Information Processing Theory

BY Gul Nazir Khan

§ Information processing theory-Claude Shannon

§ Information processing

§ Short term memory

§ Long term memory

§ Mnemonic memory devices.


Shannon was born in Petoskey, Michigan, on April 30, 1916. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1936 with bachelor's degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering. In 1940 he earned both a master's degree in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Claude Shannon was a founder of information theory. He combined mathematical theory with engineering principles to get the stage for the development of digital computer. The term bit, today used to describe an individual unit of information processed by a computer was coined from Shannon's research in 1940.He published a mathematical theory of communication in the bell system technical journal(1948).His work founded the subject of information theory and he proposed a linear schematic model of communication system.

The use of the term "bit" as a unit of information first appeared in this paper. In an age in which communication took place with continuous, analog waveforms, it was a startling notion that information traveling across any communications system could be defined mathematically as some quantity of binary symbols. It was entirely new that information of any kind-- whether for use on a telegraph, telephone, radio, or television-- could be decomposed into zeros and ones, encoded, transmitted, and decoded. He went on to present the concept of the maximum rate of transmission on a channel-- the capacity or "Shannon limit"-- which provides the benchmark against which all codes and modulations are measured


Psychologists define memory as the capacity to record, retain and retrieve information-the three R’s of remembering. Without memory learning would be impossible. Most cognitive psychologists define memory as a perceptually active mental system that receive encode modifies and retrieve information. The collections of all of our memories are the library of our personal history. Our memory forms a living record of what we have read, heard, seen and experienced over the period of our life.

Types of Memory

There are three types of memory:

Sensory memory: This type of memory exists for vision and hearing. However many psychologists assumed that it exist for other senses as well. We are not controlled over the information that enter into our sensory memory-its capacity being unlimited. The information being held is much briefed. But the question is that “why we are not overwhelmed with the incoming data?” The answer is that we do not attend to every data that enters sensory memory, if it failed to attend it fade away in a second or so.

Functions of sensory memory

The main functions of sensory memory are:

It makes the visual world smooth and continuous despite the blinking of eyes.

Give a moment or two to determine if the incoming data should be processed or not.

It can group facial features into a complex pattern of face. Without sensory memory the world will be a jumble of unrelated elements.

Class room implications: O f the stimuli in the environment some succeed in providing an orienting response, others do not. Orienting response makes us curios, arouse our interest and make us want to know more about the stimulus. Perhaps the simplest way to make the students attention is to:


Variations in the stimuli

Emotional stimuli


Short term Memory

Short term memory is also called working memory and relates to what we are thinking about at any given moment in time. In Freudian terms, this is conscious memory. It is created by our paying attention to an external stimulus, an internal thought, or both. Nearly a hundred years a go William James give the concepts of “primary” and “secondary” memory which later refer to short term memory and long term memory. Short term memory (STM) refers to the process of attending to information in sensory memory or attending the information in to your conscious thoughts and perceptions at any given moment.

STM has two characteristics:

The information that enters it is available for a very short period of time unless it is actively processed. This process take the form of maintenance rehearsal as when you repeat a word over and over again to your self also take the form of manipulating information-with out some kind of mental effort. Information fades away from STM in 15 seconds.

STM have limited capacity. Most people can hold only about seven bits in it at any one time e.g. if you were given the strings of random numbers to remembers, and you come to the seven one, you would be approaching the limit of your STM. For example how you can remember a phrase which consist of 36 individual letters. It can be remember through chunking. By chunking individual letter into seven meaningful words. You can easily keep this information active. You can store the idea of this phrase into a single chunk leaving room for other information

Forgetting from STM

Some researchers believe that interference is the primary reason why information is forgotten from the STM (zechmeister & Nyberg, 1982).

Long term memory (LTM): In contrast to STM, LTM store information with relative permanence and has almost unlimited capacity. Information is normally transferred into LTM through an attention related process. One such process is rehearsal which itself can take several form. In maintenance rehearsal, you repeat information silently over and over, without giving it real thoughts. It’s not enough to transfer information into LTM.

