories, conducted experiments showing that the store of short-term memory was 7±2 items. (Hence, the title of his famous paper, “The Magical Number 7±2.”) Modern estimates of the capacity of short-term memory are lower, typically of the order of 4–5 items; however, memory capacity can be increased through a process called chunking. For example, in recalling a ten-digit telephone number, a person could chunk the digits into three groups: first, the area code (such as 123), then a three-digit chunk (456), and, last, a four-digit chunk (7890). This method of remembering telephone numbers is far more effective than attempting to remember a string of 10 digits; this is because we are able to chunk the information into meaningful groups of numbers. This is reflected in some countries’ tendencies to display telephone numbers as several chunks of two to four numbers.

Long-term memory :

The storage in sensory memory and short-term memory generally has a strictly limited capacity and duration, which means that information is not retained indefinitely. By contrast, long-term memory can store much larger quantities of information for potentially unlimited duration (sometimes a whole life span). Its capacity is immeasurable. For example, given a random seven-digit number, one may remember it for only a few seconds before forgetting, suggesting it was stored in short-term memory. On the other hand, one can remember telephone numbers for many years through repetition; this information is said to be stored in long-term memory.

Working memory :

In 1974 Baddeley and Hitch proposed a “working memory model” that replaced the general concept of short-term memory with an active maintenance of information in the short-term storage. In this model, working memory consists of three basic stores: the central executive, the phonological loop and the visuo-spatial sketchpad. In 2000 this model was expanded with the multimodal episodic buffer (Baddeley’s model of working memory).The central executive essentially acts as an attention sensory store. It channels information to the three component processes: the phonological loop, the visuo-spatial sketchpad, and the episodic buffer.Study techniques:

To assess infants:

Infants do not have the language ability to report on their memories and so verbal reports cannot be used to assess very young children’s memory. Throughout the years, however, researchers have adapted and developed a number of measures for assessing both infants’ recognition memory and their recall memory. Habituation and operant conditioning techniques have been used to assess infants’ recognition memory and the deferred and elicited imitation techniques have been used to assess infants’ recall memory.

Techniques used to assess infants’ recognition memory include the following:

  • Visual paired comparison procedure (relies on habituation): infants are first presented with pairs of visual stimuli, such as two black-and-white photos of human faces, for a fixed amount of time; then, after being familiarized with the two photos, they are presented with the “familiar” photo and a new photo. The time spent looking at each photo is recorded. Looking longer at the new photo indicates that they remember the “familiar” one. Studies using this procedure have found that 5- to 6-month-olds can retain information for as long as fourteen days.
  • Operant conditioning technique: infants are placed in a crib and a ribbon that is connected to a mobile overhead is tied to one of their feet. Infants notice that when they kick their foot the mobile moves – the rate of kicking increases dramatically within minutes. Studies using this technique have revealed that infants’ memory substantially improves over the first 18-months. Whereas 2- to 3-month-olds can retain an operant response (such as activating the mobile by kicking their foot) for a week, 6-month-olds can retain it for two weeks, and 18-month-olds can retain a similar operant response for as long as 13 weeks.

Techniques used to assess infants’ recall memory include the following:

  • Deferred imitation technique: an experimenter shows infants a unique sequence of actions (such as using a stick to push a button on a box) and then, after a delay, asks the infants to imitate the actions. Studies using deferred imitation have shown that 14-month-olds’ memories for the sequence of actions can last for as long as four months.
  • Elicited imitation technique: is very similar to the deferred imitation technique; the difference is that infants are allowed to imitate the actions before the delay. Studies using the elicited imitation technique have shown that 20-month-olds can recall the action sequences twelve months later.

To assess children and older adults:

Researchers use a variety of tasks to assess older children and adults’ memory. Some examples are:

  • Paired associate learning – when one learns to associate one specific word with another. For example, when given a word such as “safe” one must learn to say another specific word, such as “green”. This is stimulus and response.
  • Free recall – during this task a subject would be asked to study a list of words and then later they will be asked to recall or write down as many words that they can remember, similar to free response questions. Earlier items are affected by retroactive interference (RI), which means the longer the list, the greater the interference, and the less likelihood that they are recalled. On the other hand, items that have been presented lastly suffer little RI, but suffer a great deal from proactive interference (PI), which means the longer the delay in recall, the more likely that the items will be lost.
  • Cued recall – one is given a significant hints to help retrieve information that has been previously encoded into the person’s memory; typically this can involve a word relating to the information being asked to remember.[59] This is similar to fill in the blank assessments used in classrooms.
  • Recognition – subjects are asked to remember a list of words or pictures, after which point they are asked to identify the previously presented words or pictures from among a list of alternatives that were not presented in the original list. This is similar to multiple choice assessments.
  • Detection paradigm – individuals are shown a number of objects and color samples during a certain period of time. They are then tested on their visual ability to remember as much as they can by looking at testers and pointing out whether the testers are similar to the sample, or if any change is present.
  • Savings method – compares the speed of originally learning to the speed of relearning it. The amount of time saved measures memory.
  • Implicit-memory tasks – information is drawn from memory without conscious realization.


Transience – memories degrade with the passing of time. This occurs in the storage stage of memory, after the information has been stored and before it is retrieved. This can happen in sensory, short-term, and long-term storage. It follows a general pattern where the information is rapidly forgotten during the first couple of days or years, followed by small losses in later days or years.

Absent-mindedness – Memory failure due to the lack of attention. Attention plays a key role in storing information into long-term memory; without proper attention, the information might not be stored, making it impossible to be retrieved later.

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