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Given that recoding involves rehearsal and the use of long-term memory formation, anything that prevents or influences these will obviously affect the ability to recode successfully (Cowan, 2001).Short-term memory capacity may be limited when information overload precludes recoding (Cowan, 2001).
It is particularly important to be clear on the normal capacity of short term memory as, without a proper understanding of the intact brain’s functioning it is difficult to assess whether an individual has a deficit in ability (Parkin, 1996).
This review outlines George Miller’s historical view of short-term memory capacity and how it can be affected, before bringing the research up to date and illustrating a selection of ways of measuring short-term memory capacity.
In this participants had to recall information read aloud to them and results clearly showed that there was a normal upper limit of 9 when binary items were used.
This was despite the constant information hypothesis, which has suggested that the span should be long if each presented item contained little information (Miller, 1956).
The propensity to use rehearsal and memory aids is a serious complication in accurately measuring the capacity of short-term memory.
Indeed many of the studies ostentatiously measuring short-term memory capacity have been argued to be actually measuring the ability to rehearse and access long-term memory stores (Cowan, 2001).The conclusion from Hayes and Pollack’s experiments (see figure 1) was that the amount of information transmitted increases in a linear fashion along with the amount of information per unit input (Miller, 1956). Measurements of memory for information sources of different types and bit quotients, compared to expected results for constant information.Results from Hayes (left) and Pollack (right) cited by (Miller, 1956) Miller refers to a ‘bit’ of information as ‘the amount of information needed to make a decision between two equally likely alternatives’.The historical view of short-term memory capacity The span of absolute judgement is defined as the limit to the accuracy with which one can identify the magnitude of a unidimensional stimulus variable (Miller, 1956), with this limit or span traditionally being around 7 2.Miller cites Hayes memory span experiment as evidence for his limiting span.Similarly, but actually distinguished quite definitively by Cowan, are techniques such as the requirement to repeat a separate word during the target stimulus presentation, which acts to prevent rehearsal.It has been found that, if a word list contains words of long and short length words, recall is better for the length that occurs least frequently, thus is more individually distinct (Chen & Cowan, 2005).However an apparent contradiction to this is the fact that, if an English word is worth around 10 bits and only 23 bits could be remembered then only 2-3 words could be remembered at any one time, obviously incorrect.The limiting span can better be understood in terms of the assimilation of bits into chunks.Short-term memory is the memory for a stimulus that lasts for a short while (Carlson, 2001).In practical terms visual short-term memory is often used for a comparative purpose when one cannot look in two places at once but wish to compare two or more possibilities.