Seven Bits of Short Term Memory Makes Us Redundant?

One of the simplest models of memory you can think of that appears to work in everyday life is the idea that there is short term memory and long term memory. If you try to remember a list of words or letters and repeat them back immediately you are using your short term memory. If you think about what you did earlier in the day then you are pulling on your long term memory.

Short term memory, sometimes called primary or active memory, holds on to information for only a few seconds before it is lost and only has the capacity to hold seven items at a time, give or take two. Well actually some theories and research only makes that four items but I do not wish to depress you.

If you were to try to remember a list of letters, numbers or words by flashing them up in front of you then repeat them a second later you will get an idea of how this works. This kind of memory disappears quickly and when you do the exercise a few times, the earlier sequences will get lost. This whole process is called free recall.

If you try to extend this list and make it longer you may notice a phenomena known as the recency or primary effect appear. From the research of psychologists Murdock in 1962 and that of Postman and Phillips in 1965 it was clear that when recalling a long list of information there was a higher chance that you would remember the first (primacy effect) and last (recency effect) items better than those in the middle.

Well having about seven items of short term memory doesn’t seem a lot does it?

Computers have something similar called a cache. It is used by the central processing unit (CPU) and is a small but very fast space that will copy small blocks of data that can be worked on before putting the results into the slower main memory. The processes involved in a cache are a subject of huge value and research in the information technology world. A cache within your computer at home is likely able to hold 128 bits of information at a time. A bit is the smallest item of information that you can store, it can only have two values, off and on, or more familiar in the information technology world are the values 0 and 1.

So what about our memory, seven bits makes us a little redundant here, doesn’t it?

Well it seems we are still able to beat the computer.

If you flash up a load of images in front on someone instead of numbers or letters and then get them later to identify what images were shown to them you may be surprised by how much you actually do recall.

This is obviously a place to concentrate on if you are interested in accelerated learning. The amount of information in an image is much larger than a bit of information on your computer. Essentially if you can convert a stream of numbers or letters into images containing the same information your ability to recall will dramatically increase.

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