Sensation
and
Perception
Your Phonological Loop:

Have you ever found yourself dazing off while listening to someone speak?  Have you ever noticed that when asked if
you were listening you can usually repeat the last few seconds of the person’s speech verbatim? Even if you were not
listening at all and the speaker regains your attention after they finished speaking this memory for their last few words
stays with you for a short time. This is actually an ability available to all people due to a mechanism of human memory
which called the phonological loop.

Every person’s memory can be divided up into 3 main components.  The secondary memory or long-term memory is
our store of concepts and events that happened to us in the past, we are unlikely to easily forget the items stored in
our long term memory. Primary memory is memory for things that we are experiencing. If we do not place them quickly
into long-term memory, by associating the information with things that we already know, the information is lost in a
matter of seconds. The last type of memory is the one responsible for recalling sensory input, and it is appropriately
called sensory memory.  

Sensory memory is a memory for information that we take in through our senses and it is actually preattentive,
meaning that we do not consciously have to remember it, as it is readily available to us for a short period of time.  In
order for someone to become aware of this sensory memory which informs us about our surroundings, the memory
must be attended to by the conscious before the sensory neurons stop firing.  

Clap your hands loudly. How long does the sound of the clap seem to persist for?  Most people claim to hear the
sound for a second or a few seconds but the actual sound, the density waves in the air, last for only a very small
fraction of a second.  This persistence of the handclap sound is due to prolonged neural firing. In other words the
sensory organs in your ear send information to your brain about the clap even after the sound of the clap has
ended.  In fact the sound of the handclap may very well echo in your mind for several seconds.

Our retinal receptors continue to fire normal vision related information for only about 250 ms, or one quarter of a
second.  Someone can be shown a grid of symbols and can still “see” the grid and correctly report the location of any
symbol on the grid, only before .25 seconds pass since the grid was removed from vision.

Information that we hear lasts for relatively longer though, about 2.5 seconds.  Our sensory memory for auditory
information results in the phonological loop, an echo for what we have just heard that we can play back again and
again as long as we pay conscious attention to it.

The phonological loop works most effectively for speech based information and might have evolved, in part, from the
human reliance on communication and social interaction. Test it out for yourself. It works for music, speech, or any
kind of distinct auditory information.

It seems to most people that they are not consciously controlling the memorization of sensory information because
they are not.  When one recalls something from their phonological loop the action of recall is a conscious action but
the storage of this sound is subconscious (It is truly physiological and not psychological, if you think of it in terms of
neuronal firing). You were not paying any attention to the speaker until after they finished speaking, but you still have
access to their words, information that was captured by your senses in the past.

When you are in a social situation and you meet someone new they normally introduce themselves and you normally
retain their name in your sensory memory for about 2.5 seconds. Once you pay conscious attention to this name the
information associated with it is stored in primary or short term memory.  This conscious memory only lasts for about
5 to 30 seconds and is easily interrupted by incoming information, such as the small talk that two people engage in
after introducing themselves.  

When you meet someone for the first time you do not always have the time to stop and rehearse their name. This is
because you are often trying to think of something intelligent to say. Like other information, a new acquaintance’s
name can be erased from your short-term memory after just a few seconds of conversation with them. Using their
name in a sentence after shaking their hand keeps their name active and available in your memory. “So Jim, what line
of work are you in?” Doing this also gives you time to associate the name with information in your long-term memory
(Oh, he reminds me of another friend named Jim).

This technique works very well, because of the way our different components of memory interact.  I often forget an
acquaintance’s name right after being introduced to them and I have found that this technique is valuable. The fact
that people really like to hear their names used in social discourse is an added benefit!

There are many ways to transfer short term memory into long term memory while under time constraints and/or
cognitive load.  Creating new techniques can be fun and helpful in everyday life.  Facts about the world around us
that we glean from scientific analysis can give us ways to create beneficial and highly functioning behavior.  


Glean: verb
To gather or collect bit by bit.

Long Term Memory:

Neural Firing:

Neuron: noun
Any of the impulse-conducting cells that constitute the nerves, spinal column or brain, consisting of a nucleated cell
body with one or more dendrites and a single axon. Also called a nerve cell. Also spelled neurone which is chiefly
British.

Phonological Loop:

Sensory Memory:

Short Term Memory:

Verbatim: adj.
Using exactly the same words; corresponding word for word.
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