- There are two main categories of memory: short and long-term memory, which differ in what information is stored and how.
- Short-term memory is essentially responsible for storing temporary information and deciding what to do with it: throw it away or pass it to our long-term memory.
- Long-term memory, on the other hand, is more complex and can be divided into three subgroups.
- Explicit memory, which is sometimes called declarative memory, requires conscious thought; for example, recalling what you ate for dinner last week.
- Implicit memory, otherwise known as non-declarative memory, does not require conscious thought but happens automatically; think, talking or driving.
- Finally, autobiographical memory stores information relating to ourselves: basics like our name and date of birth, as well as events from the past.
As you know, we have long-term and short-term memory. These are the two main categories of memory, which differ in the information stored and systems used to do so. What you might not know is that while short-term memory is fairly simple, long-term memory can be divided into subgroups. Let’s explore both short-term and long-term memory, including the different subgroups of the latter:
Short-Term Memory: Storage of Temporary Information
Short-term memory is responsible for storing temporary information and essentially deciding whether it will be tossed in the garbage or sent over to our long-term memory. This is a fairly quick and effortless task for your brain: think of a receptionist who flips through paperwork and decides if it’s important or not. This takes less than a minute to complete.
Did you know that your short-term memory is actually hard at work right now? It’s helping you understand this very sentence, by storing each bit of information so that you can make sense of it once you’ve gotten to the very end.
Long-Term Memory: Conscious and Unconscious Recall
Long-term memory is more complex. We store different long-term memories, from how we walk and talk to treasured memories about events from the past. These long-term memories fall into explicit memory, implicit memory, autobiographical memory, and memory and Morpheus.
- Explicit memory: This, sometimes referred to as declarative memory, requires conscious thought. For example, recalling that history lesson from school or remembering what you ate for dinner last Monday. When people brag about having a good memory (or complain about having a bad memory), they’re most likely referring to their explicit memory.
- Implicit memory: Implicit memory—sometimes called non-declarative memory, motor memory, or procedural memory—is the opposite of explicit memory in that it does not require conscious thought. Instead, we recall these memories without really thinking about them. For example, driving to work, walking, talking, and singing the lyrics to a song you haven’t heard in years.
- Autobiographical memory: You could probably guess that autobiographical memory refers to memories about ourselves. This category can actually be broken down into two smaller subgroups:
- Episodic: When you reminisce about childhood or think back on a pleasant (or unpleasant) event from your past, you’re using episodic memory. The thing with episodic memory is sometimes it gets blurry. You probably remember the basic facts of past events, but you likely forget other small details.
- Semantic: The second type of autobiographical memory is semantic. This consists simply of general knowledge and facts about yourself and the world around you. So, for example, your name, your date of birth, and the people in your life.