Information Processing Model

Concept of Information Processing Model Explained

Using computer processing as a metaphor Opens in new window, the information processing model describes the flow and processing of information from sensory input to storage and behavioral responses.

According to this model, the cognitive processing system is comprised of a set of separate but interconnected information processing subsystems, with memory components constituting the core of the system (Gagne, Yekovich, & Yekovich, 1993).

Basically the information processing approach likened the mind to a computer—just as a computer has both hardware and software, so does the human mind.

The hardware is the storage device, such as the hard drive, which is equivalent to human memory storage in the brain.

The software is the computer program that processes the information that enters the storage device. This is equivalent to cognitive processes such as attention, organization Opens in new window, and retrieval strategies.

People take in information through their senses, process this information so that some of it enters into memory Opens in new window, and later try to remember what they have learned when they need it.

Information processing theory breaks down the way we understand and use information into steps, such as the steps in memory described above:

Continuing this analogy of human memory as a computer, there are three structures, each of which serves a different function:

  1. sensory memory,
  2. working (or short-term) memory, and
  3. long-term memory.

As information comes in through our senses, it is retained for a very brief period of time in its raw form. This is known as sensory memory Opens in new window.

You can think of this as analogous to input devices such as the keyboard or mouse on your computer.

In this fraction of a second the information either moves along to the next step or is lost. Information that moves along then enters working (or short-term) memory Opens in new window. Think of this as analogous to a computer’s RAM or random-access memory.

The capacity of short-term memory Opens in new window is limited, and information can be retained for only a brief time unless the information is processed.

Working memory processes short-term memories in a variety of ways. Information in short-term memory Opens in new window is organized (or, in information processing terms, encoded) and moved along into long-term memory Opens in new window, which is thought to be capable of permanent storage.

It is all well and good to put something into our memory, but the real trick is to retrieve that information when we need it. If information has not been carefully organized and encoded in this process, it will be difficult to find in our storage when we need to use it.

You undoubtedly have had the experience of knowing that you know something (it’s on the tip of your tongue) but were not able to bring it back into your working memory to use it. Similarly you have probably lost a document on your computer when you haven’t been careful to store it away in the correct folder. (Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a “find” function in our brain like we have on the computer, to help us out in these situations?)