Comparing Human Memory to Computer Memory

Learning would be of little use or meaningless if what was learned cannot at least be remembered at a later stage or after sometime. The process of remembering, recalling or retrieval of information in human memory can be compared to the file retrieval from a hard drive in a computer. Studies on human memory have been done with comparison to computer memory in order to develop a good understanding of how human memory functions. These studies on comparison started in 1960s and involved the use of computer analogies and adaptation theories. Although human memory can be compared to computer memory, this comparison offers some advantages and limits.

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Advantages and Limits of Comparison of Human Memory and Working of a Computer

            The development of the computer offered more reassurance that the human cognitive processes were real and could be studied. According to (Gregg, 2014) the memory-computer analogy has been attractive to psychologists for many reasons. One of the reasons concerns the distinction between the computer structure and the many in which instructions flow within that structure (pp. 11). Based on my own experiences regarding the comparison of human memory and computer memory, the following are advantages and limits of the analogy.

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            The main advantage of comparing a computer with a human memory is that it allows a better understanding on how human memory works. The computer works in a similar manner to the human memory, in that the human and computer memory are fed with information which is then stored in a systematic manner. This information can be retrieved after sometime in both the human and computer memory. This analogy provides a much easier way in which the students of psychology can understand the working of human memory.  The other advantage of the comparison of human and computer memory is that computer systems can be modified into a complex set of algorithms and hardware to help into understanding the complex human memory. The comprehensive models of human memory are often so complex, which can be studied easily with a computer. In this regard the computer analogy is very advantages, since their structures can be made more complex with the flexible and adaptable programs making it easier to understand the working of human memory.

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            Although the human and computer memory have been compared, the analogy possess some limits. In as much as human memory receives and stores information for future access, their capacity and ease at which they retrieve information differs from that of computers. Based on the computer capacity and the ability to store complex algorithms and retrieve them at ease, the human and computer memory analogy cannot be taken far than this. The computer can store millions of data and complex calculations, which can be retrieved with relative ease upon request through a command. However, the brain may not be able to store data beyond certain limits and retrieve them without alteration. In this respect it is difficult to take analogy between the computer and human memory beyond certain limits as it pertains to complexity and capacity of the data.

            The other limit to comparison between the human memory and the computer regards the way the two are structured. The computer memory system can be considered as consisting of a fixed structure, with fixed routes where information enters and is retrieved. However, the human memory is invariate and information can be received from multiple sources. The analogy of the two structures, therefore poses limits owing to how they are structured and the manner in which information input and outputs are processed.

Moreover, the analogy cannot be made further than the mechanism of storage and retrieval of data. Computers are electronics and were made by humans to be used by humans. We cannot compare all aspects of a computer to human memory. For example, if the analogy was possible, we should be able to name every corresponding aspect of a computer in human memory, like what corresponds to user of a computer in human memory. However, this cannot be the case, which further highlights the limit of the human and computer memory analogies.

How the Features of Sensory Memory, Short-Term Memory, and Long-Term Memory Apply in Human and Computer Memory Apply in the Comparison

            The modern theories that have been used to compare the human memory to the computer employ the sensory, short-term and long-term memories in their analogies. According to (Pear, 2016) the sensory and short-term memories are related with the difference being that the information in short-term memory is manipulated in some way rather than being stored for a short while. The sensory effects often persist for a short moment after the end of the stimulus (pp. 186). The long-term memory is where information from the central executive of the working memory is kept for more permanent storage.

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            The human and computer memories can be compared in terms of the sensory, short-term and long-term memories. The sensory and short-term memory of a human being can be said to be analogous to the computer random access memory (RAM) (Malone, 2003). The random access memory of a computer stores information that is input in the computer, albeit in a short while. If some information is put into a computer, the ram stores them temporarily and loses them when the chip is turned off. In a similar way, the sensory and short-term memories stores a glimpse of stimuli such as sound, for a short while after which it loses in one or two seconds.

            As outlined earlier, the human long-term memory offers permanent storage of information from the central executive. In comparison to the computer memory, the computer has the read-only-memory, where information is stored permanently for future access. When information is long-term memory is needed the human memory makes a reconstruction of the information and thus retrieves it for use. In computer, the information can be accessed from the ROM through an access command. However, the difference is that the computer can provide accurate retrieval within a very short time, while the human long-term memory may take long to reconstruct the information.

How the Key Factors and Theories of Forgetting Apply In the Comparison

            The ability of the human mind to store information is affected by several factors. According to (Nevid, 2017), the theory of forgetting lists these factors as interference, decay and displacement. The human mind is bound to forget information due to interference, due to changes in time (decay) and new information displacing the old one. This can compare with computers, in that computer information can be lost when new information is saved under similar name as the old one and the changes saved while discarded the old information. In a similar manner, interference, such as power outage can lead to lose of information in computer RAM. However, information in computer cannot change in time and can be regarded as permanent and any new information may not lead to lose of older information.


Human and computer memory can compare in many ways, in terms of the memory type and the loss of information. These comparisons haves been instrumental in development of theories of memory and creation of an easy understanding of human memory. However, these analogies have limits, which includes the capacity of computer memory and the complexity in which the human memory receives and process the stimuli.

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