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Study Notes

Coding & Encoding

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Memory is often thought of as a process whereby a physical ‘trace’ of information about the past is stored.

The way that a memory is encoded describes the format that ‘raw’ information is converted to when storing and retrieving such ‘traces’.

Types of encoding include:

  • Visual (as an image)
  • Acoustic (as a sound)
  • Semantic (through its meaning)

According to Atkinson and Shiffrin’s multi-store model of memory, information from the senses (sight, taste, etc.) must be encoded to enable transfer from the initial Sensory Register to Short-Term Memory (STM), and in turn onto Long-Term Memory (LTM).

For instance, you might try to retain a phone number or email address by repeating it to yourself (acoustically) or imagining the piece of paper you saw it written on (visually).

Encoding acoustically is generally thought to be the dominant method for coding information stored in STM.

Semantic encoding tends to be dominant when storing and retrieving information in LTM, although it can also be represented acoustically or visually.

Encoding semantically involves using current knowledge to give meaning to information, for example knowing that the start of the phone number you are trying to remember represents a particular area of the country.

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