Scientists once suggested that humans have an unlimited capacity to store memories. However, although people's senses are often repeatedly bombarded with an assortment of information—including what is seen, heard, tasted, scented, and felt—people often only remember a fraction of what they encounter. The modal model of memory was formulated in 1968 by psychology professors Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin to explain why people forget specific details.
According to the modal model of memory theory, as information enters the brain, it is encoded and stored in memory systems, including the sensory register, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Exploring this theory of memory and how modal forms of memory affect how you might process information may be beneficial to understand your own memory.
Models Of Memory
For millennia, philosophers, psychologists, and scientists have studied the process of human memory. Around 350 BCE, Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle wrote On the Soul, one of his significant works about the connection between the body and mind. Mid-century physicist and inventor Robert Hooke also put forward a work on memory, which, though lesser known, is often hailed for the completeness of the memory model it presents.
Out of the current models of memory, the modal model of memory, also known as the multi-store model or the Atkinson-Shiffrin model, is often referred to as one of the classics. It has had a far-reaching influence on several memory models which have been developed more recently, including the following:
- Levels of Processing Model - Craik and Lockhart (1972)
- Tulving's Model of Memory - Endel Tulving (1972)
- Working Memory - Baddeley and Hitch (1974)
The Atkinson-Shiffrin model has been reviewed, revised, and clarified since it was first proposed.
Stages Of The Modal Model Of Memory
Richard Atkinson (1929-) and Richard Shiffrin (1942-) are renowned psychologists and cognitive scientists who developed the theory of model memory under the name of the Atkinson-Shiffrin model of memory. They published their theory in a chapter titled Human Memory: A Proposed System and Its Control Processes. In their theory, Atkinson and Shiffrin suggest that humans have three stores of memory known as:
- Sensory Registers
- Short-Term Stores
- Long-Term Stores
Sensory Register Or Sensory Memory
The Atkinson-Shiffrin memory model proposes that each sense has a sensory register or sensory memory system. These systems retain information for a fraction of a second to a few seconds. In the sensory register, no processing of the information takes place. Therefore, no meaning is attached to it. If not attended to, the information is filtered out, lost, and forgotten. If the information is attended to, it is transferred to the short-term memory. During the few moments that the sensory registers hold on to information, a phenomenon known as the "cocktail party effect" can take place:
Imagine being in a crowded room with several groups carrying on their conversations. You attend only to the conversation you are a part of, and it seems like you hear nothing else. Your ears are still picking up all the sounds in the room, but because your attention is focused elsewhere, any memory of these sounds quickly fades away. If a particular word or phrase catches your attention, like your name, you are no longer filtering out sounds and are "hearing" the other conversation.
Similar effects can happen for each of the other senses. The sensory registers act as "buffers" (a term used by Atkinson and Shiffrin) since they prevent higher cognitive functions from being flooded with all the information one's senses perceive. It is estimated that of the thousands of bits of information one's senses perceive, about 1% make it to short-term memory.
Due to limitations in researching some of the registers, the Atkinson-Shiffrin model focuses on two:
- Iconic Memory: The register for the visual system (sight)
- Echoic memory: The register for the auditory system (hearing)
One example of echoic memory is the "What did you say?" theory. After hearing someone, you might ask, "What did you say?" before you have processed what they said. However, before they can repeat themselves, you may suddenly realize what it was and respond. It might seem like you hear their words after they occur.
Short-Term Store Or Short-Term Memory
According to Atkinson and Shiffrin, the next stage of the modal memory model is short-term storage, often referred to as short-term memory. Short-term memory comprises information you are consciously aware of at any given time. Hence, short-term memory is sometimes called working memory.
Information can be stored in short-term memory for up to 30 seconds without effort to remember or rehearse. After this time, it decays and is lost or forgotten. With rehearsal or encoding, the information can be held in the short-term memory for extended periods and transferred to the long-term memory.
Rehearsal can take different forms depending on the type of information. According to the modal model of memory, however, much of the encoding which takes place in short-term memory is auditory encoding. Auditory processes occur to help someone rehearse a piece of information in a different manner from which it was perceived.
For example, imagine yourself trying to remember a phone number. After glancing at a phone number posted on the fridge in the kitchen, you repeat the number to yourself while heading to the living room in search of your phone (visual perception but auditory encoding). Without any rehearsal, you may only be able to recall a few digits when you find the phone.
The capacity of short-term memory (how many pieces of information it can hold) is still a matter of avid research among scientists. In the 1950s, before the Atkinson-Shiffrin model was presented, American psychologist George Miller, who is hailed as one of the founders of cognitive psychology, proposed his theory that, on average, short-term memory can hold bits of information.
