MCAT Content / Cognition / Information Processing Model

Information-processing model

Topic: Cognition

Information processing theory is based on the idea that humans process the information they receive, rather than merely responding to stimuli.

According to the standard information-processing model for mental development, the mind’s machinery includes attention mechanisms for bringing information in, working memory for actively manipulating information, and long-term memory for passively holding information so that it can be used in the future. This theory addresses how, as children grow, their brains likewise mature, leading to advances in their ability to process and respond to the information they received through their senses, emphasizing a continuous pattern of development.

The information processing theory in basic form is that the human brain is compared to a computer or basic processor in the order of ‘receives input, processes the information, and deliver output”. Information processing theory posits that  there are three levels of memory:

Sensory Register: Information first enters our sensory register. Sensations are continuously coming into our brains, and yet most of these sensations are never really perceived or stored in our minds. They are lost after a few seconds because they were immediately filtered out as irrelevant. If the information is not perceived or stored, it is discarded quickly.

Working Memory (Short-term Memory): If information is meaningful (either because it reminds us of something else or because we must remember it for something like a history test we will be taking in 5 minutes), it makes its way into our working memory. This consists of information of which we are immediately aware. There is a limited amount of information that can be kept in the working memory at any given time.  Information in our working memory must be stored in an effective way in order to be accessible to us for later use. It is stored in our long-term memory or knowledge base.

Knowledge Base (Long-term Memory): This level of memory has an unlimited capacity and stores information for days, months or years. It consists of things that we know of or can remember if asked. This is where you want the information to be stored ultimately. While children are learning they process information during infancy and childhood, we see significant improvements during middle childhood. During this period, children can learn and remember due to an increase in the ways they attend to and store information. As children enter school and learn more about the world, they develop more categories for concepts and learn more efficient strategies for storing and retrieving data. One significant reason is that they continue to have more experiences on which to tie new information. New experiences are similar to old ones or remind the child of something else about which they know. This helps them file away new experiences more efficiently.


Key Points

• Information processing theory treats humans as organisms that can process information and store information in three stages: Sensory register, short term memory, and long term memory.


Key Terms

short term memory: the information that a person is currently thinking about or is aware of. It is also called primary or active memory.

long term memory: the next stage of memory, where informative knowledge is held indefinitely

sensory register: ultra-short-term memory that takes in sensory information through five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch) and holds it for no more than a few seconds

information processing theory: the approach to the study of cognitive development of memory



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