Introduction to Cognitive Psychology and MSM

Introduction to Cognitive

Cognitive Psychology started properly as a separate research paradigm in the 1970s, when artificial intelligence (computers) became a feature of our lives.

Cognition means thinking, problem solving. Therefore cognitive psychology focuses on “The study of human thinking, problem solving and information processing.

Cognitive Psychologists study how the human brain actually functions. They are trying to explain how we think, perceive, pay attention to stimuli and then how we process that information to learn and make memories; all of which are crucial functions which make us quantitatively and qualitatively different to other animals.

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Introduction to Cognitive

Humans are seen as immensely complex information processors!

Processing’ includes:

  • attention
  • perception
  • language
  • problem-solving

The models devised from their research then feeds directly into computing, to make our invented information processors (computers) function better and better, closer and closer to the ways in which we think the human mind works.

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Multi-Store Model: Part 1

Atkinson + Shiffrin devised this model in the 1970’s. The Multi-Store Model  is thought to process memories in roughly 3 parts. 

1stSensory store/register.

  • The five senses are known as modalities - visual, taste, tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), or auditory sensory input.
  • There is an attentional gate that decides which sensory input needs further processing.
  • The attentional gate is permanently opening and closing, mostly unconsciously and without our control. E.g. Drivers focus on the road when it’s difficult over listening to a conversation.
  • If the input is deemed unnecessary it’s ‘bounces’ off and doesn’t go through the sensory register. 
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Multi-Store Model: Part 2

2nd: Short Term Memory (STM)

  • If input is deemed important it gets registered and then travels through to the Short Term Memory/store (STM).
  • May have to be rehearsed, for example repeating it aloud. This is effectively sending it back to the Sensory Store/register.
  • Our processor encodes the memory, and gets sorted into a category.
  • It proceeds to go into a temporary storage.
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Multi-Store Model: Part 3

3rd: Long Term Memory (LTM)

  • If the memory is to be made permanent, it goes on to the Long Term Memory/store (LTM).
  • There it decides where it is going to be stored in the LTM, through categorising and finding its home where it will stay permanently for retrieval if required.
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Multi-Store Model: Part 4

Visual vs. Auditory 

  • One of the people researching Part 1 (Sensory Store/register) was called Sperling. He focused on Visual and Auditory, decided there was a difference between how we hear and see things.
  • Auditory information has to be stretched. The Sensory Register can stretch it for us. We can hear it over and over again to suit our abilities to function in our environment.
  • Visual input can be repeated/revisited, but when a sound has happened it can’t be revisited, so it needs to be memorised differently.
  • He named these 2 as different parts of the Sensory Register. The auditory comes through the echoicregister, whereas the visual comes through the iconic register. 
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Multi-Store Model: Part 5

Sensory Register:

Capacity: Limitless – depends on attentional gate.
Duration: Max of 2 secs
Encoding: Original sensory modality 

Short Term Memory:

Capacity: 7(+/-2) (George Miller)
Duration: Max of 30 secs
Encoding: Changed to mental representation, auditory

Long Term Memory:

Capacity: All our memories
Duration: Life-long
Encoding: Semantic, encoded what it means

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Multi-Store Model: Supporting Evidence

Glanzer & Cunitz (1966)

Aim: To prove that the Multi-Store Model was right, and there were 2 separate stores.

Method: Give participants lists of words, then test their recall of these words.

Results: Words in the start of the list were best remembered, the words in the middle were forgotten or poorly remembered (asymptote word – entirely forgotten), and the last few words were still being recalled so were moderately well remembered.

Conclusions: Words at the start of the list were best remembered as they were processed. As the last words were still being processed, they were still accessible. 

Distinctiveness overrides normal memory processing. 

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Multi-Store Model: Supporting Evidence

The Case of Clive Wearing reported by Blakemore (1988).

Clive Wearing is famous for being a man with only a seven second long memory.

After becoming critically ill from a spinal infection and it crossed the blood brain barrier, causing his brain to swell. 

How does this case support the M.S.M.?

It shows that the Short Term Memory and the Long Term Memory must be two separate things because Clive cannot maintain memories for long periods of time, so only has partial function of his Short Term Memory.

However, he recognises his wife and becomes happy when he sees her, and recalls how to play piano pieces without sheet music.

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Multi-Store Model: Evaluation

Supporting evidence:

  • There is a lot of empirical evidence supporting this model, suggesting the model does explain memory processing in these studies effectively.
  • One example is the study by Glanzer & Cunitz (1966) who found in their serial position curve studies, evidence they interpreted to mean there are two separate stores, one processing short term memories and the other storing long term memories.
  • Another example would be the two brain damaged patients Clive Wearing and HM. Clive has no lasting short term memories, nor any long term memories created post-accident. However, his STM works to a certain extent which shows that the STM and LTM must be separate.
  • Also, HM had no ability to create new memories, but had all the memories up until he was 16.
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Multi-Store Model: Evaluation

Criticise the Supporting Evidence:

  • The supportive evidence comes largely from scientific, lab-based research, so we can be sure of cause and effect in which there were representative samples used, effective controls over extraneous variables, replicable procedures etc.
  • We can have confidence that the results are both reliable and valid.
  • However, many lab experiments have used tasks to measure recall, which can be said to lack mundane realism, e.g. word-lists or digit span tests.
  • This could lead to the criticism that the study lacks ecological validity, because the research environment is unlike the real world, resulting in problems generalising from one situation to the other.
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Multi-Store Model: Evaluation

Opposing Theories:

  • There are other models which explain memory very differently, so this may not be the whole explanation for how we process memories.
  • For example, Sir Frederick Bartlett originally coined the term ‘Schema’ in 1930s and it is now a very well recognised concept, which presents human memory as an ACTIVE and ADAPTABLE process, made up of the creation of units of mental representation for external events/ideas etc. which he called ‘SCHEMAS’, (or ‘Schemata’ to use the plural correctly).
  • Schema-theory presents the memory system as made up of interlocking concepts, experiences, emotions etc which is entirely individual and idiosyncratic.
  • We each develop our personal network of SCHEMATA and this is why our memories are unique to us.
  • Schemas are cognitive structures that organise knowledge stored in our memory.
  • They are mental representations of categories (from our knowledge, beliefs and expectations) about particular aspects of the world such as people, objects, events, and situations.
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Multi-Store Model: Evaluation


  • This model can be used to explain the memory deficits in real life, which we see with patients who have sustained brain damage.
  • For example, the case of Clive Wearing shows us that there must be two separate stores, because he has some long term memories intact (e.g. memory for his wife and past events) yet very diminished short term memory function (around 5 seconds).
  • The fact that these have been differently affected by his encephalitis, suggests the function is served in different locations in the brain and memory system.
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Multi-Store Model: Evaluation


  • This model has been criticised as producing a very simplistic description of a very complex functionality in processing. 
  • Some have called it a 'boxy model' which does not accurately reflect the intuitive experience of remembering in real life, which we know to be very complex and variable between people, different situations and at different times of our lives.
  • So, it could be accused of offering a too reductionist analysis to be of ultimate relevance.
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