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Memory: Discussion points

From the working-memory model to eye-witness testimony, read our discussion points and gain more great ideas for your own work.

The multi-store model

One strength of the MSM is that it was the first model to clearly distinguish between the differences of the STM and LTM, in terms of capacity, duration and encoding. As discussed previously there is a large amount of research to support this notion (Peterson and Peterson, 1959; Baddeley, 1966). It is also partially supported by the case studies of HM and Clive Wearing who memory impairments were generally restricted to LTM. The ‘primacy recency effect’ (Glanzer and Cunitz, 1966) is further evidence that the STM and LTM are separate stores, as people can generally recall words from the beginning of a list (primacy) because these have time to be rehearsed and transferred to LTM and the words at the end of the list (recency) are also recalled more easily because these are still accessible in the STM. However, the MSM has been criticised for being too simplistic and not offering a complete explanation of the workings of the memory system. For example, it does not explain how some information is more likely to be remembered than others, despite minimal rehearsal and other information is easily forgotten even if it has been rehearsed repeatedly. The MSM also ignores the notion that there is likely to be an interactive flow of information through the system rather than a simple linear flow between STM and LTM. The introduction of the WMM has also forced psychologists to consider whether the STM is really a unitary store with as limited capacity as the MSM suggests.

Working memory model

The WMM seems to offer a better explanation for the processes involved in the storage and processing of information in the STM and has become a very influential model. It is constantly being reviewed and updated, hence the addition of the episodic buffer in 2000. There is large body of research to support the existence of the phonological loop (Baddeley et al, 1975) and the visuo-spatial sketchpad (Baddeley et al., 1973) and the notion that despite their limited capacities they can work simultaneously to complete both a visual and acoustic tasks at the same time. This provides a more in depth account of how our STM is capable of completing complex tasks. Nonetheless, the WMM has still been criticised for its limited investigations of the central executive. This is proposed as the most important component of the model, yet has received the least experimental research and it is still unknown what the central executive actually does or the true capacity of this element.

Memory research

Most research conducted into the capacity, duration and encoding of the STM and LTM take the form of experiments. This can be advantageous because it allows a great deal of control when carrying out the research and can allow causal relationships to be drawn between the independent variable and the dependent variable. However, the experimental nature can also be criticised for the use of unrealistic or artificial stimuli. Letters or words are often used as the material for recall and these do not reflect all types of information that we would normally be required to remember and recall in everyday life. For example Baddeley’s (1966) experiment on encoding in LTM did not test our memory for past events (episodic memory) or our memory for certain skills e.g. playing a sport and thus the conclusions that can be drawn from this study are limited. Nonetheless, some experiments have used meaningful stimulus e.g. Bahrick’s high-school year book photos and still found convincing results.

Eye-witness testimony research

Most of the research conducted in EWT has used laboratory experiments because it is unethical to subject participants to witnessing a real crime or traumatic event. This methodology allows for control and reliability but tends to lack ecological validity. The artificiality of the material makes it very difficult to draw strong conclusions about the effect of certain variables on EWT in real life. For example, Loftus (1979) found a significant effect of anxiety on participant’s identification of the perpetrator yet this result is not replicated in witnesses to a real life crime. Christianson and Hubinette (1993) found victims of genuine bank robberies were more accurate in their recall of details of the event and the perpetrator, even after a 15 month interval. Similarly, the accuracy of young, middle aged and older participants was not significantly different when investigated in a field experiment where participants were exposed to a real person that they later had to identify (Yarmey, 1983), rather than photographs of a person. Obviously, it is very difficult to conduct more realistic experiments in this research area due to ethical issues but even the laboratory experiments have been criticised for exposing participants to possible harm when they have been made to watch films of car accidents etc. Despite the flaws mentioned previously, this area of research has provided a significant contribution to understanding memory and has many practical applications that are already being utilised by police and court systems.