Memory is the generative, interactive, ongoing mental process of retaining and recalling knowledge or experiences. A student's ability to use and manipulate his/her memory greatly influences the learning process.
There are three components of memory: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Sensory memory (SM) holds information for about 20-30 seconds, after which time it is lost unless it is stored in short-term memory; icons and echoes are common forms of short-term sensory storage. Short-term memory (STM) holds information temporarily. Long-term memory (LTM) involves permanent storage of information.
"The memory system is located in the brain and the brain stem, at the top of the spinal cord. ... It is well known that different portions of the brain perform different memory functions, and it turns out that a part of the brain stem is involved in registering information into long-term memory. The temporal lobes ... are also involved in registering memory. Additionally, different types of memories are located in specific parts of the brain. ... Because the memory system is made of brain tissue, your memory performance is of course directly affected by the state of your brain. Poor health, fatigue, malnourishment, and substance abuse can all lead to lousy memory performance" (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993, p. 6-7).
"When memory fails us, it does so in one of three ways. It can fail to register something initially in memory; it can fail to retain over time that which was successfully registered; or it can fail to remember something, despite successful registration and retention" (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993, p. 7). The former is often referred to as "pseudo-forgetting" because the information was never really known in the first place. Another form of pseudo-forgetting is called mental blur forgetting; it comes from incomplete learning such that a clear neural trace is never fully stored in the brain.
"The single most important aspect of the memory system for improving memory performance is the process of attention. The likelihood that information in working memory will be absorbed or lead certain traces to emerge from long-term memory depends on how intensely we pay attention to the information in working memory" (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993, p. 9). "A good memory requires an ability to set a high level of attention for all memory tasks and to control the distribution of attention" (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993, p. 11). For more information on attention and memory, see the Attention and Listening page.
"The accuracy and efficiency of your memory system - for both working memory and long-term memory - depends critically on how well your manipulations meet the attentional needs of particular memory tasks that your studying requires. Different tasks have different attentional needs because each task challenges you in different ways" (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993, p. 11).
"There are three kinds of characteristics possessed by memory tasks that influence your attention to them and memory performance" (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993, p. 11-14).
Human Memory System
According to Herrman, Raybeck and Gutman (1993, p. 8), the human memory system is composed of four functional components: senses, working memory, long-term memory, and central processor. Information is picked up through the senses and is transmitted between working memory and the senses. "The central processor controls the amount of attention given to the contents of working memory" (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993, p. 8). Information may move between the central processor and working memory.
Both new perceptions and long-term memories that have been remembered can be stored in working memory. Unless it is attended to, information in working memory fades in about one minute. The process of absorption moves information from working to long-term memory. The process of emergence involves remembering information in long-term memory and moving it into working memory.
Registration is the process by which information is stored in long-term memory. Remembering occurs when stored information has been sufficiently stimulated by new information related to it; the memory then emerges into working memory. Long-term memory strategies rely on three critical skills: rewording (putting the information in one's own words), organizing, and reducing the amount of material to be remembered.
Information Processing System
The model of the information processing system illustrates the relationships among sensory, short-term, and long-term memory. The four processes by which information is moved from one memory type to another are also considered in the model; the processes are attention, rehearsal, encoding, and retrieval.
The ability to pay attention is vital to memory because it is the process by which information is moved from sensory memory to short-term memory. For more information about attending, see the Attention and Listening page.
Rehearsal involves working or doing something with new information. One must maintain attention through rehearsal in order for information to be stored in short-term memory. The length of time information is held in short-term memory is proportional to the amount that can be stored and the quality of the memory.
Encoding is the process of linking new information to existing knowledge in order to make it more meaningful. Information is thus transferred from short-term to long-term memory. For more information about this process, see the Encoding and Retrieval page.
Retrieval is the process of moving information from long-term to short-term memory. For more information about this process, see the Encoding and Retrieval stack.
Causes of Forgetting
Forgetting is different from memory failure in that forgetting involves the inability to remember something registered in long-term memory while memory failure usually involves the inability to register information in long-term memory in the first place.
The processes responsible for forgetting may be grouped into two categories based on their effects (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993, p. 106-112).
Rates of Memory Loss
In a study first published in the late nineteenth century, Hermann Ebbinghaus (1913) reported the rates of forgetting meaningless syllables. The statistics nicely illustrate the need for strategies to improve short-term and long-term retention of information.
The last time interval has repercussions for comprehensive exam or final exam preparation. Without constant reviews, most information will be lost from memory.
In another study, Spitzer (1939) reported the rates of forgetting text book material. Again, the statistics illustrate the need for strategies to improve short-term and long-term retention of information.
After one week, the amount of material remembered drops off considerably. The last time interval has repercussions for comprehensive exam or final exam preparation. Without constant reviews, most information will be lost from memory.
Memory is multifaceted and task-contingent. A student may have a good memory for certain tasks, like remembering numbers, but a poor memory for other tasks, such as remembering names. Furthermore, many students are unaware of their specific memory abilities. Therefore, it is essential that students evaluate their memory abilities so that an appropriate suite of memory strategies can be developed. Such assessments are best made by professionals, but the two procedures described below may help to make a partial evaluation of memory abilities (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993, p. 23-29).
The purposes of the memory evaluation tools are two-fold. First, the tools increase awareness of memory performance and give students a clearer picture of how their memory performs in everyday life. Second, the tools provide a means by which relevant and realistic goals for memory improvement may be established.
The two memory evaluation procedures are memory questionnaires and memory diaries (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993).
Day and Date _____________________________
Descriptions of Memory Failures
Setting goals for improving memory should be done only after memory performance has been evaluated (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993, p. 29-30). Memory performance tools, such as those described in the Memory Evaluation section of this stack, provide students with information for developing a plan to address general and specific memory tasks.
First, students must consider which general memory tasks - knowledge, events, intentions, and/or actions - are most important to their memory goals. The tasks are relatively ranked from most to least important. The memory diary is useful in this stage of goal setting.
Next, students should consider task-specific goals, corresponding to the tasks on the memory questionnaire. Students identify which specific tasks are most important to their memory goals.
Finally, students select a suite of memory strategies designed to address their memory performance goals. Information on a variety of memory strategies is found in the Specific Memory Strategies section of this page.
Memory strategies have three primary purposes:
Because memory skills cross-cut most academic tasks, proficiency in this area can have a profound, positive impact on academic performance. One of the most obvious areas in which this is the case is taking exams. However, performance on other, less obvious tasks may be improved with memory strategies: note taking, reading comprehension, and problem solving.
Memory strategies can improve one's performance in interpersonal, group, and organizational communication situations. Others' perceptions of an individual are often influenced by his/her performance in memory tasks like remembering names or appointments.