Much more effective and getting information into LTM are attention based process that involves making association between aspects of the new information and information you already known (Howard, 1983).

How STM & LTM work together:

Suppose you read lists of 31 authors name and you asked to recall one by one in any order as you can. This is called a free recall test.

You will probably recall:

Common author regardless of where they appear.

Your favorite authors.

However tests show that best recall for items presented at the beginning of the list called primary effect.

Further more naming at the end- recency effect.

Psychologists explain these by pointing to the different functioning of STM & LTM.

You may still recall the name of the authors at the end because it is still exist in your STM. On the other hand you may recall the first authors name because of more time to rehearse them into LTM. Poorest recall for middle items because it is not yet processed in LTM, at the same time new items have displaced it from STM.


Procedural memory: it include to perform a numbers of skill like drive a car, ride a bike play tennis etc, because you stored the necessary knowledge to perform skills in one part of the LTM, that is called procedural memory.

Episodic (ep-ih-sah-dik) memory: we remember 100 of daily events, such as getting up early in the morning, taking breakfast watching a movie because we personally experienced in a type of LTM. You can answer the question “how was your day?” from episodic memory.

Semantic memory: in semantic memory we can remember definition of mole, education and learning because we have stored information or relationship between things in a type of LTM called semantic memory. When you take an exam, you recall information about mental representation of objects, facts and relation from semantic memory.

Transfer information from STM & LTM (various kinds of LTM) Involve a number of attention related process.

Information Processing

Incoming Information

Sensory memory system

Does a person attend to information?

No ----------------- (yes)

Information is lost SHORT TERM MEMORY

· How information is processed?

· No processing (information loss after 15 second)

· Shallow processing (information is maintained in STM for longer time)

· Deep processing (LTM) If information is later needed, it is transferred to STM (Lindal, Davidoff,1987)

v Stage Model of Information Processing

v One of the major issues in cognitive psychology is the study of memory. The dominant view is labeled the "stage theory" and is based on the work of Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968).

v This model proposes that information is processed and stored in 3 stages, i.e. Sensory memory, short term memory and long term memory.

Diagram of information processing Atkinson and Shiffrin(1968)


Problem solving

Decision making

Information gathering and storage

Other cognitive process

How to improve learning

Organization: e.g. to learn type of memory one must organize it in SSL i.e. Sensory, short term, and long term memory.

After organizing the materials use the following three techniques to help you to remember it.




Mediation associate two items to be remembered by using a third that ties them together e.g. all men are mortal, Ahmad is a man, and therefore Ahmad is mortal.

Imagery: It involves making mental picture of events and things that you want to remember. it is difficult to define mental picture but most people agree that they can form mental picture, although they are differ with the ease with which they form mental picture, vividness of picture, and the amount of detail included.

Mnemonic: It is a Greek word meaning to remember. A mnemonic is a device that helps to improve one’s memory without expensive and time consuming memory aids.

Mnemonic devices

Laird cermak in his book, improve your memory, suggest a method which is also called cermak method. This method involves two basic steps and three techniques.

Pay close attention to what you want to remember.

Organize your thoughts.

SQ3R method: This method includes survey, question, read, recite and review-is systematic method to improve your ability to learn.

Separate the task into smaller units, reading one or two sections of each unit each day.

Quickly survey the material

Question yourself about the most important aspect of what you have just surveyed

Read it carefully

Recite the important points out loud.

Finally review all material covered.

· Elaborative rehearsal-while you are rehearsing information, elaborate on the information to enrich encoding. One way is to make an association with the material.

· Method of loci: First practiced by Greek narrator the singular of loci is locus which means place. The method of loci is a means of remembering the order of a list, a name or objects –by associating them with some sequence of place with


Berliner D.C, Gage N.L (1992)“educational psychology” Fifth edition, Houghton Mifflin company Boston.

Davidoff.l(1987) “introduction to psychology” 3rd edition, Macgraw Hill Book Company USA.

Plotnik .R(1989) “introduction to psychology” second edition Random house, New York.

Sehraie ,Asim(2007) “exploring psychology”vol-, A-1publisher Lahore. on 29-3-2009.

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