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Long and Short term Memory Research Paper

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Updated: Feb 14th, 2019

According to psychology, memory is the ability of a human being to store, retain, and recall information and experience that characterize life. Although Lewandowsky, et,al,(2004) notes “ several intermediate states are less well understood, short-term and long-term memories are accompanied by different biological states and mechanisms of retention and therefore there are two distinct forms of memory”. Human beings have two types of memory to hold information: the long term and short memory.

Long-term memory (LTM) stores information for a longer time than short memory: It is different from the STM in structure and function. “Biologically, short-term memory is a temporary potentiation of neural connections that can become long-term memory through the process of rehearsal and meaningful association” Parmentier, et al (2005). There is no researcher who is sure of the process but they say that it results in the transformation of the configuration of the neurons but the time that it takes is also debatable.

The short term memory is also referred to as active or primary memory as it holds minute quantity of data at a particular time and it only remains obtainable for a short duration. The duration is estimated in seconds and research has it that the short term memory keeps information for 7 seconds plus two or minus two depending on an individual because its length is about seven bits.

The memory works like a computers RAM memory; it provides a operating space then transfers the details to the other memory or discards it if its not necessary and the information is also vulnerable to interruption and interference. “Biologically short term memory involves the firing of neurons which depletes the Readily Releasable Pool (RRP) of neurotransmitter vesicles at presynaptic terminals.

The pattern of depleted presynaptic terminals represents the long term memory trace and the depletion itself is the short term memory” (Nairne, 2002).

The short term memory

The short term memory has three major operations: the iconic memory, the acoustic memory and the working memory. The iconic memory memorizes the visual images, the acoustic grasps the sounds and it more effective that the iconic.

Information can be easily recalled by this memory depending on the length, phonological effect, semantic categories and words familiarity. Short-term memory relies generally on an acoustic code than the visual code for accumulation of information because People always find it difficult to remember a series of words that are acoustically similar for instance, dog, hog, and log).

Davelaar, et, al, (2005) notes “short-term memory is supported by transient patterns of neuronal communication, dependent on regions of the frontal lobe (especially dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) and the parietal lobe”. The working memory stores the information until it is used and not until it’s moved to the long term .For example, when memorizing a telephone number it keeps the digits until one dials the numbers. It therefore keeps information for immediate use and not for latter use.

The procedure of conveying information from STM to LTM entails the encoding and consolidation of information: it is not a task of time; the more the data resides in STM it increases the chances of it being transferred into the long term memory but multifaceted data is sorted out in the STM ahead of it being programmed into LTM.

The Long-Term Memory

Information is stocked up on the origin of sense and significance and it also has a huge capacity. Information from the short term memory is transferred to it through rehearsal and also information learnt over a period of time is transferred to the long term memory and can only be removed by interfering with it or through decay .

The information we store in it has to do with our understanding and views concerning issues around us. Significant information gained is also stored there and is retrieved according to need; for example learning new technology and applying the knowledge every time one needs it. Information is stored in mental models known a “schemas” the schemas are arranged in a manner that they are related through networks depending on the information that each contains.

One schema therefore activates the other which also does so to the next hence creating a link and therefore enabling people to remember the required information when similar data is presented. The schemas guide our minds to the relevant information while ignoring the irrelevant .Therefore for one to easily remember something it’s advisable to use questions or graphical presentations to activate the schemas.

The brain does not put everything together in a single compartment like it is in computer’s hard disk drive but instead there are different parts for storage. The long term memory is divided into two main regions: declarative memory and implicit memory also known as procedural memory. “Declarative memory comprises of all memories that are consciously available such as: the hippocampus, entorhinal cortex, and perirhinal cortex, but consolidated and stored elsewhere in the cortex” Scruggs, & Mastropieri, (1997).

The region also has further subdivisions: the episodic memory (precise events) and the Semantic memory which holds general information about outside issues. The other main region is the procedural memory: it involves knowledge involving use of objects and body movements and it is stored by the cerebellum and the striatum.

