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Long And Short Term Memory

Updated on September 19, 2012

There are many different things that can have an effect on a person’s memory capabilities. Depending on the situation, it may be easy or hard for a person to recall certain events. If an event is considered to be positive, they are more likely to be able to recollect details of the event. However, if an event is considered negative, a person may have difficulty remembering the experience. There are three different types of memory that can be affected in any event: working memory, short-term and long-term memory. I am going to examine and discuss the concepts of working memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory, while explaining the role of encoding and retrieval in the memory process as well as evaluating variable associated with encoding and the ease of retrieval as they relate to my selected memory test, Explore Your Memory.

Working memory is comprised of four components: phonological, visuospatial, central executive, and episodic. The phonological component “represents our brief storage of verbal material, which we use in language processing, rehearsal, verbal problem solving, and arithmetic” (Terry, 2006). For example, the phonological component may be measured by how many numbers a person can remember from a sequence of numbers after viewing them only one time. The visuospatial component “retains visual images and spatial information” (Terry, 2006). For example, in the “Explore Your Memory” test, I was asked to recall the shaded blocks in a grid. My visuospatial memory allowed me to be able to remember which blocks where shaded in the grid. To my surprise, I did very well on this portion of the memory test. Central executive “focuses, allocates, or distributes attention across multiple tasks” (Terry, 2006). It is my understanding that this element of working memory allows a person to muti-task. For example, as a customer service associate, I am required to have my attention in multiple places at the same time. Many times I am answering phones while I am dealing with customers. The central executive component allows me to be able to retain information from both customers and phone calls. The episodic buffer component “could act as a bridge between the markers or tags retained in phonological store and long-term memory, from which the whole items would be recalled at the time of retrieval” (Terry, 2006). This section of memory may be the connector between short-term memory and long-term memory.

Short-term memory “refers to memory that is limited both in its duration and capacity” (Terry, 2006). This means that people are typically able to remember a small amount of information for a short period of time without rehearsal of the information. “Miller (1956) believed that the “span” of short-term memory 7 + or – 2 chunks” (Terry, 2006). Chunking is when a person puts information into groups in order to recall the information more easily. For example, in the Explore Your Memory test, I had to remember a series of numbers starting with only three numbers and going up to nine numbers. I was able to recall eight numbers correctly. I chunked the numbers into groups of three in order to be able to recall the information.

Long-term memory lasts much longer than short-term memory. It may last for several days or possibly many decades or longer. There are two different types of long-term memory: Episodic memory and Semantic memory. Episodic memory “refers to our ability to recall personal experiences from our past” (, 2009). With this type of memory, we attempt to recall the information based on an event that previously happened in our lives. For example, I recall my uncle tripping me during a vacation when I was a child. I believe I stored this information because it was embarrassing and made me very angry. “Semantic memory stores facts and generalized information” (, 2009). Using schemas, which “are outlines of general knowledge that are stored in semantic memory”, helps a person to organize their knowledge. (Terry, 2006). For instance, in a restaurant, a person may categorize their actions. As they enter the restaurant, they may look for a table and sit down. When they are ordering, they may look at a menu and order food. When eating, their food is brought from the kitchen to the table. As they leave the restaurant, they may ask for the check and pay for the check.

Encoding “refers to the acquisition of knowledge: the initial formation of a memory trace” (Terry, 2006). It can be “affected by rehearsal, imagery, and meaningfulness”, which are all used in working, short-term, and long-term memory (Terry, 2006). Typically, for a person to be able to recall multiple things at once, it takes rehearsal or repetition. Also, some things require imagery in order to recollect them. For example, in the Explore Your Memory test, I had to look at a picture for a few seconds and later see what was different in the picture. This is something that I struggled with because the imagery was so busy that I was not able to recall the difference from the first picture. In long-term memory, many times the memories are based on something that is meaningful. As in my previous example, I remember being tripped by my uncle as a child because it embarrassed me and made me angry. Encoding can also be affected by the way that the information is presented. In many cases,” the serial-position effect shows that the first and last items are usually recalled better” (Terry, 2006). People are more likely to recall information in the beginning or the end better than the middle. “The isolation effect occurs when an unusual item, embedded in an otherwise homogeneous list of items, is particularly well remembered” (Terry, 2006). This makes sense because a person may be more likely to recall an item that is completely different from the other items that are the same.

Retrieval of information can sometimes be difficult. There can be many factors that affect memory retrieval. Some of those might include stress, emotions, interest, and arousal. If someone is very stressed during an event, it may be difficult for them to retrieve the information at a later time. For example, when I took the Explore Your Memory test, I would consider myself to have been stressed due to work among other things. This caused me not to be able to focus as I normally would when taking the test, which essentially led to me performing more poorly than I should have. Also, if a person is emotional, they may be less likely to recollect information. Because they are emotional at the time of the experience, they may not be as coherent of the information. Lack of interest or arousal can affect a person’s memory as well. When a person is not interested in the information or the information does not arouse their attention, they are less likely to pay attention or want to learn the information.

There are many factors that affect what a person is able to remember. Depending if an event is positive or negative may have an effect on how much they will recollect. Working memory allows a person to recall multiple things such as a list of numbers or words. Short-term memory is typically short in time and has does not store a lot of information for a long period of time. Long-term memory may last for weeks, months, or decades. All of these types of memory can be affected by several different factors. Encoding can also have an effect on the retrieval of information. By taking the Explore Your Memory test, I learned that I am easily distracted and my memory skills could use some work.

References (2009). Long-term memory. Retrieved from on February 20, 2009.

Miller, G.A. (1956). The magical number seven plus-or-minus two: some limits of our capacity

for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.

Terry, W. S. (2006). Learning and memory: Basic principles, processes, and procedures .

Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn Bacon.


Submit a Comment

  • A Perfect Chef profile imageAUTHOR

    John Smith 

    7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    Thank you.

  • glovs0 profile image


    7 years ago from Chicago Area

    I seriously enjoyed this site. I found it useful and insightful about my mind.

  • A Perfect Chef profile imageAUTHOR

    John Smith 

    7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    Thank you for reading it and leaving a comment. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Juliet Christie profile image

    Juliet Christie Murray 

    7 years ago from Sandy Bay Jamaica

    thanks for spening the time to research and write this paper.Lots of information on memory and how it behaves


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