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The Human Memory Essay

Memory refers to processes which are used to obtain, store and later retrieve information. Encoding, storage, and retrieval are the three main processes involved in memory. Encoding is how we form new memories by changing information into a usable form. After the information has been encoded, it then will be stored for later use. Most of the stored memories will lie outside of our own awareness until we later need to use it. The retrieval process is what allows us to bring the memories back to a conscious awareness. (Cherry, 2013) The stage model of memory was initially proposed in 1968 by Atkinson and Schifrin. Their theory outlined three separate stages of memory. These stages were: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. This stage model is used to describe the function and basic structure of memory. (Cherry, 2013) The earliest stage of memory is the sensory memory. This is the stage where sensory information from the environment is stored briefly. (For visual information, no longer than half a second, and for auditory information, no more than three or four seconds.)

Some of this information is passed to the next stage of memory. This next stage of memory is called the short-term memory. This is the information in which we are thinking about or are currently aware of. Many short-term memories are forgotten quickly. (Most info only kept 20 to 30 seconds.) However, attending to this information allows it to move into the next stage of memory. This stage of memory is known as the long-term memory. It is referred to the continuing storage of information. The information is mostly outside of our own awareness, but is able to be called into working memory as it is needed. (Cherry, 2013) There are several factors that impede or enhance the information flow during each stage of the memory. Attention is one of the key factors in the sensory memory stage. Paying attention to the stimulus or event will enhance the information flow during this stage, whereas not paying attention will impede the flow. Focusing on information will be a factor in the short-term stage because activation is high only when focusing on the information.

Last, a long direction is a factor that will impede the information flow in the long-term memory stage. Moving information from short-term to long-term memory involves connecting new information to prior knowledge. Stress also profoundly influences memory, depending on the timing of the stress determines which stage of memory that is affected. (Payne, 2007) The theory on why we forget things is known as interference. Two types of interference are proactive and retroactive interference. Proactive interference is when we lose current information due to it mixing with previously learned or similar information. Retroactive interference is where the information works backwards to interfere with previous information. Failure to store is another type of forgetting where encoding failures will sometimes stop information from entering the long-term memory stage. Motivated forgetting also works to forget memories. Motivated forgetting has two forms: suppression and repression.

Suppression is a conscious form of forgetting, while repression is an unconscious form of forgetting, (Cherry, 2013) There are many strategies to improve memory consolidation and retrieval. One way to improve this is through cues such as acronyms. Another way is by reviewing the material before going to sleep. Becoming a more active reader is another way to improve memory. This includes highlighting, underlining, or jotting key words in margins when reading chapters. Over-learning new material has also proven to enhance memory. One last way to improve memory is through providing retrieval practice. One could do this by creating a practice test of the material or even having other students make up questions for other students to answer. (Thorne, 2006)

Cherry, K. (2013). What is memory. Retrieved from Payne, J. D. (2007). Learning memory. Retrieved from Cherry, K. (2013). Explanations for forgetting. Retrieved from Thorne, G. (2013, May 06). 10 strategies to enhance students memories. Retrieved from

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