There is another type of memory that is found in both of the above regions that is, the emotional memory: these memories are knowingly accessible, but they draw significant, unconscious physiological response. Luck,& Vogel(1997) note “they also have a unique physiological pathway that involves strong connections from the amygdala into the prefrontal cortex, but much weaker connections running back from the prefrontal cortex to the amgydala.”

There are also other types of memories that researchers claim that they exist but have not proven it, such as: Prospective memory and retrospective memory. “LTM also has a strong influence on perception through top-down processing – our prior knowledge affects how we perceive sensory information. Our expectations regarding a particular sensory experience influence how we interpret it and it is the source of bias” (Brown, ET, al, 2007).

Factors affecting memory efficiency

To remember information one has to retrieve it from an unconscious level and take it to the conscious at will; most people always assume they have a physical problem with their memory when they do not remember things but actually it is a part of the memory system that is usually inefficient.

A well functioning memory system must register, retain and retrieve information efficiently and thus so as to remember things the three processes must take place. Failure to register or encode information can be due to distractions such as noise, stress, multi tasking or poor concentration. Retrieving issues usually occur if there is a problem in matching retrieval cues and the encoding of the information you searched.

There are two categories of information retrieval: recall (information is sourced from the memory) and recognition. When information has been presented and knowledge showing that it has been encoded appears, then that is recognition. Recognition is less complex because the information is provided as a cue while in recall retrieval cues have to be provided to ensure quick access of information.

Other issues causing memory problems are: old age, emotional factors, traumatic brain injury leading to, anterograde, amnesia and partial retrograde amnesia; or a neurodegenerative diseases such as; , , , , , and and currently they are not curable.

Emotional factors also affect long-term memory but there have been arguments on whether the information gets lost or it only becomes difficult to access and as mentioned earlier: Information can sometimes be difficult to recall but can be recognized, or may be recalled only with prompting.

As people age the efficiency of their memory deteriorates leading an experience known as memory loss: this can be minimized at an early age by adjusting our lifestyles. People can also enhance their short term memory so that they remember more even information that was acquired two minutes ago. All of the above can be achieve by use of some methods and techniques recommended by psychologists and biologists.

First, one has to identify the factors that largely affect memory efficiency, some of which are: “stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise and lack of proper nutrients essential for proper brain functioning” Davelaar, ET, al, (2005). It is essential to avoid stress or deal with it especially if ones’ lives or works within a stressful environment.

Regular people find themselves mostly around these two surroundings and therefore if they are stress inducers they can have a big effect on ones psychological health. People therefore need to get rid of that stress by use of: “De-stressing techniques such as; body massages, long baths, hanging out with friends. Consumption of vitamins such as B-complex, zinc and foliate will also be very helpful in such situations” Cowan (2001).

Another factor affecting memory efficiency is sleep; one of the core functions of sleep is to process information gained in the long term memory. Sleep also improves memory by ensuring proper functioning of the brain and eight hours of sleep are recommended for this. Sometimes people may not sleep due to stress, warm milk or chamomile tea can help in such situations. Another method of enhancing the brain’s performance is by exercise because it increases oxygen circulation in the brain.

The current working surroundings often are characterized by doing several jobs simultaneously hence the brain is forced to focus on many things at once.

The best way to handle such work is to remember it in the short term memory for efficiency and the only way of achieving this is by being alert. One of the mostly recommended strategies in enabling the short term memory to perform is use of mnemonics especially if a large amount of information is involved. It is vital to note that the memory makes use of mnemonics to activate definite physiological responses which are mostly related to senses.

These senses are: images, sounds, colors, tastes, smells, touch, language and emotions. Miller, (1956) notes “associating a pleasant, frightening or funny image, color or sound to certain information also helps people to recall better” After the mnemonics are well understood, steps to improve the short term memory starts and the first step should be memorizing new information, then teaching that information to others follows, this enables one to know what information has been stored and that which has not yet.

