Human Memory

Most people can remember a phone number for up to thirty seconds. When this short amount of time elapses, however, the numbers are erased from the memory. How did the information get there in the first place? Information that makes its way to the short term memory (STM) does so via the sensory storage area. The brain has a filter which only allows stimuli that is of immediate interest to pass on to the STM, also known as the working memory.


There is much debate about the capacity and duration of the short term memory. The most accepted theory comes from George A. Miller, a cognitive psychologist who suggested that humans can remember approximately seven chunks of information. A chunk is defined as a meaningful unit of information, such as a word or name rather than just a letter or number. Modern theorists suggest that one can increase the capacity of the short term memory by chunking, or classifying similar information together. By organizing information, one can optimize the STM, and improve the chances of a memory being passed on to long term storage.


When making a conscious effort to memorize something, such as information for an exam, many people engage in "rote rehearsal". By repeating something over and over again, one is able to keep a memory alive. Unfortunately, this type of memory maintenance only succeeds if there are no interruptions. As soon as a person stops rehearsing the information, it has the tendency to disappear. When a pen and paper are not handy, people often attempt to remember a phone number by repeating it aloud. If the doorbell rings or the dog barks to come in before a person has the opportunity to make a phone call, he will likely forget the number instantly.[A] Therefore, rote rehearsal is not an efficient way to pass information from the short term to long term memory.[B] A better way is to practice "elaborate rehearsal".[C] This involves assigning semantic meaning to a piece of information so that it can be filed along with other pre-existing long term memories.[D]  


Encoding information semantically also makes it more retrievable. Retrieving information can be done by recognition or recall. Humans can easily recall memories that are stored in the long term memory and used often; however, if a memory seems to be forgotten, it may eventually be retrieved by prompting. The more cues a person is given (such as pictures), the more likely a memory can be retrieved. This is why multiple choice tests are often used for subjects that require a lot of memorization.


semantic: relating to the meaning of something

1. According to the passage, how do memories get transferred to the STM?

2. The word elapses in paragraph 1 is closest in meaning to:

3. All of the following are mentioned as places in which memories are stored EXCEPT the:

4. Why does the author mention a dog's bark?

5. Look at the four letters in brackets in the third paragraph that indicate where this sentence can be added to the passage. Where would the sentence fit best?

6. How do theorists believe a person can remember more information in a short time?

7. The author believes that rote rotation is:

8. The word it in the last paragraph refers to:

9. The word elaborate in paragraph 3 is closest in meaning to:

10. Which of the following is NOT supported by the passage?

11. The word cues in the passage is closest in meaning to

12. Which of the following best provides the important information in the highlighted sentence in the last paragraph of the passage. Incorrect answer choices leave out essential information or change its meaning.

13. An introductory sentence for a summary of the passage is found below. Complete the summary by choosing the THREE answer choices that contain the most important ideas in the passage. Some sentences do not fit in the summary because they provide ideas that are not mentioned in the passage or are only minor ideas from the passage. This question is worth 2 points.

The brain stores information that a person may need in the immediate future in a place called the short term memory (STM).