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

Short- and long-term stores

The distinction between a short-term and a long-term store is like the one proposed by William James (1890) between primary memory and secondary memory. Primary memory relates to information that remains in consciousness after it has been perceived and forms part of the psychological present. Secondary memory contains information about events that have left consciousness, and are therefore part of the psychological past.

Trying to remember a telephone number for a few seconds is an everyday example of the use of the short-term store. It shows two key characteristics usually attributed to this store:

• Very limited capacity (only about seven digits can be remembered).

• Fragility of storage, as any distraction usually causes forgetting.

The capacity of short-term memory has been assessed by span measures and by the recency effect in free recall. Digit span is a span measure, in which participants repeat back a set of random digits in the correct order when they have heard them all. The span of immediate memory is usually "seven plus or minus two" whether the units are numbers, letters, or words (Miller, 1956). Miller claimed that about seven chunks (integrated pieces or units of information) could be held in short-term memory. For example, "IBM" is one chunk for those familiar with the company name International Business Machines, but three chunks for everyone else. However, the span in chunks is less with larger chunks (e.g., eight-word phrases) than with smaller chunks (e.g., one-syllable words; Simon, 1974).

The recency effect in free recall (recalling the items in any order) refers to the finding that the last few items in a list are usually much better remembered in immediate recall than are the items from the middle of the list. Counting backwards for only 10 seconds between the end of list presentation and the start of recall



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