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AS Psychology: The Multi-Store Model of Memory

Updated on November 29, 2012

What is Memory?

The definition of memory is essentially 'The process in which we retain information about past events.' This could refer to our immediate past, or events that happened years ago.

The Multi-Store Model of Memory

The Multi-Store Model of Memory (MSM), produced by Atkinson and Shiffrin in 1968, is an explanation of how memory processes and stores work.

The MSM consists of 3 different unitary stores; The Sensory Memory (SM), the Short Term Memory (STM) and the Long Term Memory (LTM).

Sensory Memory:

The first memory store is the Sensory Memory. The SM is constantly receiving information, either: visually, auditorily or haptically. However, most of this information actually receives no attention and stays in the sensory memory until it decays (taking a matter of milliseconds). However, if a person is focusing on a piece of information, then instead of decaying it will be directly transferred to the Short Term Memory.

Short-Term Memory (STM):

When in the STM, information is very 'fragile' and very likely to be displaced if it is not rehearsed. The average amount of time that a person can hold a piece of information in the STM is around 20 seconds and the amount of information that can be held is 7+/-2 items. If the information is rehearsed and paid attention too, then the information will be transferred to the long term memory store.

Long-Term Memory (LTM):

The Long Term Memory has a potentially unlimited capacity and the duration of which a piece of information can be held in the LTM is unlimited also.

The Multi-Store Model of Memory.
The Multi-Store Model of Memory.

Research Evidence Supporting the MSM

There is some strong research evidence that supports the Multi-Store Model (MSM) and the things that it suggests about memory stores.

For example, in 1966, two psychologists 'Glanzer' and 'Cunitz' conducted an experiment in which they gave participants a list of 50 words that they needed to memorize in a given amount of time.

This experiment found that there was a 'recency effect' where the participants remembered the most recent words that they had read because they had not yet been displaced from their STM, they also found that there was a 'primary effect' where the participants remembered the first words on the list because they had been rehearsed more and thus transferred into their LTM.

These findings support the MSM because it shows that there are differences between the STM and the LTM and that they are 2 separate, unitary memory stores.

Research Evidence Opposing the MSM

The main criticism that people have regarding the Multi-Store Model of Memory is the fact that it oversimplifies the memory structures and processes.

The MSM suggests that the STM and the LTM are two different unitary stores which operate in a single, uniform fashion. However, research evidence such as the 'KF' case study, that was conducted by 2 psychologists 'Shallice' and 'Warrington' in 1970, opposes this.

Someone known as 'KF' suffered from brain damage which resulted in them having difficulty processing verbal information in their STM. However, KF's ability to process visual information was completely normal.

These findings suggest that the STM is in fact a non-unitary store with different parts dedicated to processing different types of information (haptic, visual, auditory etc).

Research has also shown that rehearsal is not the only way that information can be transferred from the STM to the LTM.

In 1972 Craik and Lockhart suggested that long-lasting memories are created by the process that you use to remember the information rather than how much you rehearse it.

They found that if a person uses 'semantic processing' (remembering by creating a deeper meaning) to remember information rather than 'shallow processing', they would be much more likely to remember it.

Sensory Memory
Short Term Memory
Long Term Memory
Visual, Auditory and Haptic
Mainly Acoustic
Mainly Semantic
Approx. 20 seconds
Potentially Unlimited
Very Limited
7+/-2 Items
Potentially Unlimited


Key Words:
- Duration:
How long a piece of information can stay in your memory before it is no longer available.
- Encoding: The way that information is changed so that it can be stored in a memory store. Environmental stimuli enters the brain and then is stored in various forms.
- Capacity: A measure of how much information can be stored in the memory.
- Haptically: By touch.
- Acoustically: By sound.
- Semantically: By meaning.
- Visually: By sight.


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    • Anthropophobia profile image

      Anthropophobia 4 years ago

      That's very interesting, I didn't know that. I'll definitely have read your hub! Thanks for commenting.

    • Jatinder Joshi profile image

      Jatinder Joshi 4 years ago from Whitby, Ontario, Canada

      Nice post. Enjoyed it. I too have written an article on it.

      My research tells me that human memory span is unlimited BUT the nerve cells connecting to the memory location get worn out with age and the information cannot be retrieved - the memory cells do not die.

    • Anthropophobia profile image

      Anthropophobia 5 years ago

      Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it. There is always the exception to the rule! I can't say my memory is particularly fantastic, though I do have a knack for remembering insignificant things that happened a long time ago. I'm going to write a hub on eyewitness testimonies and how memory can be flawed. For instance, small things such as asking a leading question can put memories into people's brains that never actually existed - interesting stuff! Thanks again!

    • sparkster profile image

      Sparkster Publishing 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Good write-up. This reminds me of a question I started researching not so long ago - how long is the human memory span? There seems to be no conclusive answer.

      Personally I have an impeccable memory, I tend to remember people's phone numbers without even really trying - it just seems to happen. People often ask me how do know so much? and how do you remember so much?

      Well, sometimes I use mnemonics and I do like the educate myself as much as possible on many various topics. What fascinates me is how someone might not consciously remember small details such as the colour of someone's tie upon meeting them briefly yet under hypnosis those details can be recalled accurately and efficiently.

      Good hub.

    • Anthropophobia profile image

      Anthropophobia 5 years ago

      Glad you enjoyed it!

    • carozy profile image

      carozy 5 years ago from San Francisco

      I am interested in memory and found this article a good read.

    • Anthropophobia profile image

      Anthropophobia 5 years ago

      Thank you :)

    • Philanthropy2012 profile image

      DK 5 years ago from London

      Very interesting! I think little things like this are really important to know. Keep up the good work!