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Memory 101: Memory Processes

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Memory Processes

Memory: the capacity for storing and retrieving information.

Three processes are involved in memory:

  1. encoding
  2. storage
  3. retrieval.
These 3 processes help to determine whether you remember or forget something.


Encoding is processing information into memory. We automatically encode some types of information without being aware of it. For example, most people probably can recall where they ate lunch yesterday, even though they didn’t try to remember this information.

Some types of information become encoded only if people pay attention to it. Students probably won't remember everything in their textbooks unless they pay close attention to what they’re reading.

There are several different ways of encoding verbal information:

Structural encoding focuses on what words look like. For instance, one can remember whether the words are long or short, uppercase or lowercase, or handwritten or typed.

Phonemic encoding focuses on how words sound.

Semantic encoding focuses on the meaning of words. Semantic encoding requires a deeper level of processing than structural or phonemic encoding and usually results in better memory. For example, the word "rambutan" may not mean anything to you - but if you put a meaning to it (a tropical fruit which means "hair" in Indonesian, similar to its physical qualities), you will probably remember it better.


After information enters the brain, it has to be stored or maintained. To describe the process of storage, many psychologists use the three-stage model proposed by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin. According to this model, information is stored sequentially in three memory systems: sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory.

Sensory Memory

Sensory memory stores incoming information but only for an instant. The capacity of sensory memory is very large, but the information is unprocessed. For example, if a flashlight moves quickly in a circle, people will see a circle of light rather than the individual points at which the flashlight is moved. This happens because sensory memory holds the successive images of the moving flashlight long enough for the brain to see a circle. Visual sensory memory is called iconic memory; auditory sensory memory is called echoic memory.

Short-Term Memory

Some information in sensory memory transfers to short-term memory, which can hold information for approximately 20 - 30 seconds. Rehearsing can help keep information in short-term memory longer. Short-term memory has a limited capacity: it can store about seven small pieces of information, give or take a couple. A method called chunking can help to increase the capacity of short-term memory. Chunking combines small bits of information into bigger, familiar pieces.

An example of chunking: Can you remember the following sequence of 12 letters ten seconds later?






AB, and OL?

Short-term memory cannot handle twelve pieces of individual information. BUT these letters can be easily remember if they're grouped into 6 familiar words: HOT BUTTERED POPCORN IN A BOWL.

Psychologists today consider short-term memory to be a working memory. Rather than being just a temporary information storage system, working memory is an active system. Information can be kept in working memory while people process or examine it. Working memory allows people to temporarily store and manipulate visual images, store information while trying to make decisions, and remember a phone number long enough to write it down.

Long-Term Memory

Memories can be transferred from short-term to long-term . Memories can also move from long-term back to short-term. Long-term memory has an almost infinite capacity, and information in long-term usually stays there for a person’s entire life. This doesn’t mean that people will always be able to remember what’s in their long-term memory - they might not be able to retrieve information that's there.

The Organization of Memories…

What would you do if you had a textbook that had no table of contents and wasn't organized in chapters? It would be very hard to find the information you're looking for. Long-term memory stores much more information than a textbook, and people would never be able to retrieve the information from it if it weren’t organized in some way.

Psychologists believe one way the brain organizes information in long-term memory is by category. It can also organize it by the information's familiarity, relevance, or connection to other information.

Flashbulb Memories

Flashbulb memories are vivid, detailed memories of important events. For example, many people remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the World Trade Center had been attacked on September 11, 2001.


Retrieval is the process of getting information from your memory. Retrieval cues help stimulate the process of retrieval. Retrieval cues include associations, context and mood.

|<>{border-color:white}. Associations

%{font-family:verdana;font-size:13px}The brain stores information as networks of associated concepts, so recalling the phrase "Kung Hei Fat Choi" becomes easier if a related phrase "Chinese New Year" is recalled first. This process is called priming%.


People can often remember an event by placing themselves in the same context they were in when the event happened. For example, if you lose your car keys, you may be able to recall where you put them if you recreate exactly what you did beforehand.


If people are in the same mood they were in during an event, they may have an easier time recalling the event.||<>{border-color:white}. !{width:240px;height:300px}"!|

Image Credits: Jon Christall, Francesco Rachello, slagheap, Sektor dua

    xa munir
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    xa munirMon, 26 May 2014 15:03:41 -0000

    its good and briefly described. i also wants to get information about Compartment of Memory..

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    raghukulasriramSun, 24 Apr 2011 04:44:46 -0000

    Its good.But i want to know the simplest method to remember a thing.

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Last Updated At Dec 13, 2012


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