Short term memory - Definition

- Introduction
- Short term memory models
- Long term memory
- Lists and short term memory
- Word meaningfulness



Short term memory is part of the memory storage system which is capable of storing material for a brief period of time and to some extent it determines how well the rest of your intelligences are utilized. At any one time short term memory can contain seven, plus or minus two, "chunks" of information. If short term memory tries to acquire more items than it can handle, the middle items will often be displaced. Items remain in short term memory around twenty seconds. Substantial evidence exists to support a general dependency of reasoning upon short term memory capacity. The longer information is stored in short term memory the easier it is to manipulate information needed in the execution of complex cognitive tasks (e.g. short term memory has been shown to be correlated with problem solving, learning, reasoning, and reading comprehension).


Short term memory models

One of the models that attempts to explain how working memory functions is the multi component model of working memory. The articulatory loop and the visuo-spatial sketch pad are responsible for short term maintenance of information and the central executive is responsible for coordinating these two systems. The articulatory loop stores phonetic information, for example numbers that we repeat to ourselves as soon as we learn them and the visuo-spatial sketch pad stores visual and spatial information. The central executive is responsible for processing the information gathered by the other two components and determining which information is relevant.

Another model proposed by Graeme Halford suggests that short term memory can be better defined as the ability to create or distinguish relationships between items or elements. For example in the following sentence "In metropolitan areas budget hotels charge excessively for internet access whereas expensive hotels in seaside resorts charge more reasonable rates" the relationship between three variables is analyzed, location, cost of internet access and hotel cost. Since all the information is presented to us in one sentence the difficulty lies in determining relationships and not in remembering the individual items or variables. 


Long term memory

Long term working memory refers to the process of linking items in long term memory with items in short term memory. When reading complex scientific text where our working memory would be full fairly quickly, most of the information we read gets stored in our long term memory. Only a few items or concepts remain in working memory but they serve as associations that help retrieve additional related information in long term memory.

Your ability to store information in short term memory can be affected by many factors. Depression and anxiety for instance often affect your concentration and stress can also make you feel "scattered" and jumpy. Studies with animals have shown stress hormones to have a toxic effect on memory centers. Medications such as painkillers and anti-depressants can also make concentration and recall difficult and the flu or the common cold can also affect your memory temporarily. Sleep deprivation can also decrease brain activity and this has negative effects on memory and concentration.


Lists and short term memory

When reading a list the first and last items are remembered better than middle words. The two memory processes that cause this to happen are called the primacy and recency effects. Try to schedule frequent short breaks as this will create more primacy/recency peaks helping you to remember more information. The longer you study the bigger the dip in recall between the primacy and recency effects.


Word meaningfulness

It is much easier to memorize words that we can visualize. Words that represent ideas and beliefs are usually harder to memorize than words that can be visualized such as places or things. For example words such as hope, peace and wisdom may may harder to memorize than video game and bicycle.

Here are a few more cases where we may find it easier to memorize words.

1. Words that are associated or connected with each other.
2. Unusual words that stand out from the rest for example the word hippopotamus in a grocery list.
3. Words that are repeated many times.
4. Words that have personal meaning.



IQ Test Labs 2014

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