Theories of Memory

Memory is a complex cognitive or mental process involving:

1. the perception and encoding of the ‘to be remembered information.’

2. the storage of what is to be remembered.

3. the reterival of the stored information.


Cognition refers to processes through which information coming from senses is “transformed, reduced, elaborated, recovered and used.” These mental processes are important in perception, attention, thinking, problem solving & memory.

Theories of memory:-

1. Theory of general memory function:-

There are 3 distinct processes of memory:

(I) Encoding process:-

The process of receiving sensory Input & transforming it into a code, which can be stored.

(II) Storage process:-

The process of actually putting coded information into memory.

(III) Reterival process:-

Gaining access to stored & coded information, when it is needed.

⭐⭐⭐This theory explains why memory of an accident may be inaccurate:

(a) Encoding may be faulty due to emotion or distress experienced at the time of accident.

(b) Important encoded information may not be well fixed in memory.

(c) It may be distorted by events occuring after the accident.

(d) Reterival of information stored in memory may be biased.

2. Information-Processing therory:-

According to it, human mind is like a digital comupter that takes items of information, processes them in steps & then produces an output.

👉Intormation-Processing model:-

(I) Sensory Register:-

Storage function of sensory channel is called the sensory register.

Most of the information held in sensory register is lost. However, if we pay attention, the information is passed on to short-term memory for further processing.

⭐Visual sensory register holds information for up to about 1 sec.

⭐Auditory sensory register holds information for upto 4-5 seconds.

Studies with the visual sensory register have shown that it can hold at least 11-16 items of information during one second before it loses the information through decay.

In vision, sensory storage seems to be in the form of a faint image, called as “iconic image” which is a copy of visual input.

(II) Short-Term Memory:

Short term memory holds information received from the sensory register for upto 30 seconds.

E.g.: Experiment by Glanzer & cunitz, 1966.

Subjects were shown a list of 15 nouns one by one. After that they were asked to recall the nouns in any order.

Results: Nouns presented early in the list & those appearing late in the list were recalled relatively well, recall of the nouns in the middle of the list was rather poor.

The better recall at the beginning of the list is known as “Primacy Effect”. Items encountered 1st are remembered relatively well.

Better recall at the end of the list is known as “Recency effect”. Items encountered most recently are remembered well.

Short Term Memory has a very limited storage capacity. It is estimated to be about 7±2 items.

Storage capacity of Short Term Memory can be incresed by a process known as “chunking”.

Chunking is a process by which individual pieces of an information set are broken down and then grouped together in a meaningful whole.

(III) Rehearsal:

Consists of keeping items of information in the center of attention, perheps by repeating them silently or aloud.

In general, the more an item is rehearsed, the more likely it is to become part of long term memory.


(a) Maintenance Rehearsal:- It means just going over & over what is to be remembered. It does not necessarily succeed in transferring it to long term memory.

(b) Elaborative Rehearsal:- In it, we use strategies that give meaning & Organisation to the material so that it can be fitted in with existing organized long term memory.

(IV) Long Term Memory:

May last for days, months, years or even a lifetime.

Storage capacity of long term memory has no known limits.

3. The levels of processing theory:-

According to this theory, incoming information can be worked on at different levels of analysis, the deeper the analysis goes, better the memory.

1st level:- Simple perception which gives us our immediate awarness of environment.

2nd level:- At somewhat deeper level, the structural features of input are analyzed.

3rd level:- Finally, at the deepest level of processing, the meaning of input is analyzed. Analysis to the deepest level of meaning gives the best memory.

Rehearsal play a role in deeper processing of information, but according to level of processing view, maintenance rehearsal is not enough for good memory. For deeper levels to be reached the rehearsal must be elaborative.

Some interesting facts & tips to improve your memory will be discussed in the upcoming article.

For any suggestions & queries, please write in the comment box…

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