The nature of human memory is such that it cannot be pinned down to an exact science. Not surprisingly, cognitive psychologists tend to disagree on many aspects of memory. However, many scientists have come to an agreement that there are three main components of memory. These components are the sensory register, the working (also known as short-term memory) and the long-term memory.
The sensory register is where information that is in its original unprocessed form goes. Although the sensory register has a large capacity, it has a limited duration, which means that whatever information gets sent here is not going to stay for very long. In order to be remembered, the information must be moved to the working memory.
The working memory is where most thinking is believed to occur. Working memory is where new information temporarily stays will it is being processed. Working memory has a limited capacity, so it doesn’t hold very much information at a time. Attention is a vital part of the working memory. Obviously, one cannot remember something that is not paid attention to! Working memory has a subcategory called maintenance rehearsal.
Maintenance rehearsal is when the act of repetition keeps the new information fresh in your mind. For example, at one point or another every one of us has said a phone number in our head over and over until we get to the phone to dial it. This repetition is called maintenance rehearsal. The repetition and rehearsal helps us maintain or remember the information.
The third and final component of memory is long-term memory. Long-term memory has unlimited capacity, so you can never run out of room. Long-term memory has a relatively long duration, but the exact length of time is indefinite. It could be a day, or a week, all the way up to an entire lifetime. Long-term memory is facilitated when one connects new information to something he or she already knows. Information that is in long-term memory can weaken over time and may be forgotten if it is not used regularly.
While many psychologists agree that there are three components of memory, they disagree upon certain characteristics. Some psychologists believe that once information reaches the long-term memory that is stays there forever. This information may be hard to retrieve. This theory is impossible to prove because so far, there is not a human being alive that will live forever.