Five Memory Recall Experiments in Psychology

Memory recall cover

Memory experiments in psychology are one of the most studied and researched upon. In psychology, memory is referred to the processes that are utilized to acquire, retain, and recall information. Unlike other species in the animal kingdom, we humans store memory after experiences as well as by learning, which is quite unique, but even with such an advanced brain, our memory is not flawless. Even if we don’t take disorders into account our memory is not perfect and an error occurs more often than not and to fully understand it many experiments have been conducted.

Memory Recall Experiments in Psychology

Though there have been many studies regarding memory, these are the ones that were really significant.

1. Multi-Store Model (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968): The multi-store model states that memory has three stores;  the sensory register, short-term memory, and long-term memory. This was presented by two psychologists, Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin in the year 1968 and they also stated that these are also stages and memory pass from one to another and if we continue to rehearse it, memory stores for longer and if we ignore it, it soon fades away. According to them, memory is first entered via the senses, meaning observing a movie, or listening to music. However, as we are surrounded by a constant stream of information, therefore this type of memory decays as soon as it enters and only the certain aspects that caught our attention are passed to the short-term memory stage. Here the information can be stored anywhere from a couple of hours to a day. But by thinking, writing, or discussing that certain information is passed to long-term memory which survives there for many years. Even the recollection of memory is based on the importance of the information. The primacy effect is one of the best studies conducted in relation to this theory, conducted by Glanzer and Cunitz, where they found the primary three to four items on a certain list are recalled the easiest.

Multi-store model 1

The workings of the multi-store model.

2. Working Memory Model (Baddeley & Hitch, 1974): Though the Multi-store model provides us a decent understanding of how the memory is filtered stored, and recalled, two psychologists Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch, stated that short-term memory was overly simplified and presented the working memory model. In this model, there are two components known as a visuospatial sketchpad and an articulatory-phonological loop. The visuospatial sketchpad is responsible for processing visual information and its recollection, as the appearance of someone’s face or the size of a vehicle, while the articulatory-phonological loop is responsible for hearing and recalling voice-related memories. Both of these work separately but are regulated by the central executive, which collects and processes information from other components. 

Working memory model

An illustration of the Working Memory Model.

3. Miller’s Magic Number (Miller, 1956): This has become a very well-known fact at this point, but we wouldn’t be here without the efforts of George A. Miller, an American cognitive psychologist. He stated that people are only able to hold at most of 7±2 chunks of information at a time. For example, if you forget your grocery list at home while shopping you are most likely to remember 7±2 items on the list. There are other times say when we are listening to a story and remember most of it, there are surely more than 7 pieces of information, but our brain segments the story in 7 big chunks and that’s how we are able to remember the story. Interestingly, this magic number applies to both the short-term memory and the working memory model.

Magic number 7

A visual symbolizing seven number capacity of our brain.

4. Flashbulb Memories (Brown & Kulik, 1977): Psychologists Roger Brown and James Kulik published a paper in the year 1977 describing the phenomenon of flashbulbs memory. It stated that even though our memory only stores information that we pay attention to but when we receive information during the time of shock or trauma we are able to recall it accurately with details by the minute. Additionally, we don’t even need to be emotionally attached to the event either for it to trigger flashbulbs memory. For example, when someone heard the news of a famous and respected person passing away or traumatic events such as the attack on the twin towers in the USA, they are able to recall exactly what they were doing at that time.

Flashbulb twin tower

Smoke from the twin towers.

5. Duration of STM (Peterson and Peterson, 1959): Llyod and Margaret Peterson wanted to test the duration for how long the short-term memory lasts within our system. They conducted a lab experiment in which 24 psychology students were presented with trigrams ( meaningless consonant syllables such as THC and CGI) and then were asked to recall them after intervals of 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, or 18 seconds between each trigram. After hearing the trigrams, students were asked to count backward from a random number, and when asked they had to recall the trigram. They found that after 3 seconds 80% of the trigrams were recalled correctly but as the interval increased, the recollection fell significantly as after 18 seconds only 10% of the trigrams were recalled correctly.

To this day, these experiments have been considered among the most influential and significant studies in psychology. These have allowed us to understand our memory better and helped many people all over the world by them bringing the findings from these experiments into their personal lives.

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