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How does memory work in the brain?
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We remember through Processing

Processing information in different ways alters the way they are stored in the brain.

The Argument

When we receive sensory stimuli, we can cognitively assess, or think about, the information in various ways. This is known as processing - the way we encode stimuli as memories. Differences in processing lead to differences in memory. Sometimes, we process stimuli without realizing it, while other times we might rehearse it or purposefully seek to remember it. Automatic processing is when our subconscious encodes certain information into our memory without specific effort on our part. At the end of the day, our brain can recall whether it was sunny that day, despite not making a specific effort to memorize that fact. On the other hand, effortful processing, such as studying for a test, is the purposeful encoding of information that we consciously and intentionally do.[1] In addition to the automatic versus effortful processing distinction, encoding is broken up into two levels of processing: shallow and deep processing. Shallow processing is the encoding of sensory information about a stimulus, such as its appearance or sound. Deep (also known as semantic) processing is processing utilizing elaborative rehearsal, which involves encoding in a focused and considered way. This generally entails thinking about the stimulus in an in-depth way, such as its deep meaning or effects. Whereas shallow processing generally leads to information being forgotten long term, semantic processing has been linked to a higher likelihood of accurate recall.[2]

Counter arguments

The widely accepted multi-store model theory by Atkinson and Shiffrin organizes memory encoding into different memory levels (sensory, short-term, and long-term). Memories are encoded through these three levels. Recall ability is influenced by which level the memory is stored, not how it is processed. The primary influence on memory is where it is stored, not how it is encoded.



[P1] Memory must be processed in order to be stored in the brain. [P2] Processing can be done in multiple ways. [P3] How information is processed effects how it is stored.

Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Saturday, 22 Aug 2020 at 10:01 UTC

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