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An overview of the Information Processing Model

This post marks the first in a series that lay out an important component in the way that I approach my work and how I conceptualize many of the problems that clients come to see me about at Brainsight. This first post is just to describe the overall approach. Subsequent posts will delve deeper into the model and how I use it to understand my clients and the difficulties they experience.

My work is based on the information processing model, which dates back in some form or another to the late 1960s and early 1970s. The model describes how we process information. Sometimes it’s described as a model of memory, but I think that’s a little too narrow because of the ways that we tend to think about memory. The model really gets at home we take in information, manage it, and use it solve problems and navigate the world around us. The model definitely helps to explain academic difficulties (e.g., why someone struggles with reading) but it’s much more far-reaching than that as we’ll see later.

The model begins with sensory input—everything we pick up with our five senses is processes on some level. However, most of this information is filtered out by what’s called our sensory memory. This reduces the amount of stimuli we need to pay attention to. I’ll talk in future posts about what happens with either too much or too little is filtered out, or alternatively if sensory input in one or more areas is compromised (e.g., poor vision or hearing).

Things that make their way through our sensory memory and we pay attention to are moved into short-term memory. Notice that attention is the connection between sensory memory and short-term memory. I’ll write in later posts about attention and all of the ways that it can be problematic. Suffice it to say that ADHD isn’t the only attention problem out there.

We use our short-term memory to consciously process information. In school, we might read a passage and hold it in our short-term memory long enough to answer a teacher’s question about what we’ve just read. All of our problem solving is conducted at this stage of the model. We use recently encountered information held in short-term memory is conjunction with information retrieved from long-term memory to solve problems and navigate the world as we encounter it.

Information that we want to hold on to for the long-term we encode into long-term memory. I’ll talk more about the encoding process in subsequent posts, but briefly, encoding is about getting new information into your brain for recall at a later point. Sometimes we do this by connecting new information with existing information. Other times we do it by brute force—repetition and drilling.

As I already alluded to, we retrieve information from our long-term memory into our short-term memory to answer questions or solve problems. Sometimes this is done so seamlessly that we hardly notice doing it, and other times it’s very effortful and we have that tip of the tongue experience where we can’t quite say or remember what we’re trying to find in our memories.

I find this model particularly useful because the work I do with clients helps me to figure out where the problems are occurring. Is there a sensory input problem? Is there something wrong with sensory memory? Is attention compromised? Are elements of short-term memory not functioning properly? Is there a problem encoding or retrieval? Once we uncover where the problems are occurring, we can intervene more appropriately and with greater success. Keep watching for more installments related to this model.

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