Multi Store Model

Edited by Jamie (ScienceAid Editor), Taylor (ScienceAid Editor), Alex, SmartyPants and 1 other

The multi-store model of memory is a good place to start when studying memory as it was the first widely accepted model of how memory works. It is, however, not the definitive explanation of memory, and different areas are expanded on in other articles. The multi-store model was proposed by Atkinson and Shiffrin in 1968.

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The Basic Model

The above diagram represents the multi-store model. It consists of three basic stores: Sensory, Short-Term and Long-Term memory. The process by which information is passed to each store is also shown. Information can also be lost from each point. It is important to note that information must pass through all stages in order to get to the end.

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Sensory Memory

This is the first port of call for information. It gets its name from the fact that the information it receives is sensual (visual, auditory, smell, touch). The encoding (type of information) is either iconic or echoic (see below). The capacity is said to be vast but the duration, however, is only 0.25 to 2 seconds.

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Iconic storage is for visual information, you can see the iconic storage in your sensory memory by closing your eyes, and for a very brief moment, you will see an 'after image' of what you were looking at. Another store in sensory memory is echoic storage which is auditory or sound information. Information from sensory memory is passed to short-term memory by attention i.e. taking notice of something.

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Below is a study by Sperling (1960) into sensory memory.

Aim To investigate the capacity of the iconic memory.
Method A three by four grid of numbers was flashed for 0.05 seconds. Followed by a high, medium or low pitched tone to indicate which row was to be recalled.
Results On average, the participants were able to recall 80% of the letters on the cued row.
Conclusions Since the participants didn't know which row was going to be called beforehand but still managed to recall it well, you can assume that at one time all of the information was held in the sensory memory. But it decayed very rapidly.
Evaluation The work by Sperling is the basis of the view that sensory memory stores are large but decay very rapidly. lasting 250 to 500 milliseconds.

Short Term Memory

Short term memory is much shorter than you might think, only lasting up to 30 seconds and having a capacity of 7 +/- 2 (seven plus or minus two, i.e. 5-9) items. And the encoding is mainly visual and acoustic. We can, however, often hold much larger amounts of information in a process known as chunking, whereby the information is consolidated into 'chunks' of information. In the example below, you will be able to remember the bottom row of acronyms, but remembering the same information individually, as in the first row, is much more difficult.

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Below are the details of a study into short-term memory (STM) that was conducted by Peterson and Peterson (1959).

Aim Find out what the duration of STM is
Method Participants were shown a trigram (three letters e.g. FGL) and asked to recall it after varying times.

In between seeing the trigram and recalling it, the participant did a distraction task to prevent them from rehearsing it and moving it to long-term memory. This involved counting backward in threes.

Results 80% recall after only 3 seconds

The recall reduced with time until only 10% after 18 seconds.

Conclusion If rehearsal is prevented then the information vanishes from STM after only a few seconds.
Evaluation Poor ecological validity since trigrams are an artificial thing to remember.

Primacy-Recency Effect

This is a well-known experiment that demonstrates the multi-store model well. In the experiment, participants are read a list of words and then have to recall them either immediately or after a distraction. The graph below shows the general trend in results found with this.

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The results show that recall of the first and last words are best, whereas recall for the middle is poor. However, when the distraction is employed, then recall of the last words is just as poor as the middle. This is because, in immediate recall, the first words are in the long term memory because they have been rehearsed and the last words are still in the short-term memory. The words in the middle are more difficult to recall because the subjects were too busy rehearsing the first, to remember them well.

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The results with the "after distraction task" proves the last are remembered easier because of loss of short term memory. This happens because the distraction stops the rehearsal and provides a time break. In this way, recall of the last words is poor. It has become lost from memory because the process was interrupted before it arrived at the long-term memory and is displaced from the short-term memory.

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Long-Term Memory

More on long term memory in the article long-term memory. According to this model of memory, long-term memory has a potentially limitless capacity and duration, but it is very difficult if not impossible to prove this. It's encoding is semantic, that is the meaning and understanding of something.

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Questions and Answers

What, according to stats, does chunking increase encoding rate?

I as a junior scientist understand that chunking makes it better to encode. But statistically speaking what percentage increase do we better encode the information? The article doesn't specify the stats relative to encoding it was just briefly covered. I have tried: Looking around the article near the subject area of encoding. I think it was caused by: Conscientious thoughts I guess. I was reading the article and thought that the information regarding chunking is relatively vague, however, I do find it interesting

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Statistically speaking in regard to the level of encoding discovered in studies and experiments, there is no definitive answer thus far. That is not to say some researchers haven't reached definitive conclusions after their studies are completed but that after numerous studies spanning many years have reported widely varying results.

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Referencing this Article

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APA (American Psychological Association)
Multi Store Model. (2017). In ScienceAid. Retrieved Nov 28, 2023, from

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Chicago / Turabian "Multi Store Model." Accessed Nov 28, 2023.

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Article Info

Categories : Cognition

Recent edits by: SmartyPants, Alex, Taylor (ScienceAid Editor)

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