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Three Stages Of Memory in Psychology: Explanation & Summary

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Instructor: Manuela Heberle

Manuela has master's degree in counseling and has taught psychology, social psychology, and a tests and measurements course.

Memory is a complex, three-stage process that lets us learn and recall information and moments from our lives. This explanation of memory includes the three stages involved in memory: encoding, storing, and retrieving information. Updated: 08/25/2021

An Overview of Memory

While we might take memory for granted, it is actually a complex process that allows us to learn and recall vast amounts of information every moment of every day. It's such a complex process that, although memory has been studied for many years, psychologists aren't entirely sure how it works. What psychologists do know is that the brain's hippocampus, thalamus, and amygdala are all involved in the complex process of memory. They also agree that the three stages involved in the memory process are encoding, storage, and retrieval of information.

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  • 0:01 An Overview of Memory
  • 0:38 Stage 1: Encoding Information
  • 1:53 Stage 2: Storing Information
  • 3:42 Stage 3: Retrieving…
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Stages of memory
Diagram of stages involved in memory

Stage 1: Encoding Information

The first stage of memory is encoding. When we are exposed to information of any kind, we take the information and begin processing it in visual, acoustic, and semantic form. This means that we take information, either as a picture or a sound or that we give the information meaning. One way to understand encoding is to think of it as the method that you use to lay the groundwork for remembering information.

Let's look at an example. You look at your professor's phone number on the syllabus because you have a question about an assignment. As you look at the number, you are using visual coding. If you say the number to yourself a couple times as you reach for the phone, you are coding acoustically as well. You might notice that the phone number is just one digit off from an old number your parents used to have when you were younger, and you think about how slim the odds are of something like this happening. The words that you use in your self-talk give meaning to the number, so you have also used semantic coding. The groundwork for remembering your professor's phone number is in place.

Stage 2: Storing Information

Storing information is about keeping the information available so that it can be recalled at a later point. There are two main types of memory, short-term memory (STM) and long-term memory (LTM).

Short-term memory is sometimes referred to as active memory. Information that is in STM lasts only up to 30 seconds, and most adults can store five to nine items in STM. If the information is attended to in some way, it can become part of long-term memory. Information in LTM can last for years or even a lifetime. The information in LTM can be recalled as needed.

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