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Sensory Memory

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Western University
Psychology 2135A/B
Robert Brown

Lecture 6 - Memory Why does memory exist? - one way for a species to store the information it needs for survival is in DNA - DNA works for information acquired over the life-time of the species; relatively consistent over life-time of species - DNA deals with aspects of world that are consistent over very long time periods - memory exists because DNA is not enough; DNA is for things consistent over long periods; memory and learning for things that change over short periods of time Consider three possible types of world First, a completely random world - nothing is predictable - animals could be predators one day, prey the next - storing information about world would be pointless A completely systematic world - everything totally predictable - predators equally distributed in every direction, food always in same place - then, all responses could be coded into DNA and learning during your life would not be necessary A partially random, partially systematic world (real world) - some variation, with an underlying trend - memory makes sense; change things on a smaller time scale but not worth to be in DNA Moral of the story - there is structure in the world - makes sense for our behaviour to be guided by that structure - some of that structure changes slowly, so it is in DNA - some changes quickly so information is acquired in lifetime of individual and in memoir - Definition: any response that occurs after a stimulus has disappeared is based on memory How are people different from animals? - our enormous repertoire of behaviours, and the large memory store that supports it - we recognize a huge number of different objects in the world - any pair of these objects has meaningful differences - categorize objects in many different ways and we can make up new categories any time How do we select the adaptive responses? - large repertoire of behaviours; recognize many different objects - How can we match a behaviour to object drawing our attention? - create representation of what is out there (stimulus representation) - compare representation to all stored representations in memory to find out what the thing is and how to respond to it Why is that process challenging? - in dynamic world, stimuli arrive and leave suddenly - if you do not recognize fast, may get eaten or may not eat it - recognize means retrieve the right representation from among all those in memory - retrieve fast due to a dynamic world How do we get information out of memory? - use memory stores with different operating characteristics - sensory, short-term, long-term - have different strengths and weaknesses - human cognition is the sum of a series of solution to "engineering problems" through evolution Sensory Memory - very short duration - difficult to measure capacity - Sperling's experiment only had letters - a record of environmental energy arriving at the sense receptors (e.g., retinas, ears...) - contains raw (unprocessed) - no objects, no features, just the stimuli energy (wavelengths of light, sound energy at different frequencies of air pressure waves, etc.) - never recognize object in sensory memory since it is just raw - keeps things around long enough for transfer to short-term memory - unavailable to consciousne
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