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Features of Memory

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Features of Memory

When you try to remember a piece of information, several features in your memory process it, and the information must go through these processes to be retained. There are three main features of memory: duration, capacity, and coding.

For your exams, it is essential to know the detailed evaluations of selected studies on the different features and measurements of memory.

Features of Memory Memory processes StudySmarterMemory processes, Flaticon

Duration of memory studies

First, we will look at a study by Peterson and Peterson (1959), who examined the duration of short-term memory (STM), and then Bahrick et al. (1975), who examined the duration of long-term memory (LTM).

Peterson and Peterson’s (1959) study on memory

What were the aims, procedures, and results of Peterson and Peterson’s (1959) study of short-term memory (STM) duration?

Aims

The Peterson and Peterson (1959) study aimed to investigate the duration of short-term memory. The purpose of the study was to test the hypothesis that short-term memory is rapidly lost without repetition.

Procedures

A total of 24 psychology students from Indiana University, US, were invited to participate in this study. This study is an example of experimental research conducted in a laboratory setting. Researchers used trigrams (meaningless syllables with three-consonant syllables), such as YCG and NLM, as test material. No letters occurred in two consecutive trigrams. The trigrams were played back acoustically.Participants were presented with one trigram at a time and recalled after retention intervals of 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, or 18 seconds. Thus, a total of 8 trials were presented.After hearing a trigram, participants were asked to count backwards from a given random number in increments of three or four until a red light appeared. Then they recalled the trigram. This technique is known as the Brown-Peterson technique or interference task, and its purpose was to prevent rehearsal.

Findings

The results of Peterson and Peterson (1959) show that students can correctly recall more than 80% of the trigrams within the three-second interval, but accuracy remains below 3% after 18-second intervals. There is a negative relationship between recall accuracy for trigrams and the duration of the retention interval. In other words, the longer participants had to count backwards, the less accurate they could recall.In summary, short-term memory has a maximum duration of about 18 seconds when rehearsal is inhibited. This information is believed to be lost from short-term memory due to trace decay.

Evaluation of Peterson and Peterson (1959)

Let us now examine some of the strengths and weaknesses of Peterson and Peterson’s (1959) study.

Internal validity and reliability

The experimental approach Peterson and Peterson (1959) employed controlled procedures and produced reproducible results. Peterson and Peterson (1959) used identical retention intervals for each participant. Laboratory conditions also excluded extraneous variables such as noise and lighting that could have affected memory. Peterson and Peterson (1959) can be considered a good-control scientific study that used standardised procedures to ensure that all participants underwent the same tests. Therefore, the results of Peterson and Peterson (1959) have good internal validity and reliability.

Ecological validity

Peterson and Peterson’s study (1959) lacks ecological validity because the research method is unrealistic. The trigrams used in the study are completely artificial, and the research was conducted exclusively in a laboratory setting. The trigrams used in the study had no personal meaning to the participants and did not correspond to actual memory use in the real world. This means that the results of this study have limited applicability to real life due to the lack of ecological validity.

Sample bias

The sample of 24 psychology students represents a sampling bias for two reasons. First, the Hawthorne effect could occur because the psychology students have already learned the multi-store model of memory and may have exhibited demand characteristics by adjusting their behaviour to support the researcher. Second, the sample is exclusively from an American university. This is not the best representative sample to learn about human memory formation. Psychology students may have already been studying strategies to improve memory. The serious bias of the sample significantly affects the representativeness and generalisability of the results.

Bahrick et al. (1975) study on the duration of memory

This section discusses the objectives, procedures, and results of the Bahrick et al. (1975) study of long-term memory (LTM) duration.

Aims

Bahrick, Bahrick, and Wittinger (1975) aimed to study the duration of long-term memory. They invited 392 American high school graduates between the ages of 17 and 74 to participate in the study. Bahrick et al. (1975) used a natural experiential design. Testing materials included 50 real photographs from the participants’ high school yearbooks.

Procedures

In a photo recognition test, participants had to identify pictures of their classmates from 50 photographs in their high school yearbooks. A free recall test followed, in which participants had to select the name that matched the photos from a group of names.

