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The Validity Of The Modal Model Of Memory

3088 words - 12 pages

The Validity of the Modal Model of Memory

Memory can be thought of as the ability to process and retrieve
information. In one hundred years of scientific research on this
subject, there is still no dominant theory which explains human
memory. One of the most prominent models in this area over the past
thirty years has been the modal model of memory, which was originally
devised by Atkinson & Shiffrin in 1968. This model theorises a
distinction between sensory, primary and secondary stores. Although
this model continues to be highly influential, it has given rise to
much discussion pertaining to its general validity and the need for
the distinct memory stores. This essay will examine both supporting
and opposing research and theories in order to establish how valid the
modal model is and what its limitations are.

Historically, the first distinction to be made between primary and
secondary stores was made by William James in 1890. Primary memory was
outlined by James as being "that which is held momentarily in
consciousness." Secondary memory he described as being "unconscious
but permanent" (cited by Healy & McNamara, 1996).

A more contemporary description of the modal model was postulated by
Glanzer & Cunitz, (1966, cited in Gross, 1992). Results of their
extensive laboratory research into the existence of the dichotomy of
memory stores has generally been presented using the serial position
curve. When participants are given a list of items to commit to
memory, their recall is usually better for items which appeared early
in the list (the primacy effect) and late in the list (the recency
effect), than it is for items in the middle of the list (the asymptote).
This is represented diagrammatically shown below.


The primacy effect has been explained as being caused by the operation
of the long term memory (LTM). In theory, the earlier items of the
list will have been rehearsed and processed in the short term memory
(STM) long enough to allow for transfer into the LTM (approximately 30
seconds). The recency effect is said to be characteristic of the
operation of STM, as after the presentation of the final item, less
than 30 seconds will have elapsed since presentation of the later
items and hence these items will still be operating in STM. Recall
will typically be poor on the middle items because they have been
displaced following rehearsal in STM and will not yet have been
consolidated into LTM. (Gleitman, 1995).

Further compelling evidence for the existence of separate stores was
discovered by Brown (1958), and Peterson & Peterson (1959), (cited in
Gross, 1992), who used a similar methodology which has now become
known as the Brown-Peterson technique. They both investigated the
capacity of the short term memory (STM) using a technique which

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