3 Key Terms Relating to Memory's 3 Processes

To understand diamonds, you need to know about their four qualities: Cut, Carat, Clarity, and Color--what jewelers would call the 4 C's of diamonds.
To understand memory systems, you need to know about their three qualities: Encoding, Storage (container size and duration), and Retrieval (recovering)--what you could--but shouldn't--call the 3 c's of memory:*

*If you did call Encoding, Storage, and Retrieval "the 3 c's," how would you remember what the 3 terms are really called? Besides, what would people think? Probably that you are no different from those who talk about the 3  K's: Koding, Keeping, and re-Kollecting--except that you can spell.☺

The 3 Key Terms Defined:
  1. Encoding: Putting information in to the memory (converting the information into a code that the memory will accept--as you will see, different memories use different codes. In a sense, different memories speak different languages.)
  2. Storage: Keeping information in the memory (how much can be stored-- and for how long?)
  3. Retrieval: Getting information that is in the memory out of the memory so we can use it (accessing/recovering what is in memory)
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To help you understand what Encoding, Storage, and Retrieval are and to help you remember that they are memory's 3 active and independent processes, watch this short (26 second) animation.

Point not to overlook when focusing on memorizing definitions of each of the 3 processes: Rather than viewing your memory as just a storage space, realize that storing information is just 1 of  3 active processes that make up what we call memory.

Point that often trips up students: The 3 key qualities are independent--being good at one doesn't mean the memory is good at another. For example, a memory that has good storage capacity will not necessarily be good at retrieval.  To see why,  imagine two memories--one that is like a shoe box, and one that is like a poorly organized attic. The shoe box memory would be bad at storage (not much could be stored) but would be great at retrieval (if something is in the shoe box, it would be easy to find). The messy attic memory, on the other hand, would be great at storage (lots of stuff could be dumped in there) but would be poor at retrieval (it would be hard to sort through all the junk scattered throughout a dark, messy attic to find the one thing you needed). To reiterate, just as knowing a diamond's size doesn't tell you about its clarity, knowing that a memory has good sized storage space doesn't tell you that the memory is good at retrieval.

Take home lesson: If you are having a problem remembering names, class material, or some other information, the first step to solving that problem is to figure out which memory process is failing you. You may be able to pinpoint the source of your problem by asking 3 questions:

  1. Did the information ever get it into my memory? (If not, you have an encoding problem.)
  2. Did the information fall out of memory or get corrupted/damaged in my memory? (If so, you have a storage problem.)
  3. Is the information still somewhere in my memory, but I am failing to find it? (If so, you have a retrieval problem.)

Take a short (just 4 multiple-choice questions) quiz over encoding, storage, and retrieval.

Learn about your 3 memories: The 3 Box Model

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Copyright 2020-2023 Mark L. Mitchell