Findings

In the photo recognition task, participants tested within 15 years of their high school graduation showed 90% accuracy in identifying the photos of their classmates. After 48 years, this accuracy dropped to about 70%. In free recall of classmates’ names, participants were 60% accurate after 15 years. After 48 years, however, recall accuracy dropped to 30%.In summary, Bahrick et al. (1975) concluded that certain information, such as names and faces, can be retained in memory for almost a lifetime. These results support the multi-store model of Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) and the notion that our LTM persists and is semantically encoded for nearly a lifetime (at least 47 years).

Evaluation of Bahrick et al. (1975) study on the duration of memory

In Bahrick et al. (1975), there are some things to consider:

High ecological validity

The natural experimental design of the Bahrick et al. (1975) study implies a high degree of ecological validity. The study used meaningful memories from real life, e.g., names and faces of people. Participants recalled real-life information by associating pictures of classmates with their names. Therefore, Bahrick et al. (1975) results reflect our memory for real-life events and can be applied to people’s everyday memory.

Internal validity

The natural experimental approach Bahrick et al. (1975) used cannot control procedures and reproducible results. Confounding variables are not controlled. Bahrick’s participants may have looked at their yearbooks and rehearsed their memories to a different extent than the other participants. Therefore, Bahrick et al. (1975) results have low internal validity.

Population validity

The sample of 392 American high school graduates has low population validity. The sample is drawn exclusively from American high school graduates and does not represent general human memory formation. Psychologists cannot generalise the results of Bahrick’s study to other populations and cultural contexts, such as students in Asia or Europe. The generalisability of Bahrick et al.’s (1975) findings is limited to populations with characteristics similar to those of the sample, which is comprised entirely of American high school graduates.

Features of Memory Yearbook of students in Bahrick et al. StudySmarterYearbook of students in Bahrick et al., Flaticon

The capacity of memory studies

Here we will consider the studies of Jacobs (1887) and Miller (1956) on memory capacity, which tend to focus on STM.

Jacobs (1887) study on STM capacity

In the following section, we review the research conducted by Jacobs (1887). We cover the aim, procedure, and results of the study, which focused on the capacity of STM.

Aims

Jacobs (1887) aimed to study the capacity of STM. The researchers used artificial word or digit lists, called the digit span test, as the testing materials. The digit span test includes all letters of the alphabet and numbers except “w” and “7” because they have more than one syllable.

Procedures

Participants had to read lists of words or digits. They had to recall them in the correct order immediately after the presentation (serial recall). Jacobs gradually increased the length of the lists from four items until the participant could recall the information correctly only 50% of the time.

Findings

The results suggest a difference between the capacity for numbers and letters. On average, people can remember more than seven digits by organising stimulus input into a series of ‘chunks’. This is also true for musical notes, letters, and words. Jacobs (1887) concluded that STM has a capacity of 5 to 9 (7 +/- 2) pieces of information and that we seem to develop better recall strategies as we age.

Evaluation of Jacobs (1887) study on capacity

The following section will address the evaluation points on Jacob’s (1887) study of STM capacity.

Lack of internal validity and ecological validity

Lack of internal validity and ecological validity.Early research in psychology, such as that of Jacobs (1887), may have inadequate control of extraneous variables. Early research may not have standardised procedures for controlling extraneous variables in experiments. For example, differences in noise and lighting could affect memory formation in different experiments. Thus, Jacobs’ (1887) results may not be internally valid because the research may have failed to control for confounding variables.It also lacks ecological validity because the results cannot be generalised to a real-world environment. Most people will not encounter this type of memory task.

Failure to account for individual differences

In assuming that STM has the magic number of capacity (7 +/- 2), individual differences may have been neglected. The capacity of STM is not the same for everyone. The results of Jacobs (1887) show that the digit span increases steadily with age. Eight-year-olds could memorise an average of 6.6 digits, whereas the mean for 19-year-olds was 8.6 digits. This age increase could be due to changes in brain capacity and the development of strategies such as chunking. This suggests that the capacity of STM is not fixed, and individual differences might play a role.

Miller (1956) study on STM capacity

This section addresses the objective, procedures, and results of Miller’s (1956) study of STM capacity.

Aims and procedures

Miller (1956) also aimed to study the capacity of STM. This study was a literature review, i.e., it concluded previous empirical studies and did not conduct any new experiments. In existing research, Miller (1956) found that when dots flash on a screen, people can count seven dots, but no more. This is also true for musical notes, letters, and words.

