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4 Tutorials that teach Short-term Memory
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Short-term Memory

Short-term Memory

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This lesson will explore short-term memory and explain what is meant by working memory.

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Tutorial

What's Covered

This lesson is going to look at short-term memory by covering:

  1. Short-Term Memory
  2. Capacity

1.Short-Term Memory

When forming memories, much of the information a person first takes in is discarded. However, if something catches a person’s attention or they choose to focus on a piece of sensory information, it will move into short-term memory.

Short-term memory is a system of memory that temporarily stores small amounts of information that we are aware of. The important aspect of short-term memory is what is called selective attention. Selective attention allows us to focus on specific details and information and bring them to our conscious awareness.

ExampleIf a teacher is in a noisy classroom, they might not be able to focus on every student at once. The teacher can use their selective attention to focus on one particular student that needs help, and not be overwhelmed by the sensory information around them.

Term to Know

  • Short-Term Memory
  • The system of memory that holds small amounts of information that we are consciously aware of for short periods of time.

Working memory is like our short-term memory in that it allows us to take information and be aware of it consciously for a short period of time, but it also allows  a person to manipulate and process it.  It helps a person to encode the information with meaning, which is later used to store the information in the long-term memory.

Term to Know

  • Working Memory
  • Memory which allows us to not only take in information like short-term memory but also examine, manipulate and process it.

2. Capacity

An important question you may be asking is what is actually meant by short-term memory?

Information can be retained in the short-term memory from anywhere from just a few seconds up to 20 to 30 seconds in length. This period of time can be extended and this information kept longer if it is repeated or rehearsed. When information is repeated, it is put right back into the short-term memory.

ExampleShort-term memory is very sensitive to interruptions. Say you are trying to remember a phone number. If someone comes up to you and begins talking to you about other numbers, you may lose the phone number from your short-term memory.

Short-term memory can hold approximately seven to nine different information bits.

ExampleIf you're trying to remember a person's phone number, then remembering seven numbers is doable. However, if you tack on that area code, you've got 10 pieces of information, which might be a lot more difficult.

We can remember more information if we were to chunk it together. Chunking means putting together the pieces of information into more meaningful groups so we can remember them more.

ExampleIf you had four numbers like 1, 9, 8, 4, you might forget those when trying to remember them individually. However, if you put them together into 1984 then you will be able to remember those numbers more easily.

Terms to Know

  • Information Bits
  • Individual pieces of information that a person can retain in their short-term memory (which holds between 7 and 9 bits at a time).
  • Chunk
  • Information put into a meaningful group, which allows a person to remember more.

Information can be stored within the short-term memory visually as images or aspects of images, but, more often, this information is stored through phonetic meaning. This is the sounds that the information makes.

ExampleA person is more apt to remember a name in the short term versus trying to remember exactly what a picture or place might look like.

Information in the short-term memory can be further processed and passed on to the long-term memory for longer storage or information in the short term can be forgotten. Most of the information in the short-term memory just gets dropped from memory. Only important things are remembered in the long-term memory.

It might be helpful to have an analogy to understand memory. Think of your memory as an office worker sorting paperwork. The papers are flying by the this person's desk. Most of these papers are ignored. They are just sensory information. They are tossed directly into the trash.

Certain papers have a big notice at the top, that tells your worker that they need to pay attention. The worker will review the document. This is your short-term memory. At this point, most of these papers are still irrelevant, and get discarded.

Those that are important, however, will be filed for later use by your worker.

Summary

When a person decides to focus on a piece of sensory information, it will move into short-term memory. This is the system of memory that temporarily stores small amounts of information. 

Short-term memory has limited capacity. Information can be held for up to 30 seconds, but can be extended if the information is repeated. It is also sensitive to interruptions. Only around seven to nine bits of information can be retained at a time, but this can be increased by chunking information.

Keep up the learning and have a great day!

Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Erick Taggart.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Short-Term Memory

    The system of memory that holds small amounts of information that we are consciously aware of for short periods of time.

  • Working Memory

    Memory which allows us to not only take in information like short-term memory but also examine, manipulate and process it.

  • Information Bits

    Individual pieces of information that a person can retain in their short-term memory (which holds between 7 and 9 bits at a time).

  • Chunk

    Information put into a meaningful group, which allows a person to remember more.