Memory is regarded as the most complex phenomenon in the natural world of living organisms. It has been scientifically established that all organisms have very complex mental processes which help them interact with their respective environments (Schacter, 2002). Most researchers have been more concerned with understanding the concept of memory in human beings.
The human brain is adapted and reorganized by the day to day experiences. Continued interactions with the physical world through the sensory experiences, perceptions, and actions play a central role in shaping and changing the state of the brain (Thompson & Madigan, 2007).
These experiences will later determine what an individual would be able to recall, perceive, comprehend, and become. The essay seeks to discuss memory in terms of the processes occurring in the brain as far as memory is concerned. It will then analyze one of the existing models of memory as well as discuss some ways of enhancing memory.
Researchers have made attempts to provide a comprehensive definition of the complex term of memory. Psychologists have defined memory in human beings as the ability to store, be able to retain for sometime, and recall the stored information, depending on individual’s experiences (Kandel & Squire, 2006).
Memory has also been investigated long time ago by the philosophy investigators. Towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century saw the rise in research into memory under cognitive psychology. Modern studies into memory are mainly conducted under cognitive neuroscience which is an inter-link between neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Most of these researchers are also interested in understanding the relationship between memory and the mind.
The information that is received from the environment can be classified into three main stages in storing and recalling the information. First, there is the registration otherwise known as encoding of information. It involves the reception, processing and the synthesis of the information received (Thompson & Madigan, 2007). The second stage involves the total retention of the encoded information. The last stage is the recollection or retrieval of stored information through bringing them back to conscience.
Information storage process has three major levels relative to the time that has elapsed after the perception of some phenomena (Schacter, 2002). The first category of memory is the sensory memory which includes all information received within about 200 or 500 milliseconds after the perception of a given item. It involves to ability to recall most if not all the details of an item after being exposed to. The display cannot last longer than 100 milliseconds. Sensory memory cannot allow pro-longed rehearsal.
The second process of recollection is the short-term memory whose recall duration is several seconds to about a minute without necessarily rehearsing. This memory has considerably small capacity that can hold limited information (Schacter, 2002). It can store up to about 5 or 9 items. Modern researchers estimate the capacity of the short-term memory at even lower levels of between 4 and 5 items. However, the capacity of the memory can always be enhanced through the chunking process.
It is a process of grouping information data into smaller groups with a pattern that is easier to follow. Most psychological researchers have established that acoustic coding is most convenient way of storing information compared to the visual coding. Research findings reveal that it is much difficult to recall vast amount of information with acoustic similarity. The ability to recall, however, depends greatly on individuals’ capabilities.
The third level of information storage is the long-term memory. In the first two cases, information available for recollection is available for a limited period of time implying that the information is not indefinitely available (Thompson & Madigan, 2007). On the contrary, long-term memory can retain numerous quantities of information for a considerably longer period of time. It can even be for a life time.
This is mostly due to its nearly infinite capacity. For instance, one may recall a ten digit number within some short period of time then forget implying that it had been stored in the short-term memory. However, we can recall the same number for a number of years through constant rehearsal; this implies that the information has been stored in the long-term memory. The most distinguishing characteristic between long-term and short-term memories is the system of encoding.
It has been found that whereas short-term memory encodes data acoustically, the long-term memory, on the other hand encodes information semantically. Researchers hold that it is more difficult to recall information with similar meanings, for instance, words with similar definitions like large, huge, big, and great.
In their quest to understand the complexity of the concept of memory, scientists have developed models of memory. These models provide representations that are always abstract with an aim of depicting how the memory operates (Thompson & Madigan, 2007). One of them is the working memory model which focuses on the short-term memory and the active components.
According Baddeley and Hitch, the proponents of this model, the working memory model has three stores: the central executive, the phonological loop, and the visuo-spatial sketchpad (Thompson & Madigan, 2007).
The central executive has been regarded as acting as attention. All information is channeled from this store to three other components: these are the phonological loop, the visuo-spatial sketchpad as well as the episodic buffer which was incorporated into this model in the year 2000 (Kandel & Squire, 2006). Auditory information is stored in the phonological loop through silent rehearsal of words or sounds in clear continuous loop.
On the other hand, visuo-spatial sketchpad is modeled to store spatial as well as visual information. This component is used when dealing with spatial undertakings like distance estimation or the visual tasks like counting floors of tall buildings or image imagination (Thompson & Madigan, 2007).
Furthermore, episodic buffer concentrates on integrating information from all the other components. This can best be illustrated by the ability to call the flow of a movie or a given story in a chronological order. This component process is mostly linked to the long-term memory as well as the semantic meaning of given information.
Some methods of enhancing the memory have been proposed. Psychologists have proposed some reliable techniques of improving memory (Schacter, 2002). These include the incorporation of memory tasks into the day to day practices which include; strive to reduce stress, use of mnemonics, and maintaining a healthy body. The principles used in mnemonics include; imagination, association and location.
The essay has elaborated the concept of memory, particularly as used in psychology. The working memory model has been discussed as an attempt by psychologists to explain how memory operates. Some of the methods that can be used to improve memory ability have been mentioned.
Kandel, E. R. & Squire L. R. (2006). The journals of gerontology and memory:
Psychological sciences and social sciences. Gerontological Society of America. 30 (12) 231-78
Schacter, D. L. (2002). The memory facts: how the mind forgets and remembers. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Thompson, R. F. & Madigan, S. A. (2007). Memory: Understanding consciousness. Princeton University Press.