Short-term memory based on activated long-term memory: A review in response to Norris (2017).

Short-term memory (STM), the limited information temporarily in a state of heightened accessibility, includes just-presented events and recently retrieved information. Norris (2017) argued for a prominent class of theories in which STM depends on the brain keeping a separate copy of new information, and against alternatives in which the information is held only in a portion of long-term memory (LTM) that is currently activated (aLTM). Here I question premises of Norris’ case for separate-copy theories in the following ways. (a) He did not allow for implications of the common assumption (e.g., Cowan, 1999; Cowan & Chen, 2009) that aLTM can include new, rapidly formed LTM records of a trial within an STM task. (b) His conclusions from pathological cases of impaired STM along with intact LTM are tenuous; these rare cases can be explained by impairments in encoding, processing, or retrieval related to LTM rather than passive maintenance. (c) Although Norris reasonably allowed structured pointers to aLTM instead of separate copies of the actual item representations in STM, the same structured pointers may well be involved in long-term learning. (d) Last, models of STM storage can serve as the front end of an LTM learning system rather than being separate. I summarize evidence for these premises and an updated version of an alternative theory in which storage depends on aLTM (newly clarified), and, embedded within it, information enhanced by the current focus of attention (Cowan, 1988, 1999), with no need for a separate STM copy. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)