Findings

Miller (1956) confirmed Jacobs’ (1887) idea and agreed that STM has a capacity between 5 and 9 (7 +/- 2). Miller (1956) further refined Jacobs’ (1887) idea by showing that the capacity is the same for musical notes, letters, and words. In addition, Miller (1956) suggested that the capacity of STM can be increased by grouping sets called ‘chunks’.

Evaluation of Miller’s (1956) study on STM capacity

The following section will discuss the evaluation points of Miller’s (1956) study of STM capacity.

Later research challenges STM’s capacity limits

One criticism of Miller (1956) is that his original results have not been replicated. Later research, such as Cowan (2001), has reviewed a number of studies on the capacity of STM and concluded that STM is probably limited to about four chunks. Research on the capacity of STM for visual information (rather than verbal stimuli) also found that four items is about the limit (e.g., Vogel et al., 2001). This means that the lower end of Miller’s range is more appropriate (i.e., 7 - 2, which corresponds to 5). This suggests that STM may not be as extensive as Miller (1956) suggested.

Chunking size matters

Miller (1956) did not investigate how chunk size affects the capacity of STM. Later research, such as that of Simon (1974), has shown that chunk size significantly affects how many chunks one can remember in STM. Simon (1974) demonstrated that people’s memory span is shorter for larger chunks, such as eight-word sentences, than smaller chunks, such as one-syllable words. Simon’s (1974) findings supported and refined the view of the capacity of STM Miller (1956) proposed.

Coding in memory studies

In the following section, we evaluate in detail Baddeley’s (1966) study of how short-term memory (STM) and long-term memory (LTM).

Baddeley (1966) study investigating coding in STM and LTM

The following section discusses the research conducted by Baddeley (1966). We cover the aim, approach, and results of the study that looked at coding in STM and LTM.

Aims

Baddeley (1966) wanted to find out whether STM and LTM encode acoustically (based on sound) or semantically (based on meaning). A total of 72 male and female volunteers from the University of Cambridge participated in this study. Most of them were undergraduate students. This study is an example of experimental research conducted in a laboratory setting.

Procedure

Baddeley (1966) acoustically presented participants with one of four-word lists via audiotape. The lists contained words that were:

  • Acoustically similar (sounded the same, e.g., hat, cat, bat).

  • Acoustically dissimilar (sounded different, e.g., hat, stage, ball).

  • Semantically similar (had the same meaning, e.g., big, large).

  • Semantically dissimilar (had a different meaning, e.g., gate, big).

Participants recalled the list either immediately to test short-term memory encoding (STM) or after 20 min to test long-term memory (LTM) encoding.

Findings

Results show that participants performed worse on acoustically similar words in STM, suggesting that information in STM is encoded according to sound, as similar-sounding information conflicts with each other. In LTM, they performed worse on semantically similar words, suggesting that information in LTM is encoded according to meaning, as information with similar meaning conflicted with each other.

Evaluation of Baddeley’s (1966) study on coding in memory

Here we will address the evaluation points of Baddeley’s (1966) study of coding in STM and LTM.

Internal validity

Baddeley’s (1966) operationalisation of the LTM was poor. Testing STM, Baddeley (1966) asked participants to recall lists of words immediately after hearing them. Baddeley tested LTM by making participants recall 20 minutes after hearing the list of words. It is questionable whether this amount of time is sufficient to test the LTM, as longer repetition and deeper processing are required to transfer information from STM to the LTM. This error seriously affects the studys internal validity, as it may not have actually tested LTM.

Ecological validity

The Baddeley (1966) study lacks ecological validity because it is unrealistic. The words used in the study were completely artificial, and Baddeley conducted the study solely in a laboratory setting. The word list used in the study had no personal meaning to the participants and did not correspond to actual memory use in the real world. This implies the results of this study have limited applicability due to the lack of ecological validity.

Sample size

The sample size in each condition is insufficient. Although Baddeley recruited a total of 72 participants for the entire study, the sample size in each group was only 1520 after participants divided among the different conditions. Any anomalies (individuals with unusually good or bad memories) could affect the results if the sample size were small. The insufficient sample size in each condition hinders the generalisability of Baddeley’s research.

