The multi-store model of memory.

Sensory stores

Our senses are constantly bombarded with information, most of which does not receive any attention. If you are sitting in a chair as you read this, then tactile information from that part of your body in contact with the chair is probably available. However, you have probably been unaware of that tactile information until now. Information in every sense modality persists briefly after the end of stimulation, aiding the task of extracting its key aspects for further analysis.

Iconic .store

The classic work on the visual or iconic store was carried out by Sperling (1960). When he presented a visual array containing three rows of four letters each for 50 milliseconds, his participants could usually report only four or five letters. However, they claimed to have seen many more letters. Sperling assumed that this happened because visual information had faded before most of it could be reported. He tested this by asking his participants to recall only part of the information presented. Sperling's findings supported his assumption, and indicated that information in iconic storage decays within about 0.5 seconds.

How useful is iconic storage? Haber (1983) claimed it is irrelevant to normal perception, except when trying to read in a lightning storm! He argued that "frozen iconic storage of information" may be useful in the laboratory when single stimuli are presented very briefly. In the real world, the icon formed from one visual fixation would be rapidly masked by the next fixation. Haber was mistaken. He assumed the icon is created at the offset of a visual stimulus, but it is actually created at its onset (Coltheart, 1983). Thus, even with a continuously changing visual world, iconic information can still be used. The mechanisms responsible for visual perception always operate on the icon rather than directly on the visual environment.

Echoic store

The echoic store is a transient auditory store holding relatively unprocessed input. For example, suppose someone reading a newspaper is asked a question. The person addressed will sometimes ask, "What did you say?", but then realise that he or she does know what has been said. This "playback" facility depends on the echoic store.

Treisman (1964) asked people to shadow (repeat back aloud) the message presented to one ear while ignoring a second identical message presented to the other ear. When the second or non-shadowed message preceded the shadowed message, the two messages were only recognised as being the same when they were within 2 seconds of each other. This suggests the temporal duration of unattended auditory information in echoic storage is about 2 seconds.

Free recall as a function of serial position and duration of the interpolated task. Adapted from Glanzer and Cunitz (1966).

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