The Process of Memory from Perception to Retrieval

Using the text, Cognition: The Thinking Animal, the University Library, the Internet, and/or other resources, answer the following questions. Your response to each question should be at least 150 words in length.

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1. What is primary memory? What are the characteristics of primary memory?

Primary memory is more commonly known as short-term memory. Primary memory is the workstation where information is temporarily encoded, manipulated, and either forgotten or passed on to secondary memory. According to many of the studies cited in the text, the capacity of primary memory is between 5 and 9 units depending on the type of unit and individual in question (Willingham, 2007). It appears that primary memory is limited to 2 seconds of acoustic code and four visuospatial objects. However, the capacity of semantic-based memory is more flexible because of the mediating effect of chunking. Chunking appears to increase the capacity of primary memory because secondary memory encodes through semantics. Primary memory is temporary because interference and decay act to mediate what is actually contained in primary memory at any one time. Interference entails the effect that future or past memories have on the current information contained in primary memory. Decay is the mechanism of primary memory that most limits its capacity and is necessary in order to keep attention focused on temporal, relevant information.      

2. What is the process of memory from perception to retrieval? What happens when the process is compromised?

The working memory model seemed over-complex to me. I thought that the modal model of memory worked much better for the practical application of the path that information takes through the cognitive path of memory. Basically, sensory memory has a very large capacity but decays quickly as well. It is clear from several studies that both iconic (visuospatial and semantic) memory and echoic (auditory) memory exist within the framework of sensory and memory and have a duration of between 500 ms and 1 s. Attention and semantics determine which sensory memories are actively brought into primary memory (awareness). Once in primary memory, the information can be manipulated, encoded to secondary memory, or forgotten through the mechanisms of interference and decay. If rehearsal occurs or if the information in primary memory is found to be semantically relevant to information already in secondary memory, then the information is recorded into secondary memory. It is also important to note that attention and semantics in sensory memory, primary memory, and secondary are all mediated by pre-existing information already encoded in secondary memory. 

3. Is it possible for memory retrieval to be unreliable? Why or why not? What factors may affect the reliability of one’s memory?

Memory retrieval can be incredibly unreliable at times, especially memory concerning periphery information, rather than central information. It is clear that cueing is paramount in memory retrieval, whether it is contextual cueing, situational cueing, or locality cueing. For instance, retrieval is more successful when you are trying to remember something in the same physical place that the memory was encoded, or conversely in the same situation or in the same context. Furthermore, it is clear that recognition is much more successful than recall in memory retrieval. This is partially due to the semantic means by which information is stored in secondary memory. Through cues, we can take advantage of related semantics of any given object or thought and therefore recognize the object. It is clear that retrieval gets a big boost when we remember the object/thought in question the same way that we encoded the object/thought. When we use recall as a means of remembering we are trying to retrieve information without cues, other than the cues in the surrounding environment (i.e. same place, same person, etc…). Without the benefit of semantic cues, such as the link between a chair and a table, we are left to recall the memory individually.  

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Willingham, D. T. (2007). Cognition: The thinking animal. New York, NY: Pearson Prentice Hall. 

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