More modern research has pointed to the fact that the actual capacity of short-term memory depends on several factors. These include familiarity with or relevance of the information stored, as well as the size of the information (such as short words versus long words or three-digit numbers versus 10-digit numbers).
Connected to Miller's theory is the idea that "chunking" can be used to improve short-term memory. Chunking psychology, as it's sometimes called, can make absorbing and remembering information easier. For instance, 8-2-6-4-9-7 represents six different bits of information, whereas 82-64-97 are only three and may be more accessible for individuals to commit to their short-term memory.
Long-Term Store Or Long-Term Memory
When speaking of memories, many people refer to the long-term memory store as described by the modal model of memory. Long-term store is a permanent (lifelong) store of memories received from the short-term store. Long-term memory holds all the information people know but are not consciously thinking of at any moment. According to the Atkinson-Shiffrin model, information is continually perceived by the sensory registers, attended to and encoded by the short-term memory, then passed on to the long-term memory with a limitless capacity.
Storage in long-term memory can take different forms, with visual, auditory, and semantic being the most common. Furthermore, of these three, semantics is the most used storage level in long-term memory. Extensions of the Atkinson-Shiffrin model, such as the levels of the processing model, often point to semantic encoding as the best way to ensure the retention of information in long-term memory.
There are several ways to improve your long-term memory, including the spacing effect. This effect involves taking breaks between learning new information by spacing out your learning. During the break, refrain from engaging in other activities that could interfere with your brain processing, encoding, and storing the information you have learned. Students studying for an exam may see better results regarding how much they recall if, instead of studying for a two-hour block, they break it up into smaller segments with quiet time in between.
Strengths Of The Modal Model Of Memory
One of the strengths of the modal model is its simplicity: three separate stores with information moving along from one store to the next. The model can be easy to explain and understand. However, it still retains some measure of thoroughness as it looks at how information is handled in each store. Other strengths may include the following.
It Has Influenced Future Research
The modal model of memory provides expansive coverage of short-term memory. These studies have allowed other researchers to create a vast body of experimental information about different aspects of short-term memory, as described by Atkinson and Shiffrin.
Other Researchers Support Aspects
The theory's distinction of short-term memory from long-term memory, as well as the relationship between them, is supported by the research of other scientists. This research includes the modal memory model that explains the serial position effect (primacy and recency effect).
For example, if presented with a list of words and asked to recall them shortly afterward, individuals are more likely to remember the first few words (primacy effect) and the last few words (recency effect) but not those in the middle. That is because the first words are committed to the long-term memory while the last words are held in the short-term memory.
Amnesia Studies Support The Concept Of The Separate Memory Stores
Among psychologists, the most well-known case of amnesia may be that of Henry Molaison, sometimes referred to as Patient HM. For over 50 years, Molaison was the subject of numerous studies about how memories are formed and where they are stored. At age 27, he had undergone brain surgery for epilepsy, where a portion of his brain was removed. As a result of the procedure, Molaison was left with acute amnesia, where his short-term memory was intact, but he could not form some new long-term memories.
Criticisms Of The Modal Model Of Memory
Some attempts to disprove parts of the model have served as clarification or extensions of its theories instead of refuting the model altogether. Later, Atkinson and Shiffrin revised the model by including the sensory registers as part of the short-term store. Below are a few of the criticisms.
Structure Of The Short-Term Memory
Later research has shown that short-term memory operates more complexly than Atkinson and Shiffrin had described. For instance, Baddeley and Hitch (1974 and revised in 2000) suggest that short-term memory has a controlling system they call the central executive system (CES). The CES manages the functions of three subordinate systems called the phonological loop, visuospatial sketchpad, and episodic buffer.
Different Long-Term Memory Stores
Subsequent work conducted by Endel Tulving describes separate locations for the storage of different forms of long-term memory. These include the episodic store for memories of events and the semantic store for memories of all information that may be considered general knowledge. He also proposed a procedural store for memories about learning and performing skills. Evidence of the procedural store is found in the ability of amnesiac Henry Molaison to learn and improve his skill in drawing a star. Molaison, however, could not recall the instances in which he learned the skill in the past. He was also unable to learn word meanings (semantics).
Transfer To Long-Term Memory Happens At Various Levels
The modal model of memory emphasizes the function of rehearsal in transferring information from short-term memory to long-term memory. Later studies, like the levels of processing theory of Craik and Lockhart, present the idea that rehearsal is not always necessary. They suggest that learner motivation, past experiences, and similarities between the learning and recall environment can affect how deeply the information is processed and how it is transferred to long-term memory.
