Cognition, Emotion and Motivation

1. Suppose that you are accustomed to a certain bus stopping on a specific corner near your college campus. A bus stops, and you “recognize” it to be the customary bus; you fail to notice that the side of the bus has a totally different company name. How is this an example of top-down processing? What would be different if it were bottom-up processing?

In bottom-up processing, the stimulus is important during object recognition. In top-down processing, an individual’s concepts, memory and expectations are important during object recognition. Context could facilitate recognition. There are two errors in top-down processing. One is not recognizing that an object changed and the other one is not recognizing a new object appeared. In this example, if it were bottom-up processing, the stimulus would have been more important than the individual’s memory and the subject would have been more focused on the object and recognized the difference in company name and may have failed to notice what kind of vehicle it was. The following could be another example of top-down processing. On this past 4th of July, I was at the beach, in Marina Del Rey, California, with several friends, my dog and many other people who were there as well. At some point, my friend and former housemate Amy told me: “Elena, your dog got loose!”, pointing at a large, white dog. She used to leave with me and my dog and they adore each other. I said: “It is not my dog Sammy!”. It was another dog that somewhat looked like mine. Some other examples could be gender, breed and ethnic stereotypes, such as: “Women are, cats are, Italians are… “. Bottom up processing could happen to a detailed person. I think bottom up processing could happen less frequently if the subject had more time at this disposal. In conclusion, it is fascinating how the mind can alter object recognition, particularly in top down processing. This was an example of top down processing – a person sees the bus and assumes it is the correct one based on previously stored experience – and this blocks out the bottom up processing necessary to recognize the differences.

2. The case of H.M., whose memory was affected by neurosurgery; he can recall events prior to surgery and he can recall about six items for a short period. How is the Atkinson-Shiffrin model both supported and inconclusive in regard to this case?

Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) state that short-term memories are precarious or fragile, and, unless those memories are repeated or rehearsed, they can be forgotten under half a minute. Atkinson and Shiffrin say memory is like a sequence of steps, during which information is moved among storage areas. Their memory model indicates that an external stimulus becomes sensory memory, or two seconds, like the length of an echo or the length most people remember an icon in details. The sensory memory then becomes short term or working memory, a fraction of which then becomes long term memory and could move back and forth with short term memory. All these three types of memories can be lost. Short term memory is the information people are actively using. Long term memories go from decade old memories to minute old memories, all of which are somewhat permanent. This model is somewhat primitive and has limitations.

Anterograde amnesia means loss of memories that followed a brain damage. H.M. had severe epilepsy and neurosurgeons removed his hippocampus (related to memory and learning abilities) and his temporal lobe area. The surgery was successful for epilepsy but caused a severe memory loss. He cannot keep new data.

H.M. cannot remember anything that happened after the surgery. I wonder if it could help H.M. a little bit to rehearse many times and write it down, do a video with sequences, like in the movie “50 First Dates”. I imagine enough experiments have been unsuccessfully conducted on him. I think this case contradicts the Atkinson Shiffrin model for the most part. I know that there are several books and courses out there to help people with memories. From what I understand, they focus on creating a story that involves all the information to be memorized or retained, so it is easier to keep in mind, it makes more sense and it becomes more real and concrete in the mind, by utilizing all the senses. Neuro-linguistic programming focuses on those same principles of utilizing all the senses to materialize something we desire and to change mental associations, in order to create more positive thoughts, beliefs, emotions and actions consequently.

In conclusion, the Atkinson-Shiffrin model is both supported and inconclusive in regard to the case of H. M. It supported by saying short term memories are fragile. It is inconclusive because in this H.M. case rehearsal does not improve short term memory. It is also inconclusive because, in H.M’s case, memory is not like a sequence of steps, during which information is moved among storage areas. HM shows an inability to consolidate new information – strongly supporting the STM -> into -> LTM model… of course. STM has been updated to include the notion of working memory (WM) – that is, people have to work with the information to get it into LTM, and people work with the info when it comes out of LTM.

3. Imagine that you have volunteered to participate in some psychology research. You report to the laboratory, and you are instructed to look at several words briefly, and then count backwards for about half a minute before recalling those words. Are these researchers measuring short-term (working) or long-term memory and why? What might they add to the research if they wanted to measure echoic/sensory memory?

The researchers in this case above are measuring memory in between short and long term. Long term memories are memories that are at least about 1 minute long. Short term memories are second long. In this case there is a distraction, the counting. If the researchers wanted to measure echoic/sensory memory, they might add to the research, the hearing and loudly saying the words to recall.

George Miller in 1956 suggested people retain seven pieces of information, in various size, in short term memory. People have a small recall after a short delay. Pronunciation time and word meaning or semantic directly correlate with the number of adjacent items storable in working memory.

Stimuli are recalled more with meaningful and deep processing, due to elaboration and distinctiveness. Memory is improved by self-referencing or relating stimuli to own personal experiences. Expertise positively affects long term memory. Experts have vivid visual imagery and organized knowledge structures. Iconic memory is the visual type of sensory memory.

In conclusion, echoic memory is the auditory type of sensory memory. Echoic memory is the quick mental echo that keeps on making sounds after the subject hears an auditory stimulus. Echoic memory lasts up to 4 seconds. This is using a serial position effect to look at STM or short term memory. The counting backwards is to disrupt immediate dumping of the info, and will cause loss of info from STM before consolidation. As for an echoic memory part, that would be adding an auditory sensory memory component, earlier than STM. The list could be presented using auditory stimuli, and masking stimuli could be presented immediately after the to be remembered words, in another way.


Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. In K. W. Spence & J. T. Spence (Eds.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 2, pp. 89-105). New York: Academic Press.

Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.