Volunteer bias

The sample consisted primarily of volunteers, resulting in volunteer bias. The term ‘volunteer bias’ refers to a specific bias that can occur when subjects who volunteer for a research project differ in some way from the general population. In the context of Baddeley (1966), the volunteer sample may have included more individuals with particularly good memories who like to take memory tests. The problem of volunteer bias affects the generalisability of Baddeley’s (1966) research. In other words, the results may not represent people in general.


Features of Memory - Key takeaways

  • Peterson and Peterson (1959) studied the duration of short-term memory. Rehearsal was prevented with an interference task. The results show a negative relationship between recall accuracy on the trigram and the duration of the retention interval.
  • Bahrick et al. (1975) examined the duration of long-term memory. The results suggest that certain forms of long-term memory, such as names and faces, can be remembered for almost a lifetime.
  • Jacobs (1887) studied the duration of STM. The results showed a difference between capacity for numbers and for letters. On average, participants could remember about nine numbers but only seven letters. STM has a capacity of 5 to 9 (7 +/- 2) information items, and as we age, we seem to develop better recall strategies.
  • Miller (1956) also wanted to study the duration of STM. Miller (1956) agrees that STM has a capacity of 5 to 9 (7 +/- 2) across all types of information. Miller (1956) suggested that grouping digits and letters into meaningful units, called ‘chunks’, may improve STM capacity.
  • Baddeley’s study aimed to determine whether STM and LTM encode acoustically (based on sound) or semantically (based on meaning). Participants recalled the list either immediately to test short-term memory encoding (STM) or after 20 minutes to test long-term memory (LTM) encoding.

Frequently Asked Questions about Features of Memory

Peterson and Peterson (1959) studied the duration of short-term memory.

Jacobs (1887) and Miller (1956) both studied short-term memory capacity. 

In psychology, memory coding refers to how the information is being received, transferred and stored in our memory. In other words, the way you process information.

Tests used for assessing memory can consist of recollection tasks, where participants are exposed to various stimuli and asked to recall the information. 

Testing capacity of memory, duration of memory, and issues with coding information would help determine memory functioning.

Final Features of Memory Quiz

Question

What was the aim of Peterson and Peterson (1959)?

Show answer

Answer

Peterson and Peterson (1959) aimed to investigate the duration of short-term memory.

Show question

Question

What was the aim of Bahrick et al. (1975)?

Show answer

Answer

Bahrick, Bahrick, and Wittinger (1975) aimed to investigate the duration of LTM.

Show question

Question

What was the setting of Peterson and Peterson (1959)?

Show answer

Answer

Peterson and Peterson (1959) was experimental research conducted in a laboratory setting.

Show question

Question

What type of research was Bahrick et al. (1975)?

Show answer

Answer

Bahrick et al. (1975) was natural experiential research. 

Show question

Question

What were the procedures of Peterson and Peterson (1959)?

Show answer

Answer

In Peterson and Peterson (1959), a total of eight experiments were presented. The trigrams were presented one at a time and each had to be recalled after a retention interval of 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, or 18 seconds per trial. No two consecutive trigrams contained the same letters. The trigrams were presented acoustically. After hearing a trigram, participants were asked to count backward from a specified random number in increments of three or four until they saw a red light come on (at which point they recalled the trigram). This is known as the Brown-Peterson technique and was designed to prevent repetition.

Show question

Question

What were the procedures of Bahrick et al. (1975)?

Show answer

Answer

Bahrick et al. (1975) used a total of two tests. In a photo recognition test, participants had to identify pictures of their classmates from 50 photographs in their high school yearbook. In a subsequent free recall test, participants had to were presented with a group of names for each photo and asked to select the name that matched the photos.

Show question

Question

What were the results and implications of Peterson and Peterson (1959)?

Show answer

Answer

Peterson and Peterson's (1959) results showed a negative relationship between recall accuracy on trigrams and the duration of the retention interval. Students can correctly recall more than 80% of trigrams within the three-second interval, but accuracy remains below 3% after 18-second interval. The results suggest that short-term memory has a maximum duration of about 18 seconds when rehearsal is inhibited. It is hypothesised that this information is lost from short-term memory from trace decay.

