Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

This essay may contain factual inaccuracies or out of date material. Please refer to an authoritative source if you require up-to-date information on any health or medical issue.

Theories of Memory Quality Differences

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2039 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

Reference this

This essay will explore why and how the quality of one’s memory can vary throughout human beings. Some people have extraordinary memories whereas some people find it impossible to remember what happened ten seconds beforehand. Memory is the information we take in from our environment which is encoded from sensory stimuli e.g. visual, acoustic and semantic and stored as episodic memory which is the individualistic unique memory one will have of a specific event. This has been studied by cognitive psychologists for a very long time and they have created cognitive models to explain memory processing which takes place in our brain. “memory is the means by which we draw on our past experiences in order to use this information in the present” (Sternberg, 1999).

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

One of these models is the multi-store model (also named the “three stage” memory model) which was proposed by Richard Atkinson & Richard Schiffrin (1968). They suggested that memory has three distinct stores which consists of: Sensory Memory, Short Term Memory and Long-Term Memory. The model depicts the flow of information through the memory system. We obtain our memory information through environmental input and this is input we get through our senses. The sensory register (iconic and echoic) then has a chance to be encoded and be transferred into short term memory, this is then further encoded into long term memory or can be kept in the short-term memory by rehearsal. Both STM and LTM are unitary stores. If information is not important then it decays or disappears. Information in the sensory register stays for ¼ to ½ seconds and can hold very large amounts of sensory information. Information in the STM stays for 0-18 seconds and can hold 7+/- 2 items (Miller, 1956). Information in the LTM stays for an unlimited amount of time and can hold and unlimited amount of information. Atkinson (1970) carried out a test for Primary-Recency Effect which is the idea that details presented at the beginning (primacy) and end (recency) of learning are retained more accurately than the information in the middle. During this test subjects were given lists to remember. Results showed that the participants recalled first and last items best. First items were rehearsed into LTM and last items were recalled from STM. This gives evidence to multiple stores. Scientist have criticised the model for being unidirectional and oversimplified as it implies that STM and LTM work in a solitary, uniform manner which scientists now know is false, the stores are a lot more complex. Scientists have also argued that rehearsal is also not always imperative for data to be passed on to LTM. We can recall information we did not rehearse e.g. ride a bike but not information we have previously rehearsed e.g. notes read for an exam. Some of the compelling evidence comes from the serial position effect study by Murdock (1962) where his results showed that the likelihood of recalling any word depended on the position in the list (its serial position).

Solomon Shereshevsky, a mnemonist with five-fold synaesthesia (with one of the symptoms being a highly eidetic (visual) memory) became part of Alexander Luria’s (1968) study on memory. He was able to memorise complicated mathematical formulas, poems in foreign languages, even speeches word for word at his work meeting after being reprimanded for not taking notes. Another famous case which caused more questions within the field of memory was influenced by Clive wearing-, a musicologist who suffers from chronic anterograde and partial retrograde amnesia due to viral damage of his hippocampus. He can no longer create long-term memories and only has a seven seconds memory span. Both these studies have prompted the numerous studies for the general memory field of studies. So how and why do we forget?

One theory used to explain this is the decay theory which explains how we can forget information from our STM. This happens when we do not encode information well or when we do not retrieve it from our LTM for a long time, the memory trace fades away and we become unable to retrieve it later. The path way to and from the memory (the neural connections) between the cues and the memory become weaker over a period of disuse so it becomes harder to stimulate the neurons. Studies show that this theory does not apply to episodic memory.

In accordance to this theory are the findings from the study of Herman Ebbinghaus (1885) where he researched memory and how we forget. He hypothesised that over time there would be a decline of memory retention on the words he tested himself on remembering and created the ‘Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve’. He conducted experiments on himself where he had to memorise numerous nonsense words e.g. VAD, ZOF, WID etc. and tested himself to see if he could retain this information after different time periods. The results were plotted on a graph which highlights how rapid memory loss can be within the first few days of learning. Memory retention is 100% at the time of learning but plummets to 40% the first few days. Eventually the rate of declination of memory retention slows and the rate of forgetting is much slower from then. He also studied overlearning which encompasses the idea that if one practices something more than what is generally needed to memorise it, the effect of overlearning takes place. The information is now stored more strongly, recall is easier, and the forgetting curve is a lot shallower. Ebbinghaus’ findings have come under criticism with researchers questioning the shape of the curve when it comes to distant events that happened years ago are still engraved in our memory (flash bulb memory), these memories should not be remembered if they gradually decay over time. It also lacks reliability as he was his only subject for the experiment.

