Types of Memory

Read the text and do the multiple choice exercise that follows.

The study of human memory has been a source of fascination for centuries and has become one of the major topics of interest within cognitive psychology. But what exactly is memory and more importantly: how does it work? Have you ever wondered how it is possible to remember what happened to us when we were only 4 years old or how it is possible to store huge amounts of information and retrieve most of them easily? If you have, you are one of many.

Memory is a hugely broad concept. Crudely, it is a special capacity of the human brain for storing information. There are basically three types of memory: sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory.

The memory model
The modal model of memory by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin: Wikipedia

Sensory memory is a residue in our senses. It is the ability to look at an object and remember what it was like with just a second of observation. Once the object is gone, it is still stored in the memory, but for a few seconds or less. After that the information is lost. The sensory memory for visual stimuli is called iconic memory, and for auditory stimuli is called echoic memory.

Sensory memory is very different from short-term memory, which lasts up to 30 seconds and its capacity is 7 ± 2 items. It’s where you store a telephone number that you have just seen or heard. Finally, there is long-term memory, which is like the hard drive on the computer, but no one really knows its capacity. It holds everything what we walk around with, including faces we have ever seen, things that have happened to us, languages we speak, stories, places, songs, TV programmes, etc.

Often it takes us hours of hard work to commit things to memory, e.g. when we are studying for an exam. Some information, experiences or events, however, enter memory with little or no effort, or for no particular reason, and stay there indefinitely. The reason for this is that brain processes and stores different kinds of information in a different way. Therefore, long-term memory is divided into two main types: explicit memory (known also as declarative memory) and implicit memory (known also as nondeclarative memory). Explicit memory stores information that can be consciously recalled, such as facts or events, whereas implicit memory stores information that doesn’t require conscious recall. A form of implicit memory, procedural memory, allows us to remember how to do things, e.g. how to ride a bike or slice bread without consciously thinking about them. Explicit memory can be further divided into episodic memory and semantic memory. Episodic memory includes autobiographical episodes from our past (e.g. birthdays, meetings, journeys), whilst semantic memory general knowledge that we have accumulated throughout our lives.

Research suggests that formation of memory is affected by a number of factors, such as emotional states, stress, motivation or attention.

Select the answer that is best in each case.

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