Memories can form an integral part of the personality, as they hold your name, how to brush your teeth, your experiences, and the information you have learned and are currently learning. Without giving it a second thought, you trust your memory to hold all the essential information you need later. There are instances, however, when your memory can fail you, and memory loss can begin affecting your quality of life.
Support Options For Memory Loss
Memory loss can be distressing for those experiencing it. If you aren't sure where to turn, consider contacting a licensed therapist. There are multiple ways to attend therapy, and those with barriers like financial insecurity or inaccessibility can also receive these services through options such as online therapy platforms like BetterHelp.
Research shows that online therapy is effective in helping individuals with memory loss. In a study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science—a peer-reviewed academic journal—researchers looked at the benefits of improving memory in therapy. In particular, the study mentions using memory-enhancing methods through online therapy platforms. The study concludes that these modalities can improve memory.
Online therapy can be a valuable tool if you are hoping to bolster your cognitive functioning. Unlike traditional counseling, you can connect with a licensed therapist from the convenience of your own home. In addition, your therapist can send you worksheets and tools you can view immediately on your device, which might be helpful if you frequently forget what isn't in front of you.
What are the three steps of the modal model of memory?
The Modal Model of Memory, also known as the Atkinson-Shiffrin model, proposes a three-step framework for understanding how information is processed and stored in memory. These three steps are:
Sensory Memory: Sensory memory is the first stage in the memory process. It's a brief and temporary storage system that holds sensory information from our senses (such as sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell) for a very short period, typically a fraction of a second to a few seconds. Sensory memory may act as a buffer, allowing us to briefly perceive and process sensory information before it either decays or moves on to the next stage of memory processing.
Short-Term Memory (STM): Short-term memory is the second stage of the model. It is where information from sensory memory or long-term memory is temporarily held and actively processed. STM has limited capacity and duration, typically capable of holding a small amount of information for around 20-30 seconds without rehearsal. This is the "working memory" that allows us to manipulate and use information for immediate tasks, like mental calculations or following directions.
Long-Term Memory (LTM): Long-term memory is the third and final stage of the model. It is where information that is deemed important or rehearsed in short-term memory is transferred for long-term storage. Long-term memory has a much larger capacity and is capable of holding information for an extended period, from hours to a lifetime. Information stored in long-term memory can be retrieved and used at a later time, and it may encompass various types of information, such as facts, experiences, and skills.
Why is the modal model of memory important?
The Modal Model of Memory holds significance in psychology and cognitive science for several key reasons. It served as a pioneering framework that laid the groundwork for the scientific exploration of memory processes. By delineating memory into distinct stages, it provided researchers with a structured approach to investigate how information is received, processed, and stored in the human mind, leading to profound insights into memory phenomena.
The model's conceptual clarity also may have made it a fundamental tool for both educators and clinicians. In education, it has informed teaching strategies and learning techniques by elucidating how information flows from sensory memory to short-term memory and eventually into long-term memory. In clinical settings, the model has played a pivotal role in understanding and addressing memory-related disorders and cognitive impairments. While it has evolved over time with new research findings and models, the Modal Model of Memory remains a foundational concept that has shaped the study of memory and cognitive psychology.
What are the 3 models of memory?
There are several models and frameworks that have been proposed to explain how memory functions and how different memory processes work. Three of the most well-known and widely studied models of memory are:
Modal Model of Memory (Atkinson-Shiffrin Model): The Modal Model of Memory, proposed by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin in 1968 in a study titled “Human Memory: A Proposed System and its Control Processes”, is one of the earliest and most influential models of memory. This model of memory describes three main memory stores:
- Sensory Memory: The initial stage that briefly holds sensory information from the environment.
- Short-Term Memory (STM): The temporary storage system responsible for actively processing and manipulating information.
- Long-Term Memory (LTM): The permanent storage system for information that has been encoded and is available for retrieval over a long duration.
Working Memory Model (Baddeley-Hitch Model): Developed by Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch, the Working Memory Model is an expansion of the STM component of the Modal Model. In 1974, this model of memory proposed an active nature of short-term memory and includes multiple components:
- Central Executive: Responsible for coordinating cognitive processes and managing resources.
- Phonological Loop: Handles auditory information and verbal rehearsal.
- Visuospatial Sketchpad: Processes visual and spatial information.
- Episodic Buffer: Integrates information from multiple sources.
