Encoding, Storage and Retrieval

       When it comes to mental processes involved in memory modern theories suggest that there are three mental processes of memory: encoding, storage, retrieval.

      I. Encoding

       We can think of encoding as the process of putting information in memory. The forms of encoding are different and these differences depends on the type of the memory. When it comes to short term memory we tend to encode visually presented information by how they sound not by how they look. This can be seen in an experiment made by Conard in 1964 where he visually presented several series of six letters at a rate of 0.75 seconds per letter. The letters used in the various lists were B, C, F, M, N, P, S, T, V and X. Immediately after the letters were presented participants had to write down the letters in the order given. Despite the fact that the letters were visually presented, participants substituted letters that sound like the correct letters. Thus, they were likely to confuse F for S, B for V, P for B and so on.      

II. Storage


           Storage is the process of retaining information in memory. And here we can see storage from different point of views for example if we want to store information in short term memory we would do it by maintenance rehearsal which is the process of repeating the information. However if we want to store the information in long term memory we would do it by elaborative rehearsal which is the process of organizing the information and associating it with information already existing in long term memory.


           After encoding the information and storing it we will need to retrieve it in order to use it. Retrieval is the process of recovering the information from memory. The process of retrieving information is quite amazing because memory is a series of interconnected associations that link all sort of information together. Bits of information get stuck to other bits of information and these bits of information serve as retrieval cues. The more retrieval cues you inadvertently or intentionally build the better you can backtrack and find the memory you are looking for. The process of activating associations unconsciously is called priming and it represents how memories that you did not know you had can awaken old associations. To make this concept more clear let us take two examples the first one is “context dependent memory” and to understand this kind of recall let me give you an example. Let us say that you were in your room reading a book and you wanted to write something but you did not find the pen next to you, so you get up and you look for the pen. However suddenly you find yourself in another room not knowing what you are doing, and you do not even remember why did you get up so you go back to your book and as soon as you get back to the context that created the memory you remember that you were looking for your pen. Some memories depends on the context like we saw before and some memories on the other hand depend on the mood which means that our mood and our emotions serve as retrieval cues. For example when you are sad or depressed you remember all your miserable memories that are related together with that same emotion.   

 An idea worth to mention here is the fact that encoding, storage and retrieval is not as strong as we think and of course it is not as perfect as we think which can lead us to an amazing concept which is the concept of “false memories”. However that is another concept for another day.


  • Robert J. Sternberg (2008). Cognitive Psychology, Fifth Edition.

See Also:

Cognitive Revolution

Ebbinghaus' experiment of memory

sensory, short term and long term memory

Working memory

Explicit vs implicit memory

the levels of processing model

The process of forgeting

the seven sins of memory