Show question

Question

What were the results and implications of Bahrick et al. (1975)?

Show answer

Answer

Results from Bahrick et al. (1975) showed that participants tested within 15 years of graduation had 90% accuracy in identifying photographs of their classmates. After 48 years, this accuracy decreased to about 70%. In free recall of classmates’ names, participants were 60% accurate after 15 years. After 48 years, however, recall accuracy dropped to 30%. Bahrick et al. (1975) concluded that certain information, such as names and faces, can be retained in memory for almost a lifetime. These results support the MSM and the notion that our LTM persists and is semantically encoded for almost a lifetime (at least 47 years).

Show question

Question

Why is Peterson and Peterson (1959) criticised for having flaws in Ecological Validity?

Show answer

Answer

Peterson and Peterson (1959) lack ecological validity because the research method is unrealistic. The trigrams used in the study had no personal meaning to the participants and did not resemble actual memory use in the real world. This means that the results of this study have limited applicability to real life because of the lack of ecological validity.

Show question

Question

Why is Peterson and Peterson (1959) praised for having a high level of internal validity? 

Show answer

Answer

The experimental approach used by Peterson and Peterson (1959) provided controlled procedures and reproducible results. Peterson and Peterson (1959) used identical retention intervals periods for each participant. The laboratory setting also eliminated extraneous variables, ie. noise and lighting, that could have had an influence on memory. Therefore, the findings of Peterson and Peterson (1959) implies good internal validity and reliability.

Show question

Question

Why is Peterson and Peterson (1959) criticised for having flaws in sampling?

Show answer

Answer

The sample of 24 psychology students recruited in Peterson and Peterson (1959) represents sample bias for two reasons. First, the Hawthorne effect could occur because psychology students have already learned the multi-store model of memory and exhibit demand characteristics by adapting their behaviour to support the researcher. Second, the sample consisting solely of American university psychology students is not the best representation of general human memory formation. Especially if psychology students have previously studied strategies to improve memory. The serious sample bias  Peterson and Peterson (1959) encountered seriously affects the representativeness and generalisability of the results.

Show question

Question

Why is Bahrick et al. (1975) praised for having a high level of ecological validity?

Show answer

Answer

The natural experimental design of Bahrick et al. (1975) implies a high degree of ecological validity. Meaningful real-life memories, such as names and faces of people, were examined. In this study, participants recalled real-life information by associating pictures of classmates with their names. Therefore, the findings of Bahrick et al. (1975) reflect our memory for real-life events and can be applied to everyday human memory.

Show question

Question

Why is Bahrick et al. (1975) criticised for having flaws in internal validity?

Show answer

Answer

The natural experimental approach Bahrick et al. (1975) used cannot control procedures and reproducible results. Confounding variables are not controlled. For example, the fact that Bahrick’s participants may have viewed and rehearsed their memories on their yearbook photo to varying degrees. Therefore, the results of Bahrick et al. (1975) have low internal validity.

Show question

Question

Why is Bahrick et al. (1975) criticised for having flaws in population validity?

Show answer

Answer

The sample of 392 American high school graduates represents low population validity. The sample, consisting entirely of American high school graduates, is not particularly representative of general human memory formation. Psychologists are unable to generalise the results of Bahrick's study to other populations and cultural contexts, such as students in Asia or Europe. The generalisability of the Bahrick et al. (1975) findings is limited to populations with characteristics similar to those of the sample, which is composed entirely of American high school graduates.

Show question

Question

Name two studies that aimed to investigate the duration of STM.

Show answer

Answer

Jacobs (1887) and Miller (1956) aimed to investigate the duration of STM.

Show question

Question

What were the testing materials employed in Jacobs (1887)?

Show answer

Answer

Jacobs (1887) employed artificial word or digit lists with no meaning called the digit span test. The digit span test included every letter in the alphabets and numbers apart from ‘w’ and ‘7’ because they had two syllables.

Show question

Question

What were the results of Jacobs (1887)?

Show answer

Answer

The results of Jacobs (1887) found a difference between the capacity for numbers and letters. On average, participants could recall around nine numbers but only seven letters.

Show question

Question

What are the implications of Jacobs (1887)?

