Information Processing Theory

Cognitive psychologists now better know how people learn, think, and reason. Much of this progress can be ascribed to the ongoing development of a theoretical framework known as the information-processing model of human memory. This approach, supported by most American psychologists, compares human cognitive function to how a computer functions.

What is Information Processing?

We frequently question how we learn, how kids learn, how they pick up knowledge, how our brains function to learn, what it does to retain that knowledge, and how it recalls knowledge that we have learned months or even years earlier. All of these relate to the process of information processing.

Information Processing Theory

The main characteristics of this approach are its discontinuous and multi-stage perspectives of learning and memory. New information is thought to be processed in some way as it is taken in before being stored. The stage theory model recognizes three different forms or stages of memory: sensory memory, short-term or working memory, and long-term memory.

Sensory Memory

The first step of stimulus perception is represented by sensory memory. It is connected to the senses, and each sort of sensuous perception appears to have its area with its limits and tools. Unsensed stimuli cannot be further processed and will never be stored in memory. This is not to argue that only consciously perceived stimuli are remembered; everyone is constantly taking in and perceiving stimuli. However, it is predicted that perceptions that do not advance to a higher stage will not be stored in retrievable memory. New information must be transferred swiftly to the subsequent processing stage, and sensory memory serves as a gateway for storing all information in memory.

Information stored in this memory stage is temporally limited, which means that if it is not moved to the following stage, it degrades quickly. Transfer can be ensured in a variety of ways and can also be facilitated in a variety of ways. In this context, attention and automaticity are the two main factors that affect sensory memory, and much research has been done to understand how each affects how information is processed. Our capacity for processing perceptions and generating responses is constrained by attention; paying attention to one thing means neglecting other things.

Attention is nearly the polar opposite of automaticity. Automaticity enables multitasking without completely drawing attention away from learning new knowledge. Attention can be switched to other information or stimuli.

Short-term or Working Memory

Since this stage of memory is the area that is actively processing new information as it is being taken in, it is frequently referred to as active or conscious memory. Unrehearsed knowledge will start to fade from short-term memory within 15 to 30 seconds if another action is not made because it has a very limited capacity. For new information to be retained, it must be incorporated into the memory structure. Many models have been proposed for encoding, but retention happens in three ways.

If a stimulus is a perfect match for preexisting structures, it is added to the mental representation. If the new stimulus does not completely fit the current structure, the structure would be altered to accommodate new definitions or features. Moreover, if the new stimulus differed significantly from any pre-existing structure, a new structure would be built in memory.

Long-Term Memory

Long-term memory, like short-term memory, stores all of a person's prior impressions, knowledge, and information acquired; nevertheless, it is not a static file system that is only utilized for information retrieval. Long-term memory, in the words of Abbot (2002), "is that more permanent repository where information might dwell in a latent condition - out of mind and underused - until you pull it back into consciousness." Long-term memory needs to be active and in constant contact with short-term memory to process new information.

Four main beliefs of the information-processing approach

The act of thinking occurs when a person perceives, encodes, depicts, saves, or retrieves information from his environment. Responding to any restrictions or limitations on memory operations is also considered thinking. The study should concentrate on how change mechanisms affect development. Encoding, strategy development, automatization, and generalization are four essential systems that work in tandem to alter children's cognitive abilities. Children must learn to efficiently encode relevant data about a problem and then use this encoded information and pertinent prior knowledge to develop a solution plan.

Self-modification is what propels development. The information-processing theory maintains that children actively participate in their development, similar to Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Through self-modification, the kid adapts their reactions to a new scenario or difficulty using the skills and information they have gained from solving previous problems. In doing so, they draw on their existing knowledge to create newer, more complex solutions.

Investigators must carefully analyze the tasks involved in the issue scenarios they offer children. This point of view contends that the task's inherent character and the child's level of development limit the child's performance. As a result, when a task is provided straightforwardly without needless complications, a youngster may already have the fundamental skills required to do it. However, if more or false information is added to the same activity, the youngster can get lost and be unable to complete it.


Information-processing theories of development are fundamentally distinct from previous methodologies. They are not neurological because they do not rely on neural or biochemical mechanisms as explanations, nor are they phenomenological because they are not restricted to conscious experience.

Updated on: 13-Apr-2023


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