The next step is to re-organize the information so as to strengthen the short term memory; “ it involves writing down information, reading out loud, listening, and Writing down information; seeing also helps to engage more than one sense at the same time” Oberauer and Kliegl (2006). In addition, use of graphical information as said earlier increases the brain’s speed to process information.

Another strategy is use of chunking: “it has been proven to be a significant aid for enhancing the STM transfer to LTM because the STM’s capacity is limited to about seven items, regardless of the complexity of those items” Jonides, et, al, (2008).Chunking permits the brain to routinely assemble certain items simultaneously, consequently enhancing the ability to remember and learn better.

It usually involves organizing information in groups before encoding it in the memory. For example, when trying to memorize a phone number it is advisable to divide the seven digit number into twos or threes and may be depending on their meaning: Such numbers have the area codes, then six other digits which can be divided into threes hence making it easier to remember the separated digits instead of 10 of them.

Regular use of information in the long term memory also increases the efficiency of memory: Nairne, (2002) notes “In one testing session, an American cross-country runner was able to recall a string of 79 digits after hearing them only once by chunking them into different running times for instance, the first four numbers were 1518, a three-mile time.”

There are many other ways of improving memory efficiency this include; taking medication and some drugs that should be recommended by a physician for instance, nicotine has been previously recommended but it has to be legally prescribed. Critical thinking can also improve the memory’s efficiency while also accompanied by making rational decisions.

Another activity that would be suitable is writing; people can make a habit of writing down information directly from their minds; small, simple journals would be appropriate. People facing traumatic experiences that are affecting their memory should seek psychiatric help to assist them deal with the problem.

The short term memory can only keep information for about seven seconds but depending on the individual it can be plus or minus two. The information then decays after that, but it can be kept longer by rehearsing or saying aloud. Researchers have not yet discovered the real reason as to why the information decays and yet the memory can take new information a second after the other has been deleted.

The long term memory is said to keep information permanently but it also depends on the importance of the information and its utilization. Important information and frequently used information is easily recalled while that which is not really important can get lost over a period of time. The long term memory can however keep information for the entire life time of a person’s existence with the help of a protein known as kinase.

In conclusion the human memory is divided into two as said earlier; the two memories have their specific functions and they are interdependent since information has to pass through the short term memory before it goes to the long term and it is the duty of the latter to store it.

Memory efficiency varies in human beings depending with everyone’s daily experiences. However everyone should ensure that their brain is functioning properly because it is the core organ determining memory efficiency. People should also avoid stress, feed on a balanced diet and exercise regularly to keep the brain healthy and active.

Reference List

Brown, G. D. A., Neath, I., & Chater, N. (2007). A ratio model of scale-invariant memory and identification. Psychological Review, 114, 539-576

Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 97-185.

Davelaar, E. J., Goshen-Gottstein, Y., A., A., Haarmann, H. J., & Usher, M. (2005): The demise of short-term memory revisited: empirical and computational investigation of recency effects. Psychological Review, 112, pp. 3–42.

Jonides, J., Lewis, R. L., Nee, D. E., Lustig, C. A., Berman, M. G., & Moore, K. S. (2008). The mind and brain of short-term memory. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 193-224.

Lewandowsky, S., Duncan, M., & Brown, G. D. A. (2004). Time does not cause forgetting in short-term serial recall. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 11, 771-790.

Luck, S. J., & Vogel, E. K. (1997). The capacity of visual working memory for features and conjunctions. Nature, 390, 279-281.

Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.

Nairne, J. S. (2002). Remembering over the short-term: The case against the standard model. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 53-81.

Oberauer, K., & Kliegl, R. (2006). A formal model of capacity limits in working memory. Journal of Memory and Language, 55, 601-626.

Parmentier, F. B. R., Elford, G., & Maybery, M. (2005). Transitional information in spatial serial memory: path characteristics affect recall performance. Journal of

Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 31, 412-427.

Scruggs, T. E., & Mastropieri, M. A., “Mnemonic instruction for students with learning disabilities: What it is and what it does,” Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 1990, vol. 13, 271-280.

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