Memory and Consciousness: Sensory Memory, Short Term Memory, Long Term Memory

After a particular stimulus has occurred, the brain is usually capable of retaining some information even after such stimulus has ended. The sensory receptors are capable of detecting information that is momentarily stored in the sensory registers. Although they can retain a large amount of information which is mainly the unrefined items, they usually tend to retain some sensory information that contains precise images, but only for a short duration. Iconic and echoic memories are the major types of sensory memory. In practice, a person may see an object after which it disappears from sight. The sensory memory is responsible for retaining an impression that is short lived some moments after the object’s vanishing. This memory is characteristically a high power type of memory registering of images. It takes a very short time which according to Goldstein, (2008 p 66) vanishes within not more than a second. Goldstein further argues that in order for the sensory memory to be useful to a person, it needs to be encoded in to another type of memory that is more long-lasting. This needs to be done as quickly as possible. An individual needs to be attentive, which is a factor that is significant in establishing the data that will pass to the next stage for the purposes of processing. Sensory memory is to a great extent dependent on attention, which enables an individual to concentrate on certain aspects of the object that form the stimulus. A person can not control sensory memory. However, attention facilitates further processing of information in this kind of memory.

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Short Term Memory

Short-term memory is the dynamic memory that determines the capability of an individual to store bits of information, which remains accessible over a short duration. The information received from sensory memory through discriminatory attention is what enters the process of short-term memory. The major form of storage for short term memory is usually sound. However, it can also be stored in the form of images. The short lived requirements of the mind, for example simple calculations usually occur in the short term memory. These are then transmitted to other sections of the memory structure or they are eliminated completely. According to Robert (2006 p 78), this memory is limited to less than nine objects. An individual who faces constant interruption or intrusion usually lacks a perfect short term memory. For example words may not be registered due to distraction by noise. With time, the contents of short term memory usually fade due to its short lived duration. To enhance storage of short term memory over a longer period of time, Goldstein observes that a person needs to run through the information over and over again (p 72). This can be achieved through reading the words repeatedly for a considerable period of time. Forgetfulness is a factor that largely affects the amount of information that the short term memory can hold over a certain period of time. Robert further argues that, “this is the limited power of short term memory, which is referred to as memory span” (p 81).

Long Term Memory

Long-term memory is that which can last from between several days to a long period of time such as years. In a biological perspective, it is possible for short term memory to turn into long term memory through constant practice and momentous linkage of information. The long term memory is usually more aligned to the biological aspect whereby neurons play a significant role in defining the transformation of short term memory to long term memory. They usually change in structure and form which means that any hindrance in this process inhibits the ability of a person in regard to long term memory. Information processing in this form of memory usually occurs in stages. According to Roediger and Karpicke (2006 p 84), this long term memory usually weakens through the natural development of forgetfulness. In order for this memory to last for many years, it is usually necessary for individuals to retrieve information from this memory regularly. On the other hand, the state whereby an individual remembers a particular issue naturally or intentionally enhances long term memory is usually based on ideas, although research indicates that in some cases it may rely on encoding through sound for it to be stored (Sternberg 2002 p 102).

An example is the case whereby people can associate a particular sound with a term that they would like to remember. The basis for recalling is that sound that was stored in the long term memory is to associate it with another word that can be read out. The word that the person needs to recall is usually so close but can not immediately be recalled. An individual may say that, “the ending of name of this place is something like bay’’. This enables the person to precisely recall the name Kendubay. Roediger and Karpicke further argue that the information stored in long term memory is significant in determining the opinion of an individual in regard to the occurrences in the world (p 86). This memory forms the basis of the information that a person finds useful or that which needs special attention. Any new information acquired is usually attached through a structure provided by the long term memory. Sternberg (2002) observes that, “there are certain mental models referred to as schemas” (p 66). He attributes the ability of a person to remember the important information and disregard the unnecessary information


According to Roediger and Karpicke (2006 p 91), interference is a major factor that influences the ability of an individual to remember. The remembrance of particular objects may interfere with that of others thereby causing forgetfulness. There are two forms of interference; proactive and retroactive interference.

Proactive interference

In proactive interference, occurs when information that had been acquired earlier hinders gaining new knowledge amongst individuals. This form of interference usually occurs in matters regarding numbers. A person may have learnt the house numbers in a list of apartments, and is capable of recalling them without much difficulty. For example house number A, B, C and D may be 68896, 68689, 68946 and 68686. A person may recall perfectly especially while writing them in that arrangement. If address A is removed from the list, proactive interference may occur whereby an individual will mistake B for A, and may end up always writing the first address which is the original information that was learnt (Sternberg 2002 p 112).

Retroactive interference

This form of interference is the opposite of proactive interference. It usually happens when the information acquired recently hinders remembrance of the information that was previously learnt. Such information is usually overwrapped by new information making it difficult to remember. It mainly occurs when new information is almost similar to previously learnt information and both get mixed up in the process of learning the new information. An example if retroactive interference is a case whereby a person is given instructions in two different places in a manner that is almost similar. A topic on the causes of diabetes may be taught today. Another topic on the causes of high blood pressure may interfere with the previous knowledge about diabetes.

