Short-Term Memory: The Second Stage in Memory Processing

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Short-Term Memory

Diana Nunez

Nicholas Salter, Ph.D.

Introduction to Psychology

Psychology 101, Section 8

October 26, 2010

Short-Term Memory

The short-term memory is the lead to our long lasting remembers. Short-term memory is the second stage in the memory processing (Huffman). The short-term memory is the part of the memory that temporarily stores and processes information from the sensory memory and holds it until it decides if the information will be sent to the third stage or long-term memory (Huffman). The short-term memory stores a mixture of perceptual analyses information (Huffman). The short-term memory works in different ways to increase its small capacity; it uses rehearsal and chunking to be able to remember more things at once (Huffman). Rehearsal is when a person repeats information over and over again to maintain it fresh in the memory and chunking is grouping separate pieces of information into a single group (Huffman). The short-term memory is also known as the “working memory” because it’s always receiving information from the sensory memory and sending to the long-term memory (Huffman). I will be discussing the difference between short-term memory and long-term memory, the theory of decay, and the working memory.


The main difference between short-term memory and long-term memory is the capacity that each one has. According to Michael E. Martinez the two memories work together a cognitive architecture or the mind’s basic structure. In the short-term memory a person can only think of a few ideas at a time (Martinez). One of the characteristics of the short-term memory is that is small compare to the long-term memory which has a larger capacity (Martinez). Information flows between the short-term memory to the long-term memory, depending on the direction and different kinds of thinking results (Martinez).

Short-term memory is the route entry to long-term memory or the holding template until the long-term memory processes are complete (Lewis). One example the Martinez gives is when information flows from short-term memory into long-term memory it produces learning. When information leaves flows from long-term memory back to short-term memory is called recognition or recall, which happens whenever we think about a previously known fact, person, or event (Martinez). Each memory has it’s owe limitations; the short-term memory has a small capacity making it hard to think about many things at once, while the long-term memory does not record experience completely and accurately (Martinez). Unlike the long-term memory the short-term memory has chunking, which allows the short-term memory to hold more and more information. The capacity does not change but chunk grows in complexity which allows the short-term memory to handle more data (Martinez).


Decay is a theory that has a long history in accounting for forgetting (Berman, Jonides, and Lewis). This is said to happen because as time passes, information in the memory erodes and is less available for retrieval (Berman, Jonides, and Lewis). Berman, Jonides, and Lewis present different experiment to examine if decay is a cause of forgetting. One study that they present is the classic study of Peterson and Peterson (1959):

“Consider the classic study of Peterson and Peterson (1959), originally thought to provide strong evidence for decay. In this experiment, participants were given a letter trigram to store, followed by a retention interval that varied from 3 to 18 s. During the retention interval, participants were required to count backward by threes to prevent rehearsal of the memorandum. Following the retention interval, participants recalled the item in memory. Peterson and Peterson found that performance declined as retention intervals increased, and the authors attributed this decline to increasing decay of the memory trace with increasing time. The attribution of this effects to...
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