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What is Information Processing? - Definition & Stages

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  • 0:08 What Is Information…
  • 0:45 Stages of Information…
  • 2:34 Three Stages of Memory
  • 4:19 Retaining Information
  • 6:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.

How do we interact with and process information in our daily lives? Psychologists use the theory of information processing to explain it. They also use the theory to talk about our stages of memory.

What Is Information Processing?

When you look at your computer, do you think of your brain? It might sound like a strange idea, but it's pretty much the connection psychologists have drawn in the development of the information processing theory. With the momentum of technology in the past few decades, there have been comparisons made between the way a computer operates and the way our mind does. Just as a computer receives, stores and brings up information, so do our minds as we live day by day. As the theory outlines, there are four steps in processing and handling events from our surroundings: attending, encoding, storing and retrieving.

Stages of Information Processing

Let's follow Jessica's story in order to watch the process unfold. Jessica is 16 years old. She goes to visit her grandmother today, and they talk once again about her goals to become a doctor. Her face lights up as her grandmother tells her she is going to be a wonderful doctor and help so many people. She says, 'Remember, Jessica, you can do anything you want if you keep believing in yourself.'

Years go by, and Jessica never forgets her grandmother's words of encouragement. When she is a senior in college, she becomes very discouraged by her difficult classes and worries about getting into med school. But every time she wonders if she can achieve her goal, she reminds herself of her grandmother's words. In fact, she will remember those words even once she becomes a doctor. Jessica went through all the stages of information processing in her time with her grandmother and thereafter.

The first stage she went through was attending. In this stage, she was listening and paying close attention to her grandmother's words that she could do whatever she wanted if she believed in herself. When we attend or focus on an event or a conversation, we are preparing ourselves to receive it.

The second stage Jessica went through was encoding. This is what happened when she was taking in her grandmother's words. If she was neither paying attention to them nor placing any importance on them, she would not have encoded them.

The third stage was storing. In this stage, her grandmother's words were entering her memory bank, ready to be called upon at some other time.

The final stage was retrieving. This happened when Jessica went through a tough time in college and looked back on her grandmother's words, bringing them up to her conscious awareness. She retrieved this information in order to use it.

Three Stages of Memory

A huge part of information processing is its description of memory. The theory lists three stages of our memory that work together in this order: sensory memory, short-term or working memory and long-term memory.

Sensory Memory

This initial stage involves our senses picking up on features from our environment. It occurs only for a few seconds before it is brought into our memory. For example, Jessica probably smelled the apple pie her grandmother was baking in the oven while they were having their conversation. If this was a common occurrence when she was at her grandmother's house, the sensory memory would be stored, and every time she smelled baked apple pie, she would feel like she was back there again.

Short-Term Memory

This second stage is the first stop for incoming information. It holds only a certain amount of information for a brief amount of time, unless there is further processing into long-term memory. It is also referred to as one's working memory, as it serves any number of functions like remembering phone numbers, plans for the day, etc. Jessica made plans earlier in the week to meet with her grandmother and didn't use a planner, but the date and time remained in her short-term memory.

Long-Term Memory

In this stage, the information we've received becomes implanted in our minds. There is no limit to the amount and types of information we can retain in this storehouse. We are not aware of every memory we have stored, but they are still there, simply not triggered. Jessica may not spend any time thinking of her grandmother's words during her career as a doctor. Until that is, the memory is triggered by, let's say, people telling her they won't be able to do this or that with their future.

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