Memory is the system, which enables to encode, store, and retrieve obtained information over time. It is related to brain functioning and also can be considered as the faculty of it. The use of memory is involved in any human beings’ activity, as it is based on the received data perceiving and proceeding. It is vital to research the phenomenon, create a comprehensive insight into its functioning, and deepen the knowledge of human cognitive processes and functions.
This research paper will examine the psychology concept of short-term memory (STM) in detail, provide a comprehensive explanation of its specificities, and discuss its difference from the similar term “working memory” (WM).
Description of short-term memory concept
Definition of short-term memory
Short-term memory, which is also known as the active or primary one, is one of several types of memory. It is responsible for a small amount of information operating and keeping it available for a relatively short period of time (Cherry). According to Christy Marshuetz, in psychology, the concept of STM is considered as one involving “the extremely limited number of items that humans are capable of keeping in mind at one time.” It is responsible for participating in most cognition acts, such as reasoning, planning, decision-making, and others, which depend on information manipulating (Christy Marshuetz).
The instance of STM operating is a sequence of items or numbers remembering. Ones located in the middle of the list are usually cannot be recalled correctly, as the STM achieves a certain limit that will be discussed in the following paragraph (Plesis). Therefore, STM is a memory system component responsible for immediate and limited information holding for a short time.
Capacity and storage
STM is intended to ensure quick information processing, which implies that its storage is small, as the larger amounts of data for the long term are covered with another type of memory. In 1956, cognitive psychologist George A. Miller suggested that STW “holds about seven chunks of information plus or minus two” (Plessis). This statement is called “Miller’s law” and implies that an average adult person can keep in mind from five to nine pieces of information, which can also be referred to as an abstract term “items” (Plessis).
The study of short-term memory written by Christy Marshuetz Ferguson based on the experiments of British psychologist Alan D. Baddeley suggests that there are two distinct STM storage buffers. The first one is intended to access and proceed with verbal information, while the second one is focused on the visuospatial one (Christy Marshuetz). According to the study, verbal information is presented to the brain’s left hemisphere, while spatial data, to the right one, respectively (Christy Marshuetz). Therefore, mechanisms are separated and rely on different pools of cognitive resources based on the double dissociation phenomenon.
As it had been already stated, the length for which information kept in STM can be stored is limited. Most of the data is stored for approximately 20-30 seconds (Cherry). However, on the assumption that rehearsal of active mental repeating of information is prevented, the duration is even less and limited to a few seconds (Cherry).
According to Plessis, “information is lost purposefully, not simply because it decays or is replaced. This means that the loss of information would depend partly on its interest and value”. It implies that spontaneous information, which had not been repeated several times, decays quickly, as it was mentally considered to be irrelevant.
Moreover, received data preceding can interfere with a new one, which displays old information (Cherry). Similar items in the environment are also known for reducing the duration for which information can be kept in STM. Therefore, STM is a dynamic system that quickly proceeds information without holding it for a long time, which can also be reduced through access to new information.
Transfer to long-term memory
Information people receive by interacting with the environment passes through three stages, which are sensory, short-term, and long-term memory. In opposite to brief and limited STM, long-term one has an unlimited capacity and lasts for a significant period of time. In the contemporary world, transferring the data from STM to the long-term one is underresearched, but there are a few models, which suggest its ways. According to the classic Atkinson-Shiffrin model, “short-term memories were automatically placed in long-term memory after a certain amount of time” (Cherry).
The other suggestion is that there is specific mental editing of all data received and stored in STM, after which particular memories are selected to be transferred for long-term retention (Cherry). According to the theory, other factors such as time and interferences can affect how the information is selected and encoded (Cherry).
Finally, the information-processing view implies that several sequent storages for information, to which the data can be transferred. This perspective compares human’s memory to the computer, showing the similarity between entering the long-time memory and placing information on a hard disk (Cherry). The amount of information that will be transferred to the long-term memory depends on proceeding. Therefore, the deeper level of information repeating and analyzing, the more it will be stored on the next stage.
The distinction between working memory and short-term memory
STM is frequently named as “working memory” (WM), although they are conceptually different, which raises the necessity to research the issue to refer to the term “STW” correctly. According to Aben et al., “STM and WM are different theoretical concepts that are assumed to reflect different cognitive functions” (1). These two terms are both considered as the temporary storages (systems of data preceding) for new information. Although the difference in their neural dislocations is an unanswered question, the conceptual distinction is in the data processing, which can be passive or active.
As it had been discussed above, remembering can involve rehearsing or mental repeating, or not. In the first case, when information is not intentionally maintained, it is the passive and weaker one, correctly named “STM.” On the other hand, when rehearsing and repeating are involved, the results of remembering are closer to 7 items and referential 20-30 seconds of storing duration, and it is named “WM” (Plessis). It can also be considered as an information manipulation, which is excluded in the STM functioning (Villines).
Therefore, what had been previously called in overall “STM” can be divided into two memories, correct short-term and working ones, with a generally accepted assembly definition that is “short-term memory.”
Keeping the information in short-term memory is the vital cognitive function that enables to performance of most actions. It keeps a small number of items, usually seven ones, for a duration from a few to thirty seconds, which can be influenced negatively by interfering. On the opposite, rehearsing and mental remembering will benefit the length of data-keeping. Frequently, terms “STM” and “WM” are defined incorrectly, though they are responsible for different methods of information proceeding. The STM phenomenon still requires further research, as specific issues, such as transferring from it to long-term memory, are not clearly defined.
Aben, Bart, et al. “About the distinction between working memory and short-term memory.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 3, no. 301, 2020, pp. 1–9.
Cherry, K. What Is Short-Term Memory? Verywell Mind. 2021. Web.
Ferguson, Christy Marshuetz. Short-term memory. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2017. Web.
Plessis, Susan. Short-Term Memory: Definition, Facts, Studies, Test, Overcoming Deficits. Edublo Online Tutor. 2018. Web.
Villines, Z. What are the different types of memory? Medical News Today. 2021. Web.