Thursday, January 19, 2012

An Abbreviated Dictionary of Memory Types

If someone tells you, "I think I'm losing my memory!" You might want to ask them, "Which memory?” We have several different types of memory and more than one pathway back to them.


Autobiographical memories are the specific memories about our personal lives that make us the unique individuals who we are.

Conditional memories represent our knowledge of when and where to deploy a skill to solve a problem or to produce additional knowledge (a “cognitive toolbox”).

Conceptual memory is knowing what something is, how it works, etc., which can be knowledge gained by learning (apprenticeship or mentorship) as well as through the analytical process sense-making.

Echoic memories are auditory memories (of songs, voices and sounds).

Explicit (declarative) memories are working (short-term) memories, which can be further divided into semantic (isolated words, facts, symbols, etc.) memories and episodic memories, which are memories of locations, events, circumstances and space. These particular memory "episodes" in life would include memorable moments (e.g., a 21st birthday celebration in Las Vegas) where the details of the memory are embedded in the broader experience.

Declarative memories are memories that can be articulated easily (dates, historical facts, telephone numbers, etc.) including what we can recall in our mind as imagery. They are easily established and the specific information easily forgotten, which leads to frustrations in the classroom.

Flashbulb memories are recollections of where you were when a historically or personally significant event took place (the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle, the assassination of JFK, the tearing down of the Berlin wall, the attack on the World Trade Center or your wedding day.)

Iconic memories are visual memories (pictures). Since human vision preceded writing, visualization is a powerful learning aid.

Implicit (non-declarative) memories include what we can “do” (typewriting, bicycle riding, tennis, etc.), which comprises procedural memories -- physical skills that require repetitive practice to learn them, such as the ability to dance, drive a car, tie one’s shoelaces or necktie. It constitutes the body's sensory-motor library of skills we have. Motor memory is the body of learned motoric habits (playing basketball) where "the mind is in the muscle." They are all described as non-declarative because we cannot say or "declare" how they are accomplished. How would you verbally explain riding a bicycle or dancing?

Permanent memory (formerly referred to a long-term) memory can be sub-divided into explicit and implicit memories.

Reflective memories or instinctive memories (e.g., knee-jerk response) are stored in the parietal lobes and the cerebellum. These memories can neither be trained for nor learned, since they occur naturally.

Sensory memory is the brief representation of a stimulus while it is being processed in one of the numerous sensory systems, most commonly with an origin in tastes, smells, touch/textures, sights or sounds.

Source memory is knowing when and where a particular fact or aspect of knowledge was originally learned and how you came about knowing it. (When and where did you learn the significance of the date “1776?”)

Working (short-term) memory has a limited capacity of 7 items and lasts approximately 30 seconds or less in duration.

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