Memory from a Psychological View

One of the more annoying things about learning basic cognitive processes in psychology and neuroscience classes is just how easy the concepts seem. Of course you acquire information. How else would you know things?

But when you get into the nitty-gritty of it, do you really know anything?

Neuroscience makes it both easier and harder to learning the molecular and system pathways that allow for memory formation. Cognitive psychology however focuses on the observable effects of memory processing. Since these are not complex topics, you’ll be getting my quick notes:

Useful Terms

Acquisition: the process of placing new information into long-term memory.

Retrieval: the process of locating information from the mind

Free Recall: Remembering a list in any order

Serial Position: The placement of an item

Note: Don’t stress about fancy word-use in psychology; so long as you know the procedures, names of the founders of a theory and use good grammar, Psychology is meant to read easier than chemistry. Be thankful for that.


The Modal Model


The  Modal Model by Waugh and Norman (1965) and Updated by Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968).
  1. Working memory is limited, long-term memory is vast.
  2. Getting information into working memory is very easy, getting information into long-term memory is hard.
  3. Getting information out working memory is also easy, while peering through your longterm memory takes work.
  4. Working memory is fragile; it falters very quickly if your attention is turned elsewhere while long-term memory is stable for years.


The Recency and Primacy Effect in Free Recall


Graph 1: 20 common words are said. Participants are not allowed to write down anything until immediately after the word-sayer stops

  • People tend to remember the last words most, followed by the first words in a U shaped curve
  • Remembering first words is called the Primary effect
  • Remembering last words is called the Recency Effect
  • Why is this so? Memory rehearsal: As the sayer continues to speak, you must divide your attention between each word they continue to say.
  • The Primacy Effect made be caused by the fact that there is little in the working memory to rehearse, so more attention is placed on the beginning string of words
  • The Recency Effect made be caused by the fact that no new material comes to ‘bump’ it off the list, meaning that the mind can focus and pay attention to the last string of words

Protocol A

Graph 2: The word list is said but a third of the participant group are allowed to immediately write; another is given a 30s delay between finishing and writing; the last given a task to attend to for 30s before writing down the words.

  • Those who had to attend to another task before the free recall preformed the worst out of the three, especially in Recency Effect
  • Shows that the Recency Effect is mainly due to working memory and not rehearsal as the Primacy Effect is still in play

Protocol B

Graph 3: One half of the participant group is given the words at 3s per word (fast) while the other group is given the words at 9s per word (slow).

  • Participants that were given the words at a slower pace remembered more words than those given it at a fast pace
  • A longer memory rehearsal time period improves the Primacy Effect








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