Organic Memory Loss

This is forgetfulness associated with damage of the brain. It is usually distressing, and may result from brain tumor. It may also caused by the use of depressants that are usually taken in order to reduce the activity of particular parts of the brain. Such memory loss can either be long or short lived. Physical injuries of the brain may cause permanent memory loss. There are two types of organic memory loss. These include; retrograde amnesia, anterograde amnesia (Roediger and Karpicke 2006 p 57).

Retrograde Amnesia

Retrograde amnesia is usually characterized by the inability to remember occurrences that had happened before this situation developed. According to Sternberg (2002 p 92), this kind of amnesia comes as a result of injuries of the brain or ailments such as the Alzheimer’s disease. After the occurrence of brain injury, an individual can not remember events that occurred before it. For example a person involved in a car accident sustaining serious head injuries may never recall the events that occurred before the collision. However, it does not mean that the entire memory of such an individual. It is mainly that memory acquired before the injury that is lost, and also that acquired in the recent past. This means that a person may not forget the information acquired during early ages, but may lose that which was learnt in the years before the incident leading to injury.

Anterograde Amnesia

Anterograde amnesia is the opposite of retrograde amnesia. Information regarding the events that occurred after an incident is lost. It also results from brain injuries whereby the victim may never regain the capability of learning new information. Such an individual may have the capability to recall information acquired before the incident clearly. In this kind of memory loss, an individual retains short term memory which is useful in regard to the normal dialogue. Forgetfulness occurs in any case when the person’s attention is diverted. According to Goldstein, (2008 p 97), the behavior of a person may be maintained as well as the lifestyle since the original information is not lost. This means for example that a person who was in the habit of jogging may continue doing so, but after several hours the event will be completely forgotten.

Declarative knowledge

Declarative knowledge is based on facts from knowledge that has been acquired through learning. Under this kind of knowledge, an individual understands clearly that there is truth in what he knows. For example, almost every mature person possesses the knowledge that it takes 9 months after conception for a baby to be born. It is useful knowledge in allocating characteristics to particular objects or occurrences. It is useful in learning since a student needs it in order to advance in academics. Characteristics associated with the item in question are usually more significant in giving a description of items, disregarding the process involved in arriving at the outcome (Roediger and Karpicke 2006 p 66).

Intellectual Skills

According to Sternberg (2002 p 102), intellectual skills are the capabilities of human behavior that is useful in the enhancement of an individual’s performance in various tasks. In order for a person to develop intellectual skills, it is important that he/she is exposed and introduced to a particular idea. This needs to be strengthened through demonstration whereby the instructor performs the task in the presence of his/her students. It should be followed by the trial by the student to solve particular problems using the skills learnt from the instructions. With time, the student may try to apply this knowledge in solving similar but difficult problems. After this process, the student incorporates these skills in to his/her daily activities whereby they are used to help in solving the problems that arise occasionally. The intellectual skills can be passed from one person who has mastered to the others.

Cognitive Strategies

Algorithm is one of the cognitive strategies whereby a person learns the skills that can be used to solve problems. It is acquired through continuous practicing of the acquired skills in problem solving. A person acquires these skills through following the procedures that have been laid out by others who have mastered these skills. Mental set is another cognitive strategy whereby a person tends to solve problems through the application of well-known cognitive strategies regardless of any particular necessities in solving them. Heuristic strategies on the other hand are useful in establishing a basis for problem solving. This is because they help a person in understanding various techniques that can be used to in problem solving, although it does not give an assurance for success. A person’s understanding of the concept and the possible outcomes improves. Attention is the cognitive strategy of focusing on a specific feature in the environment disregarding the presence of other things. It is important in facilitating learning. Students who pay attention to the details of what is taught by the teacher usually perform well in subjects. It is one of the strategies that are significant in any learning environment (Roediger and Karpicke 2006 p 87).

Motor Skills

These are skills that are acquired by a person to facilitate actions. They are progressive movements which are performed by the body, mainly controlled by the brain. They include blinking and eye movement, walking and the general movement of limbs. They help an individual in learning, for example turning around to see, writing and other essential activities (Sternberg 2002 p 114).


This is generally the view of a person in regard to particular issues in the environment. It is mainly associated with a person’s aversion or liking in something. It is usually unenthusiastic or affirmative in regard to an object, another person or anything in general. In rare circumstances, a person may posses both positive and negative attitude towards something. It is important in learning since the more a person is enthusiastic about something; the more likely he/she is to succeed in learning (Sternberg 2002 p 112).


  1. Goldstein, E. B. Cognitive psychology: Connecting Rind, Research, and Everyday Experience (2nd Ed.). Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008.
  2. Robert J. Cognitive Psychology fourth edition, Thomson Wadsworth, 2006.
  3. Roediger, H. L. and Karpicke, J. D. “The Power of Testing Memory: Basic Research and Implications for Educational Practice”: Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 1, (2006): pp 181-210.
  4. Sternberg J. Cognitive Psychology, Wadsworth Publishing Co Inc; 2002
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