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The OCR Glossary

Information Processing

Karen Freberg

Information processing, the process of changing information into short-term and long-term memories that could influence an individual’s attitude and perception based on the information presented, has been a primary focus and interest for psychologists and business professionals and researchers over the years. Specifically, cognitive psychologists have proposed a number of models that attempt to explain the flow of information along a continuum beginning with sensation and ending with retrieval. As computer science became more sophisticated, cognitive psychologists borrowed a number of concepts from the field to help organize their thinking about the human mind. This entry covers the traditional information processing models from psychology while also addressing how they can be applied to corporate reputation practices and strategies.

One of the most influential models resulting from this synergy between cognitive psychology and computer science was proposed by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin. According to this classic information processing model, data flow through a series of three separate stages. These stages differ in regard to the amount of data they can hold (capacity) and the length of time the data are kept (duration). Contemporary cognitive neuroscience has confirmed the separability of these three stages by demonstrating how brain injury can produce deficits in single stages without having the same impact on the others. Contemporary psychological scientists continue to refine this classic model while retaining its basic constructs: Information can be stored for different lengths of time, and executive control processes manage the flow of information.

The information processing begins when the information enters a stage known as sensory memory. This stage is characterized by a large capacity but short duration. Information is held in this stage just long enough for the executive control mechanisms to make a simple keep or discard decision. In most instances, this is a matter of a second or less. A simple demonstration of the fading of data in sensory memory can be accomplished by waving your hand in front of your face rapidly. You should be able to “see” where your hand was at a previous time, but this is just a brief sensory echo of the original visual stimulus maintained in the sensory memory.

Sensory information held in sensory memory is transduced, or translated, into codes or representations. A representation is a mental model of a bit of information that continues to exist even when the original stimulus is no longer present. Cognitive psychologists believe that data from different sensory systems are maintained separately in sensory memory but are processed in similar ways. Some differences exist, however. Acoustic codes (sound information or echoic memories) last longer than most other types of codes, possibly due to our species’ need to hear entire words or phrases before encoding language information.

A tiny subset of the data held in sensory memory is deemed worthy of further processing, in which case it is processed in the next stage, short-term memory. Like sensory memory, short-term memory has its own set of limitations, specifically a small capacity and short duration. In a classic article in 1956, George Miller argued that short-term memory could hold “the magic number seven plus or minus two” bits of information. These limitations can be expanded through effortful processing. Rehearsing items by repeating them (maintenance rehearsal) can expand duration, while chunking items into categories can expand capacity (e.g., a “bit” to be remembered becomes seasons of the year instead of four separate bits of fall, winter, spring, and summer). Individuals with larger than average short-term memory capacity also tend to score high on standardized intelligence quotient tests and excel at cognitive tasks like reading.

Short-term memory is useful for holding information that does not need to be stored permanently. If the capacity were too large, the search would be slow. It is also desirable to have a “scratchpad” for holding information that you really do not need to store permanently. Remembering a telephone number while typing it into your phone does not require you to use valuable resources designed for permanent storage.

Short-term memory contains three subsections: (1) a visuospatial sketchpad for visual and spatial data, (2) a phonological loop for auditory data, and (3) an episodic buffer, which allows you to combine information in working memory with more permanent memories. All of this activity is managed by a central executive. Divided attention, often referred to as multitasking, requires the activity of this same central executive, which is responsible for distributing the resources necessary to carry out the cognitive tasks at hand. Finally, a subset of data from the short-term or working memory stage will make it into long-term memory. This stage has none of the limitations in capacity or duration that characterize the earlier stages.

Long-term memories are one of two types: (1) declarative (explicit) and (2) nondeclarative (implicit). Declarative memories are retrieved by a conscious, effortful search and are easier to verbalize, while nondeclarative memories cannot be easily verbalized. For example, procedural memories, a type of nondeclarative memory for carrying out processes, are notoriously difficult to verbalize. We all know how to use a pair of scissors, but writing an essay explaining this procedure for a reader who has never seen a pair of scissors is remarkably challenging. However, it is quite easy to demonstrate a procedural memory. Other types of nondeclarative memories include classical conditioning and priming. Declarative memories are further divided into semantic memories for word meanings and facts and episodic memories for personal experience. These two components combine to form autobiographical memories.

Taking all this into consideration for corporate reputation, understanding the nature of application of the information processing model is key for determining the influence of data points that resonate with audiences based on certain attributes of information. Certain information attributes individuals have toward a product influence their overall evaluation and perspective of the product. Understanding the short-term and long-term impacts of this information provides an understanding of how reputations are formed among audiences for certain corporations, brands, and even individuals.

Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. In K. W. Spence & J. T. Spence (Eds.), The psychology of learning and motivation (Vol. 8). London: Academic Press.

Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1971). The control of short-term memory. Scientific American, 224(2), 82–90.

Baddeley, A. D. (1966). Short-term memory for word sequences as a function of acoustic, semantic and formal similarity. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 18, 362–365.

Hong, S. T., & Wyer, R. S. (1989). Effects of country-of-origin and product attribute information on produce evaluation: An information processing perspective. Journal of Consumer Research, 16(2), 175–187.

Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven. The Psychological Review, 63, 81–97.

Tulving, E. (1972). Episodic and semantic memory. In E. Tulving & W. Donaldson (Eds.), Organization of memory (pp. 381–402). New York: Academic Press.

See Also

Attitudes; Mindful Learning; Neuroscience; Sensemaking Theory

See Also

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