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Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory is about the same as what you notice at any given moment, which is the content of your conscious experience. It is the "smallest" part of memory, because it cannot hold much information at any one time. Its size can be estimated by measuring memory span (or span of attention or span of apprehension). This is the number of separate items or chunks that you can repeat back immediately without error. Most people can repeat 6 or 7 digits or letters perfectly almost every time, but few can consistently repeat more than 7.

Short-term memory recodes information by linking new information to information already stored and available in long-term memory. Recoding is one of several active control processes that short- term memory carries out. Other active processes include

  • retrieving information from long-term memory. For example, if a form asks you to write in your mother's family name, you have to retrieve it from long-term memory.
  • rehearsing information. For example, a simple method of memorizing something is to repeat it over and over.
  • selective attention for information in sensory memories. For example, until you see it mentioned here you probably did not notice the pressure of the chair on your body
  • response selection. For example, as you read the following question, you will choose matches of each item

To go to an article in Scientific American about working memory, click HERE

Short-term memory has evolved into a broader concept called working memory (Baddeley, 1999). Several reasons prompted this development. For example:

  • The many different functions of short-term memory suggest that it may have different parts for different functions.
  • few brain damaged patients show a highly selective loss of memory span for spoken letters or digits, leaving other functions of short-term memory normal. This finding suggests that memory span and recoding, rehearsal, and transfer to long-term memory use different brain systems and operate independently.
  • Although simple memory span is unrelated to verbal processing ability, reading, reasoning ability, or measures of intelligence, a more complex version of this task does correlate with these higher mental processes.
For more information about working mermory, click HERE.

To review the Peterson and Peterson procedure for measuring how long short-term memory lasts, click HERE.

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