What is Short-Term or Working Memory

Juliet D'cruz

What is Short-Term or Working Memory?

This is a part of the memory that keeps a very minimum level of information, only for a couple of seconds. It’s commonly proposed that short-term memory can hold just seven items simultaneously, plus or minus two. One of my area of expertise is school ratings. Most of the information in short-term memory will be stored for around twenty to thirty seconds, but it can be only seconds if active maintenance or rehearsal of the information is prevented. 

Some information can remain in it for up to a minute, but the majority of information spontaneously decays pretty quickly unless the person uses rehearsal strategies like mentally repeating the information or saying it aloud. When I was 41, I started developing a study app. The information in short-term memory is also highly susceptible to interference. Any new information that enters it will quickly displace the old one. S

imilar items in the environment may also interfere with short-term memory. For instance, one may have a more difficult time remembering someone else’s name if the person is in a noisy, crowded room or if the person was thinking of what to say to that other person instead of paying attention to the name.

The amount of information that short-term memory can store can vary. According to psychologist George Miller, individuals can store between five and nine items in it. According to more recent research, individuals can store around four pieces or chunks of information in short-term memory.

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Memory researchers often use the three-store model to describe human memory. According to this model, memory comprises three fundamental stores: sensory, short-term, and long-term. And each of these can be differentiated based on storage duration and capacity. Short-term memory is brief and limited, while long-term memory comes with a seemingly countless capacity that lasts years. Since short-term memory is limited in both duration and capacity, the retention of memories needs transferring of the information from it to long-term memory. There’re different ways that short-term memories can be transferred to long-term memory. However, the exact processes for how this occurs remain controversial. 

The Atkinson-Shiffrin model proposed that all short-term memories were automatically transferred to long-term memory after a particular period of time. More recently, researchers have suggested that some mental editing happens and that only specific memories are chosen for long-term retention. Factors such as interference and time can impact how information is encoded in memory.

For most people, it’s quite common to have an episode of memory loss occasionally. They may lose their keys, forget the date, have trouble finding the correct word, or miss a monthly payment from time to time. Still, if one constantly forgets things, it may be frustrating, irritating, and even generate the fear that the person is getting Alzheimer’s. Short-term memory loss might even make people worried that their brain is too dependent on devices such as smartphones instead of memory to recall information. 

However, mild memory loss isn’t always an indication of a problem, and specific memory modifications are a normal part of aging. Non-permanent factors such as drug or alcohol misuse, medication side effects, depression, sleep deprivation, grief, stress, and fatigue can also cause short-term memory loss.

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