Show answer

Answer

Jacobs (1887) suggested STM has a capacity of between five and nine (7 +/- 2) information items, and as we age, we appear to develop better recall strategies.

Show question

Question

What is the research method in Miller (1956)?

Show answer

Answer

Miller (1956) is a literature review that concludes previous research findings without new research.

Show question

Question

What are the results of Miller (1956)?

Show answer

Answer

Miller (1956) found that when dots are flashed on a screen, people can count seven dots, but no more. However, when people divide the stimulus input into a series of ‘chunks’, they can remember more than seven digits. The same is true for musical notes, letters and words.

Show question

Question

What are the implications of Miller (1956)?

Show answer

Answer

Miller (1956) confirmed Jacobs’ (1887) idea and agreed that STM has a capacity between five and nine (7 +/- 2). He also refined Jacobs’ (1887) idea by demonstrating the same STM capacity for different types of information. Miller (1956) also suggested the capacity of STM can increase by grouping quantities called ‘chunks’.

Show question

Question

Why is Jacobs (1887) criticised for having flaws in internal validity?

Show answer

Answer

Early research in psychology, such as that of Jacobs (1887), may lack adequate control of extraneous variables. As a result, Jacobs (1887) may not be internally valid because the research may have failed to control for confounding variables.

Show question

Question

Which research opposed the magical number of STM capacity to be less than 7 +/- 2?

Show answer

Answer

Later research, such as that of Cowan (2001), questions that the capacity of STM may be even more limited. For example, Cowan's (2001) results suggest that STM is probably limited to about four chunks.

Show question

Question

How did Simon (1974) support the idea Miller (1956) proposed?

Show answer

Answer

In Miller (1956), research did not show how the size of the chunk affected the capacity of STM. However, later research, such as that of Simon (1974), has shown that chunk size can significantly affect the capacity of STM.

Show question

Question

Why is the magical number of STM capacity (7 +/- 2) criticised for neglecting individual differences?

Show answer

Answer

The results of Jacobs (1887) suggest that the capacity of STM is not the same for all people. The results showed that recall digit span increased steadily with age: eight-year-olds could remember an average of 6.6 digits, whereas the mean for 19-year-olds was 8.6 digits. This age increase could be due to changes in brain capacity and the development of strategies such as chunking.

Show question

Question

What was the aim of Baddeley (1966)?

Show answer

Answer

Baddeley (1966) aimed to determine whether STM and LTM encode acoustically (based on sound) or semantically (based on meaning).

Show question

Question

What is the setting of Baddeley (1966)?

Show answer

Answer

Baddeley (1966) is an experimental research conducted in a laboratory setting.

Show question

Question

How many and what type of word lists were used in Baddeley (1966)?

Show answer

Answer

A total of four word lists were employed in Baddeley (1966): acoustically similar, acoustically dissimilar, semantically similar, and semantically dissimilar.

Show question

Question

What are the procedures of Baddeley (1966)?

Show answer

Answer

Baddeley (1966) gave participants one of four word lists acoustically via audiotape. Participants recalled the list either immediately to test short-term memory encoding (STM) or after 20 minutes to test long-term memory (LTM) encoding.

Show question

Question

What are the results and implications of Baddeley (1966)? 

Show answer

Answer

Participants performed worse on acoustically similar words in STM, suggesting that information in STM is encoded according to sound, as similar-sounding information conflicts with each other. They performed worse on semantically similar words in LTM, implying that information in LTM is encoded according to meaning, as information with similar meaning conflicted with each other.

Show question

Question

Why is Baddeley (1966) criticised for having flaws in internal validity?

Show answer

Answer

Baddeley may not have actually tested LTM as 20 minutes is not long enough for the transfer of information to LTM.

Show question

Question

Why is Baddeley (1966) criticised for having flaws in ecological validity?

Show answer

Answer

Baddeley (1966) lacks ecological validity because it is artificial and took place in a laboratory setting.

Show question

Question

Why is Baddeley (1966) criticised for having flaws in generalisability?

Show answer

Answer

The sample size in each condition of Baddeley (1966) is insufficient, which hinders the generalisability of research findings. Also, volunteer bias is a concern in Baddeley (1966), as it undermines the generalisability of his findings.

Show question

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