A study that also supports the decay theory is the findings of Peterson and Peterson (1959). Participants were given sets of three letters to remember e.g. GYK, MTW etc. but were immediately asked to count backwards in 3’s or 4’s from a specified random number (until they saw a red light appear) out loud for different lengths of time in order to prevent rehearsal-3,6,9,15 or 18 seconds. This is known as the brown Peterson technique. The subjects were then asked to recall in the correct order. Results showed that participants recalled 80% of the trigrams after 3 seconds. After 6 seconds, this dived to 50% and participants forgot nearly all the information after 18 seconds with only 10% of the trigrams being recalled. This experiment highlighted that without rehearsal we are unable to store information in our STM. This experiment has come under criticism as it lacks mundane realism and ecological validity as research took place in an artificial setting and stimuli. It was also criticised for STM duration being the only focus for one category of stimuli such as shapes and pictures.

Another theory to explain how we forget things is the interference theory. We can forget information from our LTM which occurs in learning. The notion of this theory is that forgetting can be caused by two competing memories. This theory manifests when the two memories are very similar- the more similar the two sources of information, the more likely they are to cause interference. There are two types of interferences: Proactive interference transpires when old information interferes with new information staying. E.g. old password is impeding recall of new password. Retroactive interference transpires when new information interferes with old information e.g. new number interfering with recall of old number.

An experiment that supports the retroactive interference theory is the findings of Underwood and Postman (1960) study. Subjects were separated into two groups, group A were asked to learn a list of word pairs e.g. cat-tree, jelly-moss, apple-lake etc. they were then asked to learn a second list of word pair e.g. cat-glass, candle-whale, book-revolver etc. group B were asked to learn the first list of words only. Both groups were asked to recall the first list of word pairs.  Results showed that group B’s recall of the first list of words were more accurate than group A’s recall. This implied that the second list of words interfered with their memory recall.

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

An experiment that supports the proactive interference theory is the findings of Keppel and Underwood (1962) where they observed the effects of this on LTM. Participants were given meaningless three-letter consonant trigrams e.g. GVM at different intervals e.g. 3,6,9 second etc. to prevent rehearsal the participants had to count backwards in threes before recalling. Researchers found that the subjects usually remembered the trigrams that were presented first, regardless of the interval length. The results imply that proactive interference took place as memory for the earlier consonants, which had transferred to LTM, was interfering with the memory for new consonants, due to the similarity of the information presented.

Scientists have found a few issues with the interference theory, one being that it gives us little to no insight on the cognitive processes involved in forgetting. It also has low ecological validity as the research was carried out in a lab setting with a set of words (a rare situation). This theory also only accounts for a shortage of recall when both types of information is similar meaning there are numerous types of recall that is not considered in this theory.

In conclusion, the psychology of memory remains vast and our understanding of it is still incomplete with contesting opinions of scientists. Contrasting evidence of explanations on forgetting is result of differing theories on how we store information in the mind and how we may lose it. Forgetting is a natural phenomenon as a human being, it helps us to deal with trauma, it also helps us to learn new information. Regardless of all these theories and research, we still are unsure whether information disappears from our memory permanently or not. Cognitive psychology helps us understand memory within the mind as an information processor but with something as complex as the mind, multiple models of the “information processor” is necessary to grasp a better understanding. Overall, it is quite clear that the study of memory still has a long way to go for us to understand the full scope of this field.


  • Sternberg, R. J. (1999). Cognitive psychology (2nd ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
  • Atkinson, R. C. & Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). Human memory: A proposal system and its control processes. In K. W. Spence & J. T. Spences (Eds.), The psychology of learning and motivation:11. Oxford: Academic Press
  • Murdock, Bennet B. (1962). The serial position effect of free recall. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64(5),482-488.
  • Luria, A. R. (1968). The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book about a Vast Memory (trans. L. Solotaroff). Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press.
  • Ebbinghaus, H. (1885/1962). Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. New York: Dover.
  • Miller, G. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. The psychological review, 63, 81-97.
  • Peterson, L. R. & Peterson, M. J. (1959). Short-term retention of individual verbal items. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 58, 193-198.
  • Underwood, B. J. and Postman, L. (1960). Extra-experimental sources of interference in forgetting, Psychological Review, 67, 73-95.
  • Keppel, G. & Underwood, B. J. (1962). Proactive inhibition in short-term retention of single items. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour, 1, 153-161.


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: