The Structure Of Memory

Spatial metaphor

People often liken the mind to a physical space, with memories and ideas contained within that space (e.g., we speak of searching for lost memories). There is general adherence to the spatial metaphor (Roediger, 1980), according to which:

• Memories are stored in specific locations within the mind.

• Retrieval of memories involves a search through the mind.

The Greek philosopher Plato compared the mind to an aviary, with the individual memories represented by birds. Technological advances have led to changes in the precise form of analogy used (Roediger, 1980). For many years now, the workings of human memory have been compared to computer functioning (e.g., Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968).

The spatial metaphor implies that the storage system is rather inflexible. If everything we know is stored within a three-dimensional space, then some kinds of information must be stored closer together than others. Perhaps the organisation of information in human memory is like a library. However, a library's cataloguing system would break down if a novel category of books were requested (e.g., books with red covers). In contrast, retrieval from memory is very flexible. Use of the spatial metaphor leads to an overemphasis on the ways in which information is represented in the memory system, and to an underemphasis on the processes operating on those memorial representations.

According to advocates of connectionist or neural networks (see Chapter 1), information about an individual or event is stored in the form of numerous connections among units and is not stored in a single place. According to Haberlandt (1999, p. 167), "In neural network models, there are no specific locations with unique addresses for memory records. Rather, memories are captured by patterns of activation spread over many neuron-like units and links between them."

Memory stores

Several memory theorists (e.g., Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968) have described the basic architecture of the memory system, and it is possible to discuss the multi-store approach on the basis of their common features. Three types of memory store were proposed:

• Sensory stores, each of which holds information very briefly and is modality-specific (limited to one sensory modality).

• A short-term store of very limited capacity.

• A long-term store of essentially unlimited capacity which can hold information over extremely long periods of time.

The multi-store model is shown in Figure 6.1. Environmental information is initially received by the sensory stores. These stores are modality-specific (e.g., vision; hearing). Information is held very briefly in the sensory stores, with some being attended to and processed further by the short-term store. Some of the information processed in the short-term store is transferred to the long-term store. Long-term storage of information often depends on rehearsal, with a direct relationship between the amount of rehearsal in the short-term store and the strength of the stored memory trace.

There is much overlap between the areas of attention and memory. Broadbent's (1958) theory of attention (see Chapter 5) was the main precursor of the multi-store approach to memory, and there is a clear resemblance between the notion of a sensory store and his "buffer" store.

Within the multi-store approach, the memory stores form the basic structure, and processes such as attention and rehearsal control the flow of information between them. However, the main emphasis within this approach to memory was on structure.

Attention .. Rehearsal

Sensory ^^^^^^^ Short-term ^^^^^^^ Long-term stores s tore store r j r

Decay Displacement Interference

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