This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 06 table of contents.

Criticisms of the Three-Box Model

Like all influential models and theories, the Atkinson-Shiffrin model attracted many criticisms. Here are some of them.

What were objections to the Atkinson-Shiffrin model?

1. The sensory stores are sensory systems, not memory systems as most people think of the term "memory."

2. The three-box model suggests that there is nothing in between short-term and long-term memory. However, evidence shows that information can reside somewhere between the extremes of active attention and long-term storage. Memories can be "warmed up" but outside of attention. In other words, intermediate levels of activation are possible.

3. The three-box model implies that there is just one short-term system and just one long-term system. In reality, there are many memory systems operating in parallel (for example, different systems for vision, language, and odor memory). Each has short-term and long-term operations.

4) The Atkinson-Shiffrin model does not give enough emphasis to unconscious processes. Unconscious activation is shown with a tentative, dotted arrow. Modern researchers find that unconscious and implicit forms of memory are more common than consciously directed memory processes.

In short, the old Atkinson & Shiffrin has its limitations. However, it is still a useful scheme, in part because every researcher is familiar with it and uses it as a foil (a sort of negative reference point) for proposing new ways of looking at memory.


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