The cognitive approach in psychology deals with human thought and mental processes such as memory, remembering and problem solving. The cognitive approach is interested in how people take in information, how they mentally represent it and how they store it. It also looks at how the information is perceived and processed and how integrated patterns of behaviour occur.
Memory is fundamental to our lives, we have to recall who we are, recognise the faces of everyone we meet and remember how to move and communicate. Several models of the way in which memory is structured and how it functions have been advanced and although there are many differences between the models, they all view memory as a means of processing information. We do not simply record information, we carry out some sort of processing as we eliminate, store, organise and reconstruct the information we receive.
This information processing occurs in three stages: encoding, storage and retrieval. Encoding involves converting the information we receive from our senses into something that we represent mentally Storage involves holding information over a period of time in preparation for when it is needed, and retrieval involves recovering stored information.
There are three models of memory; one of these is the multi store model. Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) proposed an influential multi- store model, which suggested that there are three types of information store. The three types of memory stores are the sensory store, the short term store and the long term store.
When a stimulus invades on our senses then the information passed from the sensory store, onto the short term store and then into long term store. Short Term Memory (STM) has an extremely limited capacity between five and nine. Miller (1956) suggested that the capacity of STM is “The Magic Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two”. Information can be lost very easily if the information is not rehearsed it remains in short term memory for about 20-30 seconds.
Long Term Memory (LTM) has an unlimited amount of information which can be store which can last a long time; some psychologists believe that memories are never truly forgotten from LTM they simply cannot be easily retrieved at will. Also the mode of storage in the LTM is meaning fullness if you understand information you are more likely to remember it. This is in contrast to STM where, if you recall, sound is important, and remembering is much more dependent on precise recall.
Atkinson and Shiffrin regarded the stores as the structural components of the model, but also proposed a number of control processes, such as attention, coding and rehearsal, which operate in conjunction with the stores.
Not all psychologists consider it useful to distinguish between short term and long term memory. Levels of Processing is one of such model: it sees memory as a single dimension rather than a series of separate stores. The main principle of this model is that we process information in different ways and the more deeply we process it, the more likely it is to be stored in memory and able to be recalled. According to the levels of processing framework, stimulus information is processed at multiple levels simultaneously depending upon its characteristics.
Furthermore, the “deeper” the processing, the more that will be remembered. For example, information that involves strong visual images or many associations with existing knowledge will be processed at a deeper level. Similarly, information that is being attended to receives more processing than other stimuli/events. The theory also supports the finding that we remember things that are meaningful to us because this requires more processing than meaningless stimuli.
Information is more easily readily transferred to LTM if it is considered, understood and related to past memories to gain meaning than if it is merely repeated. This degree of consideration was termed the “depth of processing” – the deeper information was processed, the longer the memory trace would last.
Craik and Lockhart gave three examples of levels at which verbal information could be processed:
Structural level- e.g. merely paying attention to what the words look like (shallow processing)
Phonetic level- processing the sound of the words
Semantic level- considering the meaning of words (deep processing).
Finally the last model of memory is reconstructive memory, in contrast to much cognitive research on memory, which focuses on quantitative tests of how many randomly selected digits, words or nonsense syllables can be remembered under strictly controlled conditions, the reconstructive memory approach has tended to concentrate more on qualitative changes in what is remembered, often of more everyday material such as stories, pictures or witnessed events under more natural conditions.
In comparison with the level of processing theory, which emphasizes what happens when memories are encoded and stored, the reconstructive memory approach is more concerned with what happens when information is stored and retrieved from memory.
Bartlett (1932) the pioneer of reconstructive memory argued that people do not passively record memories as exact copies of new information they receive, but actively try and make sense of it in terms of what they already know- a process called “effort after meaning”. Bartlett proposed that new information may be remembered in a distorted way since memories are “imaginative reconstructions” of the original information in the light of each individual past experiences and expectations rather than remembering what actually happened we may remember what we think should or could have occurred.
The three models have both similarities and differences between them; both the multi store model, levels of processing theory have many similarities among them. Firstly they both offer explanations for different types of memory/levels; Short term memory in the multi store model is the equivalent to shallow processing in the levels of processing theory and long term memory is equivalent to deeper processing.
There is a huge amount of research evidence for both, Craik and Tulving (1975) did an experiment to show Levels of Processing they proposed that as well as depth of processing determining the extent of long- term memory retention, they amount the processing was also important. Murdoch (1962) and Glanzer and Cunitz did an experiment to show the serial position effect in the multi store model, this serial position effect has been used as evidence that two separate stores are in operation and the words are being retrieved from these two stores.
However a difference is that more evidence has been found for the multi store model than levels of processing theory, Miller (1956) suggested that the capacity of Short term memory TM is “The Magic Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two”.
Reconstructive memory also explains different types/levels of memory similar levels of processing theory and the multi store model. However reconstructive memory only explains long term memory and not short term memory, deeper processing is linked to schemata which are mental representations of existing knowledge to make sense of what goes on in the world.