Levels of Processing Model (Craik and Lockhart): The Levels of Processing Model, proposed by Fergus Craik and Robert Lockhart in 1972, this memory research suggests that the depth of processing during encoding influences how well information is remembered. It posits that information is processed along a continuum from shallow to deep through memory processes:
- Shallow Processing: In Craik and Lockhart’s study, this type of primary memory consisted of surface-level analysis, such as recognizing the physical features of an item.
- Deep Processing: Involves semantic, meaningful analysis, such as understanding and relating information to existing knowledge.
- The more deeply information is processed during encoding, the more likely it is to be retained in long-term memory. In the study, secondary memory consisted of thoughts that had been retained for long periods of time.
These models provide different perspectives on how both primary and secondary memory work and have been instrumental in guiding research and understanding the complexities of memory processes. While the Modal Model and Working Memory Model may focus on the organization and functioning of memory stores, the Levels of Processing Model highlights the role of encoding depth in memory retention.
What is the modal model of memory we output information from?
The Modal Model of Memory consists of three main memory stores: sensory memory, short-term memory (STM), and long-term memory (LTM). Of these, the store from which we typically output information is short-term memory (STM).
Short-term memory, also called primary memory, is the temporary storage system in which we actively process and manipulate information that is currently in our awareness. It has a limited capacity and duration, typically capable of holding a small amount of information for about 20-30 seconds without rehearsal. STM relies on control processes and plays a crucial role in tasks such as mental calculations, problem-solving, decision-making, and following directions.
What is the 3 stage model of memory with the three stages three processes and the three aspects of function capacity and duration?
The three-stage model of memory, also known as the Information Processing Model, describes memory as consisting of three main stages: sensory memory, short-term memory (STM), and long-term memory (LTM). Each stage is associated with specific processes, functions, capacity, and duration:
1. Sensory Memory:
- Process: Sensory memory involves the initial reception of sensory information from the environment.
- Function: It holds sensory information in its raw, unprocessed form for a very brief period to allow for initial perception and processing.
- Capacity: It has a large capacity for incoming sensory information but retains this information for only a fraction of a second to a few seconds.
- Duration: Very short duration.
2. Short-Term Memory (STM):
- Process: Short-term memory is where sensory stores of information are transferred for temporary storage and active processing.
- Function: It allows for the manipulation, rehearsal, and integration of information currently in our conscious awareness.
- Capacity: Limited capacity, capable of holding a small amount of information (typically about seven items) for about 20-30 seconds without rehearsal.
- Duration: Short-term, lasting for seconds to minutes without rehearsal.
3. Long-Term Memory (LTM):
- Process: Long-term memory is the final stage where information is encoded and stored for retrieval at a later time.
- Function: It stores information in a more permanent and organized manner, and it is responsible for retaining knowledge, experiences, and skills over a long duration.
- Capacity: Virtually unlimited capacity for storing a wide range of information.
- Duration: Potentially indefinite, with the ability to store information for an extended period, from hours to a lifetime.
This three-stage model emphasizes the sequential flow of information through these memory stages, from sensory input to temporary processing in short-term memory to more lasting storage in long-term memory. It provides a framework for understanding how information may be processed and stored in memory, with each stage of the memory trace serving a distinct role in the overall memory process.
What are the three main components of the model of working memory?
The model of working memory, proposed by Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch, consists of three main components or subsystems that work together to temporarily hold and manipulate information in the active conscious mind. These three components are:
Central Executive: The central executive is the core component of working memory and serves as the control center. It is responsible for directing attention, coordinating cognitive processes, and managing the allocation of resources to different tasks. Essentially, the central executive decides what information to focus on and which processing activities to perform. It also plays a crucial role in switching between tasks and maintaining cognitive flexibility.
Phonological Loop: The phonological loop is responsible for processing and temporarily holding auditory and verbal information. It consists of two subcomponents:
- Phonological Store (or Phonological Buffer): This component stores auditory information, such as spoken words or sounds, for a brief period.
- Articulatory Control Process (or Subvocal Rehearsal): This component is involved in the rehearsal and refreshment of information in the phonological store. It allows you to mentally repeat or manipulate verbal information and allow for verbal learning.
Visuospatial Sketchpad: The visuospatial sketchpad handles visual and spatial information. It enables individuals to mentally visualize objects, images, or spatial layouts. This component is crucial for tasks that involve mental imagery, spatial navigation, and manipulating visual information.
In addition to these three components, Baddeley later introduced an additional component called the "episodic buffer," which serves as a temporary storage system for integrating and holding information from different sources and modalities. The episodic buffer provides a means for combining information from the other components and from long-term memory.
What is the main model of memory?
