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How Valid is the Modal Model of Memory?

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How Valid is 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. ...read more.


Shallow processing at the level of physical and phonetic features creates weaker memory traces than deeper processing at the level of semantic encoding. They argue that it is the level or depth of processing which determines the rate of forgetting, not the limited capacity of internal structures. The controversial dichotomy between the separate stores still exists today with several authors claiming evidence against their existence. Robert G. Crowder (1993) in his article Short-term memory: where do we stand? stated that "the popularity of short-term stores grew during a time when we were busy inventing such storage receptacles. Nowadays that attitude seems archaic and, to some of us, even downright quaint" (Crowder, 1993). Baddeley and Hitch (1977), found evidence which refutes the claim that STM is responsible for the recency effect as they discovered recency effects in LTM. They discovered a recency effect amongst members of a rugby team trying to retrieve the names of teams whom they had recently played against. (Baddeley & Hitch, 1977). Despite the fact that the modal model has been described as containing a unitary STM, Atkinson & Shiffrin (1968), did draw a distinction between the control processes, (mainly rehearsal) in the STM. This distinction lead the way for ensuing theories which have divided the STM into independent systems. Perhaps the most influential model of separate primary memory systems is Baddeley's working model of memory (Baddeley & Hitch ,1974). ...read more.


As a result of his studies Bahrick introduced the idea of a permanent LTM which he termed "permastore". In summary, much research has been undertaken, mainly in the area of free recall, examining the primacy, asymptote and recency effects in order to explore whether or not there is a dichotomy of memory stores. Much of this research and also the research into patients with brain damage has supported the view of separate stores. However, counter evidence has been presented by various authors which refute these ideas. Several alternative models have been proposed which both revise and expand the original thinking, however, none of these totally refute the modal model in its entirety. The biggest criticism of the modal model is perhaps that it is too simple an explanation for such a complex structure such as human memory. So, is the modal model of memory therefore valid? This essay has examined the validity of the modal model in terms of its contribution to thought as a scientific paradigm upon which much further research has been based. In extending and revising the original model many of the alternative paradigms have consequently answered more questions and in greater detail. But, none of these alternative theories have come anywhere near answering all that science wishes to know about memory either. As a result of examining the evidence in this essay it remains that the modal model has established itself as the basis for much current scientific thought and for that reason alone, the model does hold a considerable amount of validity. ...read more.

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