Multi Store Model of Memor

Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) suggest that memory is made up of a series of stores (see below), and describe memory in terms of information flowing through a system.

Accordingly, it can be described as an information processing model (like a computer) with an input, process and output.

multi store model of memory diagram

Information is detected by the sense organs and enters the sensory memory. If attended to this information enters the short term memory.

Information from the STM is transferred to the long-term memory only if that information is rehearsed. Rehearsal was initially described by Atkinson and Shiffrin as maintenance rehearsal, but Shiffrin later suggested that rehearsal could be elaborative (Raaijmakers, & Shiffrin, 2003).

If rehearsal does not occur, then information is forgotten, lost from short term memory through the processes of displacement or decay.

Sensory Memory

    • Duration: ¼ to ½ second

    • Capacity: all sensory experience (v. larger capacity)

    • Encoding: sense specific (e.g. different stores for each sense)

Short Term Memory

    • Duration: 0-18 seconds

    • Capacity: 7 +/- 2 items

    • Encoding: mainly auditory

Long Term Memory

    • Duration: Unlimited

    • Capacity: Unlimited

    • Encoding: Mainly Semantic (but can be visual and auditory)

Critical Evaluation


Many memory studies provide evidence to support the distinction between STM and LTM (in terms of encoding, duration and capacity).  The model can account for primacy & recency effects.

The model is influential as it has generated a lot of research into memory.

The model is supported by studies of amnesiacs: For example the HM case study.  HM is still alive but has marked problems in long-term memory after brain surgery. He has remembered little of personal (death of mother and father) or public events ( Watergate , Vietnam War) that have occurred over the last 45 years. However his short-term memory remains intact.


The model is oversimplified, in particular when it suggests that both short-term and long-term memory each operate in a single, uniform fashion.  We now know is this not the case.

It has now become apparent that both short-term and long-term memory are more complicated that previously thought.  For example, the Working Model of Memory proposed by Baddeley and Hitch (1974) showed that short term memory is more than just one simple unitary store and comprises different components (e.g. central executive, visuo-spatial etc.).

In the case of long-term memory, it is unlikely that different kinds of knowledge, such as remembering how to play a computer game, the rules of subtraction and remembering what we did yesterday are all stored within a single, long-term memory store.  Indeed different types of long-term memory have been identified, namely episodic (memories of events), procedural (knowledge of how to do things) and semantic (general knowledge).

The model suggests rehearsal helps to transfer information into LTM but this is not essential. Why are we able to recall information which we did not rehearse (e.g. swimming) yet unable to recall information which we have rehearsed (e.g. reading your notes while revising). Therefore, the role of rehearsal as a means of transferring from STM to LTM is much less important than Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) claimed in their model.

However, the models main emphasis was on structure and tends to neglect the process elements of memory (e.g. it only focuses on attention and rehearsal).

The multi store model has been criticized for being a passive/one way/linear model.


Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). Chapter: Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. In Spence, K. W., & Spence, J. T. The psychology of learning and motivation (Volume 2). New York: Academic Press. pp. 89–195.

Baddeley, A .D., & Hitch, G. (1974). Working memory. In G.H. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 8, pp. 47–89). New York: Academic Press.

Raaijmakers, J.G.W. & Shiffrin, R.M. (2003). Models versus descriptions: Real differences and langiage differences. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 26, 753.

How to cite this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2007). Multi Store Model of Memory - Atkinson and Shiffrin, 1968. Retrieved from

Further Information

A-level Psychology Memory Revision Notes

Working Memory

Levels of Processing

Case Study: HM - The Man Who Couldn't Remember Audio Broadcasts cognitive psychology