Memory Basics: How We Process Information



Scientists generally agree that memory depends on three basic mental processes:




Put it into




Keep it in



Get it out of











Acquisition is the process of getting information into the memory system, or learning the material to be remembered. If the information is not acquired, it cannot be stored and recalled at a later time. Acquisition requires attention, and it is very sensitive to interference. 

For example, sensory information (what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch), which only lasts for 1-2 seconds, is coded into our memory system.  If we don’t pay attention to the information, we usually have a hard time remembering it. For example, you can be sitting in your car at a stoplight, and see 5 blue cars drive through the intersection, but later be unable to remember the colors of those cars because you weren’t paying attention to the color, or even trying to remember what colors they were.





Storage is the process of maintaining information over time – keeping it in your memory. For example, when you are able to recall a vacation that you took many years ago, you are relying on the storage capacity of your memory. Storage includes working memory and long-term memory, which we will discuss soon.





Retrieval is the process of finding information stored in your memory and bringing into consciousness. Retrieving information like your own address or phone number is usually so fast and effortless that it seems automatic. But when you are watching Jeopardy on TV and you are trying to answer a question that you know, but can’t quite recall, you become very aware of the search process.



Retrieval processes include recall and recognition. Recall means retrieving the information from memory without any help. For example, writing an essay question on an exam in school – “Describe the events leading up to World War II”. On the other hand, recognition is aided by clues, for example, when you write a multiple-choice exam, which provides you with several options to choose from.







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