Short-term memory stores information temporarily in the mind. Long-term memory stores information permanently in the mind. Both properties are essential for high functioning in our society.
Short-term memory retains information in terms of chunks, or items. It is estimated that our capacity for short-term memory is for seven chunks, plus or minus two. To increase the number of chunks in our short term memory takes serious effort. Anxiety and lack of sleep can actually interfere with short term memory.
Long-term memory, however, has an unlimited capacity for information. Information remains in short term memory only as long as we continue to think about it, information placed in long-term memory remains there permanently. Once we have dedicated five to ten seconds of serious concentration to memorizing an item, it will remain in the long-term memory.
In order to retain this information in the long-term memory, we must be able to relate the information to information we already know. This is known as coding information. Short-term memory does not have any coding processes. Therefore, information is easily and quickly forgotten from the short-term memory.
In our long-term memory, we are able to learn new information without forgetting old information. In contrast, the short-term memory holds information only as long as a person is able to pay attention to it. In both processes, however, we are able to experience an apparent loss of information. In short-term memory, the loss of information may occur from either new incoming information or from decay due to not attending the old information. In short-term memory, we are only able to retain a very small amount of information at any given time, so information can be lost quickly due to interference. This differs from loss of information in long-term memory.
Loss of information in the long-term memory is more due to a retrieval failure rather than an actual loss of the information. When information is not coded in a way that is conveniently accessible, it appears to be forgotten by the long-term memory. However, if the person were able to give himself the correct cues for retrieving the information, he would most likely be able to.
Both Long and Short term memory are involved in the Serial Position Effect. This effect means that items given at the beginning and end of the list are better remembered than items given in the middle of the list. Long-term memory is utilized at the beginning of the list because the information is given so much attention it is placed there. Short-term memory is utilized at the end of the list because it is the last item and is temporarily held there until it is interfered with or removed form our focus. Thus, information learned at the end of the list will be forgotten within a short period of time, however, the information learned at the beginning of the list will be retained because it has been committed to the long-term memory.
Both long-term and short-term memories are based in biological systems. They are, however, theorized to be located in different areas of the brain. It appears that long-term memory may be stored as concepts throughout the entire brain. Opposed to short-term memory, which seems to be located in the hippocampus area of the brain. When the hippocampus is removed from both sides of the brain, a person retains his long-term memory, however loses his short-term memory. Therefore, there appears to be separate areas of the brain that control short and long term memories.
Both long-term and short term memories work together through what is called the Duplex Theory. Long-term memory can actually assist short-term memory through the use of mnemonics. Mnemonics are retrieval and storage plans for dealing with information. Information recalled from the long-term memory can be used to assist the short-term memory through mnemonics. Mnemonics allow larger chunks of information to be formed though associations.
Once a mnemonic has been use for the retention of information, it can be called up and used by the short-term memory for creating a larger chunk of information. The short-term memory can only hold approximately seven chunks of information. However, if the long-term memory used a mnemonic device for memorizing the information, this information is brought into the short-term memory in larger chunks that allow more information to be held in the short-term memory at that time. Thus, short-term memory can be expanded by drawing upon previously learned material stored in long term memory. This affects a person's ability to chunk, and allows them to store information in larger chunks and therefore expands their working memory. Relaxation and meditation exercises can be very helpful for improving both short and long-term memory.
The long and short-term memories work together and separately to maximize the capacity of our learning processes. They each have different tasks that they perform in our memory functions. Both are essential for our success at functioning independently in this world.
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