Term of Art: Memory

“memory: A general term that covers a wide range of cognitive functions related to taking in, processing, storing, and retrieving information. Memory is closely tied to attention, and may also be profoundly influenced by linguistic auditory, or visual spatial processing abilities.

In general, two types of memory can be categorized in two fashions: first, the stage in the sequence of processes involved in taking in, storing, and recalling information; and second, by the sensory modality involved in the initial stage of memory input (such as auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and so on).

In terms of stages or types of the cognitive processes involved in memory, present theory identifies three major types of memory: short-term memory, active working memory, and long-term memory. Short-term memory involves immediate storage and processing of information, as a prelude to direct response or manipulating the information in some fashion, or to moving the information into long-term memory, or to shifting information and forgetting the information. Short-term memory may be auditory or visual in form depending on the nature of the input, or may involve other perceptual systems as well. The capacity of short-term memory is very limited, and the duration in which information is held is brief and measured in seconds.

Active working memory refers to the capacity to hold information in mind, either temporarily storing it while referring to more immediate tasks or information, or focusing on it in reflection, consideration, or some other form of mental manipulation. Active working memory has to do with concentration or focus, and is closely linked to attention. Information sustained and processed in working memory may be verbal or nonverbal in nature. The role of active working memory in a broad range or academic, social, and personal domains is extremely important. It is a fundamental component in the process of writing or reading, for example, and it is active working memory that enables reflection on past behavior or helps us note the passing of time. Current theories regarding attention disorders see the impact that deficits in impulse control have on working memory as a core in the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Long-term memory refers to storage of information in memory on a relatively permanent basis, operating over an extended period of time. In academic settings, success in many areas depends on the ability to recognize and remember salient information, and to transfer this information into long-term memory in a fashion that will enable effective recall on demand, as in a testing situation. In general, long-term memory is not affected directly by learning disabilities or attention disorders. However, the dual ability to move information from short-term memory into long-term memory–and to retrieve information stored in long-term memory–may be significantly affected by a wide range of learning disorders.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

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