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Are there mathematical models of memory in humans or animals?

I want to know how neuroscientists use mathematics to describe memory in living creatures. How do neuroscientists model memory and show how it works by mathematics?

I am a theoretical physics PhD student, and interested in neuroscience too. The only tool which I have and I could use to study neuroscience is mathematics and programing. That's why I want to know how neuroscientists address the memory by mathematics. I know how math works to describe neurons oscillations and action potential, but I don't know how it works for memory.

Any reference or review article is welcome too.

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Great question! Welcome to cogsci.SE! –  Nick Stauner Feb 18 at 5:05
The cellular models of memory involve plenty of math but those models are only half the story. At the psychological level, we know a lot more about memory as a phenomenon but that knowledge is not encapsulated by any grand formal model. In any case, here are the mathematical models of plasticity which is thought to be a mechanism underlying memory formation. scholarpedia.org/article/Models_of_synaptic_plasticity –  jerad Feb 18 at 19:07
Surprised that nobody mentioned Hopfield network. –  Memming Feb 26 at 8:09
Good thing you did! Now I have too. :) –  Nick Stauner Feb 26 at 16:59
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1 Answer

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Very many references may easily be found with a Google search for "mathematical model memory". Probably the most classic and iconic reference is Atkinson and Shiffrin (1965), which is also described on Wikipedia. Its three components and their relationships are nicely encapsulated in this figure:

Many other, lesser-known mathematical models of memory exist, including but not limited to these:

You may also be interested in the following references:

And a related question here, in which "memory" comes up twice:


- Anderson, O. R. (1983). A neuromathematical model of human information processing and its application to science content acquisition. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 20(7), 603–620.
- Anninos, P. A. (1972). Mathematical model of memory trace and forgetfulness. Kybernetik, 10(3), 165–167.
- Atkinson, R. C., & Juola, J. F. (1974). Search and decision processes in recognition memory. In D. H. Krantz, R. C. Atkinson, R. D. Luce, & P. Suppes (Eds.), Contemporary developments in mathematical psychology: I. Learning, memory and thinking. Oxford, England: W. H. Freeman.
- Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1965). Mathematical models for memory and learning. Technical Report No. 79: Psychological Series. Institute for Mathematical Studies in the Social Sciences, Stanford University. Retrieved from http://www.rca.ucsd.edu/selected_papers/IMSSS_79.pdf.
- Bower, G. (1967). A multicomponent theory of the memory trace. In K. W. Spence & J. T. Spence (Eds.), The psychology of learning and motivation: I. Oxford, England: Academic Press.
- Carpenter, G. A., & Grossberg, S. (1987). ART 2: Self-organization of stable category recognition codes for analog input patterns. Applied Optics, 26(23), 4919–4930. Retrieved from http://www.opticsinfobase.org/ao/fulltext.cfm?uri=ao-26-23-4919&id=30891.
- Carpenter, G. A., & Grossberg, S. (1987). A massively parallel architecture for a self-organizing neural pattern recognition machine. Computer Vision, Graphics, and Image Processing, 37(1), 54–115. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=
- Fukushima, Y., Tsukada, M., Tsuda, I., Yamaguti, Y., & Kuroda, S. (2009). Coding mechanisms in hippocampal networks for learning and memory. In Advances in Neuro-Information Processing (pp. 72–79). Springer: Berlin Heidelberg.
- Hicklin, W. J. (1976). A model for mastery learning based on dynamic equilibrium theory. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 13(1), 79–88.
- Hochreiter, S., & Schmidhuber, J. (1997). Long short-term memory. Neural Computation, 9(8), 1735–1780. Retrieved from http://web.eecs.utk.edu/~itamar/courses/ECE-692/Bobby_paper1.pdf.
- Hopfield, J. J. (1982). Neural networks and physical systems with emergent collective computational abilities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 79(8), 2554–2558. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC346238/pdf/pnas00447-0135.pdf.
- Hopfield, J. J. (1984). Neurons with graded response have collective computational properties like those of two-state neurons. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 81(10), 3088–3092. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC345226/pdf/pnas00611-0151.pdf.
- Hopfield, J. J. (2008). Searching for memories, Sudoku, implicit check bits, and the iterative use of not-always-correct rapid neural computation. Neural Computation, 20(5), 1119–1164. Retrieved from http://arxiv.org/ftp/q-bio/papers/0609/0609006.pdf.
- Mandler, G. (1967). Organization and memory. In K. W. Spence & J. T. Spence (Eds.), The psychology of learning and motivation: I. Oxford, England: Academic Press.
- Min'ko, A. A., & Petunin, Y. I. (1981). Mathematical modeling of short-term memory. Cybernetics, 17(2), 287–298.
- Preece, P. F., & Anderson, O. R. (1984). Mathematical modeling of learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 21(9), 953–955. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/tea.3660210910/pdf.
- Raaijmakers, J. G. W. (2008). Mathematical models of human memory. In Learning and Memory: A Comprehensive Reference, Vol. 2: Cognitive Psychology of Memory (pp. 445–466). Elsevier.
- Restle, F. (1971). Mathematical models in psychology. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
- Rojas, R. (1996). Neutral networks: A systematic introduction. Springer. Retrieved from http://page.mi.fu-berlin.de/rojas/neural/neuron.pdf.
- Tsuda, I., Yamaguti, Y., Kuroda, S., Fukushima, Y., & Tsukada, M. (2008). A mathematical model for the hippocampus: Towards the understanding of episodic memory and imagination. Progress of Theoretical Physics Supplement, 173, 99–108.
- Yamaguti, Y., Kuroda, S., Fukushima, Y., Tsukada, M., & Tsuda, I. (2011). A mathematical model for Cantor coding in the hippocampus. Neural Networks, 24(1), 43–53. Retrieved from http://ow.ly/tLewI.

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Thank you for update. –  yashar Feb 26 at 22:17
My pleasure! I'll try to keep tacking on other examples and references as I come across them, but I'd welcome others' edits (or upvote their separate answers) too. –  Nick Stauner Feb 26 at 22:19
@potpie also mentioned: "One lab that comes to mind right now working on topics related to the modeling of memory: memory.psych.upenn.edu/Main_Page"; Thanks for that! –  Nick Stauner Mar 8 at 3:36
That image reminds me ART memory learnartificialneuralnetworks.com/art.html which has long term & short term memory too. –  Buksy Mar 13 at 12:01
Small wonder that more recent work resembles Atkinson & Shiffrin's (1965) model. Like I said, it's a classic! I've added your link as another example of artificial neural network models. May have to turn this into a community wiki before long! –  Nick Stauner Mar 13 at 23:03
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