A Well-illustrated Overview on the Information Processing Theory

Information Processing Theory
Information processing theory describes how information is received, processed, stored and then retrieved in the human brain. It is interesting to note that this theory compares processing of information by humans to those of computers. This Buzzle article will give you detailed information about this theory.
In 1956, American psychologist George A. Miller developed the information processing theory and believed that the mind receives the stimulus, processes it, stores it, locates it, and then responds to it. He also stated that the human mind can only hold 5-9 chunks of information at a time.
The information processing theory is an approach to the cognitive development of a human being, which deals with the study and the analysis of the sequence of events that occur in a person's mind while receiving some new piece of information. The information processing theory, as we know it today, was not created but developed by George Miller.

He compared the information processing in humans to that of a computer model. He also said that learning is simply a change in the knowledge that has been stored by the memory. In short, it is the analysis of the way a human being learns something new. There is a fixed pattern of events that take place in such a situation, and by knowing this pattern we can enable children and adults with special abilities to learn new things faster.

Information Processing and Computers

This theory claims that the human mind is very similar to that of computers, as far as information processing and analysis is concerned. It also states that any new piece of information that enters the brain is first analyzed and then put through the test of several benchmarks before being stored in some vestibules of the memory. Since these actions occur at a very fast speed, we are unable to notice them in action. The sensory perceptors of a human being function in the same way as the hardware of a computer does, and the mindset and the rules and strategies adopted by the person while learning, are equivalent to the software used by computers. The information processing system of a person can thus be enhanced if these perceptors and rules are altered. The following diagram will give you a basic idea about the functioning of the information processing model.

Basic Model for Information Processing

Information Processing Model

Here is a diagram that describes the information processing model in detail.

Detailed Model for Information Processing

The Store Model
This is a breakdown of the model which states that the information that has been received can be stored in any of the processing units, or the channels through which it passes. These channels are the sensory register, short-term memory and long-term memory.

The Sensory Register
This is that part of the mental processing unit that receives all information and then stores it temporarily or permanently. The human body has a set of sensory receptor cells which help in converting external energy into a message for the brain. This process of conversion of energy creates short-term memory. Attending to the information in this stage is necessary to transfer it to the next one. If stimulus has interesting features or if it activates a known pattern; it can have an effective response. The sensing and registration of information is best done when it is important, stimulating or perceivable.

Short-term Memory/Working Memory
This is a part of the sensory register where the information is stored temporarily. Once the decision has been made regarding the information, it will either be discarded or transferred to the long-term memory. It will last for 15 to 20 seconds. However, if recalled it exists for up to 20 minutes. Organization and repetition form the major concepts of information retention. The major types of organizations are component, sequence, relevant and transitional. Data chunking is also used to store information in short-term memory. It will also transmit the information in long-term memory. Our brain applies repetition when we are in the process of learning something new.

Long-term Memory
This is the part where all the information is permanently stored. It can be retrieved later, as and when the need arises. Encoding of information happens in short-term memory by connecting it to the existing knowledge. Information is passed on to the long-term memory with the help of two processes called elaboration and distributed practice. A well-planned and organized piece of information can be easily encoded and stored. Elaboration is related to imaging, location, numbers, rhyming word, etc. Information in long-term memory is organized by the declarative, procedural, and/or imagery structures.

Recall/Information Retrieval
For the information to be easily recalled, it has to first be encoded in short-term memory. Apart from this, information can be easily recalled with the application of right environmental cues.

Pillars of Information Processing Model

The following are the four fundamental pillars which support the information processing theory.

At any time, if an individual is perceiving information, storing information, encoding information, representing information or retrieving information to or from his mind, he is said to be thinking.

Stimuli Analysis
In this process the encoded information is altered to suit the interpretation process and understanding of the brain for decision-making. The four sub-processes; encoding, strategization, generalization and automation, help in arriving at a conclusion regarding the encoded information or stimuli. This is known as stimuli analysis.

Situational Modification
When a problem or a dilemma presents itself, the individual must encode the critical information about this problem, and then use information that has been stored beforehand to solve this problem. An individual utilizes his experience i.e. his stored memories to deal with the situation. If there is a slight difference in the situation, he uses his previous experience and modifies it to develop newer ways to deal with similar problems in the future, without making the same mistakes. This is known as situational modification.

Obstacle Evaluation
In this step, apart from a person's development level, the complexity of the problem should also be taken into consideration while determining his intellect, cognitive acumen and problem solving. This is known as evaluation of obstacles. Misleading information may also lead to dis-ambiguity and confusion. This may deter the person from handling a situation successfully which he might have done easily at a previous occasion.

The information processing model of memory is something that is very vast and complex to study, and all this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Knowing about this theory enables one to enhance the learning process of children and adults by explaining how this process works. This theory is also applicable in the study of artificial intelligence, business organizational behavior, family systems, etc.