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Chapter 5
Short-Term and Working Memory
Some Questions to Consider
• Why can we remember a telephone number
long enough to place a call, but then we forget
it almost immediately?
• How is memory involved in processes such as
doing a math problem?
• Do we use the same memory system to
remember things we have seen and things we
have heard?
What Is Memory?
• Memory: processes involved in retaining,
retrieving, and using information about
stimuli, images, events, ideas, and skills
after the original information is no longer
• Active any time some past experience has
an impact on how you think or behave now
or in the future
Modal Model of Memory
• Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968)
• Three different types of memory:
1. Sensory Memory – Initial stage that holds all
incoming information for seconds or fractions of
a second
2. Short-term Memory – Holds five to seven items
for about 15 to 20 seconds.
3. Long-term Memory – Can hold a large amount of
information for years or even decades
Modal Model of Memory
Modal Model of Memory
• Control processes: active processes that
can be controlled by the person
– Rehearsal
– Strategies used to make a stimulus more
– Strategies of attention that help you focus on
specific stimuli
Modal Model of Memory: Sensory Memory
• Sensory Memory: The retention, for brief
periods of time, of the effects of sensory
– Information decays very quickly
• Persistence of vision: retention of the
perception of light
– Sparkler’s trail of light
– Frames in film
Modal Model of Memory: Sensory Memory
• Holds large amount of information for a
short period of time
– Collects information
– Holds information for initial processing
– Fills in the blank
Modal Model of Memory: Sensory Memory
• Measuring the capacity and duration of
sensory memory (Sperling, 1960)
– Array of letters flashed quickly on a screen
– Participants asked to report as many as
• Whole report method: participants asked
to report as many as could be seen
– Average of 4.5 out of 12 letters (37.5%)
Modal Model of Memory: Sensory Memory
• Partial report method: participants heard
tone that told them which row of letters to
– Average of 3.3 out of 4 letters (82%)
– Participants could report any of the rows
• Delayed partial report method:
presentation of tone delayed for a fraction
of a second after the letters were
– Performance decreases rapidly
Modal Model of Memory: Sensory Memory
Modal Model of Memory: Sensory Memory
• Iconic memory: Brief sensory memory of
the things that we see
– Responsible for persistence of vision
• Echoic memory: Brief sensory memory of
the things that we hear
– Responsible for persistence of sound
Modal Model of Memory: Short-Term Memory
• Stores small amounts of information for a
brief duration
• Includes both new information received
from the sensory stores and information
recalled from long-term memory
Modal Model of Memory: Short-Term Memory
• Measuring the duration of short-term
– Read three letters, then a number
– Begin counting backwards by threes
– After a set time, recall three letters
Modal Model of Memory: Short-Term Memory
• After three seconds of counting,
participants performed at 80%
• After 18 seconds of counting, participants
performed at 10%
• This reduction in performance is explained
by the existence of decay, which is the
vanishing of a memory trace due to the
passage of time and exposure to competing
Modal Model of Memory: Short-Term Memory
Modal Model of Memory: Short-Term Memory
• Short-term memory, when rehearsal is
prevented, is about 15-20 seconds
Modal Model of Memory: Short-Term Memory
• Proactive interference: occurs when information
learned previously interferes with learning new
– Example: Your native language may make it more difficult to learn
and remember a new foreign language
• Retroactive interference: occurs when new learning
interferes with remembering old learning
– Example: After you get a new telephone number and use it for a
while, you may have difficulty remembering your old phone
Modal Model of Memory: Short-Term Memory
• Capacity of short-term memory
– Digit span: how many digits a person can
• Typical result: 5-8 items
• But what is an item?
• Change detection
Modal Model of Memory: Short-Term Memory
• Chunking: small units can be combined into
larger meaningful units
– Chunk is a collection of elements strongly
associated with one another but weakly
associated with elements in other chunks
Modal Model of Memory: Short-Term Memory
• Ericsson et al. (1980)
– Trained a college student with average memory
ability to use chunking
• S.F. had an initial digit span of 7
– After 230 one-hour training sessions, S.F. could
remember up to 79 digits
• Chunking them into meaningful units
Modal Model of Memory: Short-Term Memory
• Alvarez and Cavanaugh (2004)
– Used colored squares as well as complex
– Used the change detection procedure
Modal Model of Memory: Short-Term Memory
Working Memory
• Similar concept to short-term memory
• Baddeley and Hitch (1974)
• Working memory: limited capacity system for
temporary storage and manipulation of
information for complex tasks such as
comprehension, learning, and reasoning
Working Memory
• Working memory differs from STM
– STM holds information for a brief period of time
– WM is concerned with the processing and
manipulation of information that occurs during
complex cognition
Working Memory
Phonological Loop
• Phonological similarity effect
– Letters or words that sound similar are confused
• Word-length effect
– Memory for lists of words is better for short
words than for long words
– Takes longer to rehearse long words and to
produce them during recall
Phonological Loop
• Articulatory suppression
– Prevents one from rehearsing items to be
• Reduces memory span
• Eliminates word-length effect
• Reduces phonological similarity effect for
reading words
Visuospatial Sketch Pad
• Visual imagery: The
creation of visual
images in the mind in
the absence of a
physical visual stimulus
– Shepard and Metzler (1971)
– Mental rotation task
– Tasks that called for greater
rotations took longer
Working Memory
• WM is set up to process different types of
information simultaneously
• WM has trouble when similar types of
information are presented at the same time
Working Memory
The Central Executive
• Attention controller
– Focus, divide, switch attention
• Controls suppression of irrelevant information
• Perseveration: repeatedly performing the
same action or thought even if it is not
achieving the desired goal
WM and the Brain: Individual Differences
• Vogel et al. (2005)
• Determined participants’ WM
– High-capacity WM group
– Low-capacity WM group
• Shown either simple or complex stimuli
• Measured ERP responses
WM and the Brain: Individual Differences
• Vogel et al. (2005)
• Results
– High-capacity participants were more efficient at
ignoring the distractors
Episodic Buffer
• Backup store that communicates with LTM
and WM components
• Hold information longer and has greater
capacity than phonological loop or
visuospatial sketch pad
Episodic Buffer
Working Memory and the Brain
• Prefrontal cortex responsible for processing
incoming visual and auditory information
– Monkeys without a prefrontal cortex have
difficulty holding information in working memory
Working Memory and the Brain
• Funahashi et al. (1989)
– Single cell recordings from monkey’s prefrontal
cortex during a delay-response task
Working Memory and the Brain
Working Memory and the Brain
• Neurons responded when stimulus was
flashed in a particular location and during
• Information remains available via these
neurons for as long as they continue firing