The main model of memory often referred to in psychology and cognitive science is the "Modal Model of Memory," also known as the "Atkinson-Shiffrin model." This model provides a foundational framework for understanding how memory works and consists of three main memory stores or stages:
- Sensory Memory: This is the initial stage where sensory information from the environment is briefly stored in its raw form (e.g., visual, auditory, tactile). Sensory memory acts as a buffer, holding information for a very short duration to allow for initial perception and processing.
- Short-Term Memory (STM): In this stage, information is transferred from sensory memory or retrieved from long-term memory for temporary storage and active processing. Short-term memory has a limited capacity and duration and is responsible for tasks like mental calculations, problem-solving, and maintaining information in conscious awareness.
- Long-Term Memory (LTM): Long-term memory is where information that is deemed important or rehearsed in short-term memory is stored for long-term retention. It has a vast capacity and can hold information for an extended duration, from hours to a lifetime. Long-term memory encompasses various types of information, including facts, experiences, and skills.
What is the most accepted model of memory?
There are many models of memory that have been accepted by researchers throughout the years. Many of these models build on one another. Some accepted models of memory include:
Modal Model of Memory: The Modal Model, which consists of sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory, has historically been a foundational concept in the study of memory. While it has evolved over time and been modified by subsequent research, it still serves as a useful framework for understanding the basic processes involved in memory storage and retrieval.
Working Memory Model: The Working Memory Model expanded upon the concept of short-term memory by introducing multiple subsystems (the central executive, phonological loop, visuospatial sketchpad, and episodic buffer) to account for the active processing and manipulation of information. It has gained widespread acceptance for its more detailed and dynamic view of short-term memory processes.
What does the information processing or modal model explain?
The information processing model, often associated with the Modal Model of Memory (Atkinson-Shiffrin model), explains how information is processed and transferred through different stages of memory. It provides a structured framework for understanding the flow of information from initial sensory input to short-term memory and, ultimately, to long-term memory. Here's what the information processing model explains:
- Sensory Memory: This model explains that sensory memory is the initial stage where sensory information from the environment is briefly held in its raw form. Sensory memory allows for the perception and initial processing of incoming sensory stimuli, such as what you see, hear, touch, taste, or smell.
- Short-Term Memory (STM): The model describes short-term memory as the stage where information is temporarily stored and actively processed. STM has limited capacity and duration and is responsible for tasks that require holding and manipulating information in conscious awareness, like mental calculations or remembering a phone number long enough to dial it.
- Long-Term Memory (LTM): The information processing model explains that information from short-term memory can be transferred to long-term memory for more permanent storage. Long-term memory is the repository for information that has been encoded and is available for retrieval over an extended period. It stores knowledge, experiences, skills, and other types of information.
- Encoding and Retrieval: The model emphasizes the processes of encoding (the conversion of information into a format suitable for storage) and retrieval (the process of accessing and recalling stored information). It suggests that successful encoding and effective retrieval are key aspects of memory function.
- Information Flow: The model provides a sequential view of how information flows through the memory system, starting with sensory input, moving to short-term memory for temporary processing, and potentially transitioning to long-term memory for more permanent storage.
- Limited Capacity and Duration: It highlights that both short-term memory and sensory memory have limited capacities and durations. Sensory memory holds information briefly (fractions of a second to a few seconds), while short-term memory retains information for a short time (about 20-30 seconds without rehearsal).
What are the stages of memory according to the modal model of memory?
The Modal Model of Memory outlines three main stages of memory through which information is processed and stored. These stages are:
Sensory Memory: This is the initial stage of the memory process. Sensory memory briefly holds sensory information from the environment in its raw form. It acts as a kind of buffer, allowing for the initial perception and processing of sensory stimuli. Sensory memory has a very brief duration, typically ranging from fractions of a second to a few seconds, and a large capacity for taking in sensory information from all five senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell).
Short-Term Memory (STM): Short-term memory is the second stage of the model. It serves as a temporary storage system where information from sensory memory or long-term memory is transferred for temporary use. STM has a limited capacity and duration, typically holding a small amount of information (about seven items, on average) for about 20-30 seconds without rehearsal. It plays a crucial role in tasks that require active processing and manipulation of information, such as mental calculations and problem-solving.
Long-Term Memory (LTM): Long-term memory is the third and final stage of the model. It is where information that is deemed important or rehearsed in short-term memory is transferred for more permanent storage. LTM has a vast capacity and can hold information for an extended duration, ranging from hours to a lifetime. It is the repository for various types of information, including facts, experiences, skills, and knowledge, which can be retrieved and used at a later time.
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