Types of Memory and their Functions (2024)

Memory is the ability to store and retrieve information when people need it. The four general types of memories are sensory memory, short-term memory, working memory, and long-term memory. Long-term memory can be further categorized as either implicit (unconscious) or explicit (conscious).

Together, these types of memory make us who we are as individuals, yet we don’t put a lot of thought into how memory works. It’s a phenomenon that involves several processes and can be split into different types, each of which plays an important role in the retention and recall of information.

4 Main Types of Memories

For years, researchers and experts have debated the classification of memories. Many experts agree that there are four main categories of memory. All other types of memory tend to fall under these four major categories.

Memory is sometimes also classified into stages and processes. People who classify memory into only two distinctive types, implicit and explicit memory, view that other types of memories like sensory, short-term, and long-term memories aren’t types of memory but stages of memory.

Sensory Memory

Sensory memory allows you to remember sensory information after the stimulation has ended. Researchers who classify memory more as stages than types believe that all other memories begin with the formation of sensory memories. Typically your sensory memory only holds onto information for brief periods. Remembering the sensation of a person’s touch or a sound you heard in passing is sensory memory.

When a sensory experience keeps recurring, and you start to attach other memories to it, the sensory experience stops living in your sensory memory. It might move to your short-term memory or more permanently to your long-term memory.

There are three types of sensory memory: iconic, which is obtained through sight; echoic, which is auditory; and haptic, which is through touch.

Short-term Memory

As the name implies, short-term memory allows you to recall specific information about anything for a brief period. Short-term memory is not as fleeting as sensory memory, but it’s also not as permanent as long-term memory. Short-term memory is also known as primary or active memory.

Research estimates that short-term memories only last for about 30 seconds. When you read a line in a book or a string of numbers that you have to recall, that’s your short-term memory at work.

You can keep information in your short-term memory by rehearsing the information. For example, if you need to recall a string of numbers, you might keep repeating them to yourself until you input them. However, if you are asked to recall those numbers about 10 minutes after inputting them, you’d most likely be unable to.

Working Memory

Working memory is a type of memory that involves the immediate and small amount of information that a person actively uses as they perform cognitive tasks.

While some experts view working memory as a fourth distinct type of memory, working memory can fall under the classification of short-term memory and, in many cases, is even used interchangeably.

Improving Your Memory With ADHD

Long-term Memory

We store a vast majority of our memories in our long-term memory. Any memory we can still recall after 30 seconds could classify as long-term memory. These memories range in significance—from recalling the name of a friendly face at your favorite coffee shop to important bits of information like a close friend’s birthday or your home address.

There is no limit to how much our long-term memory can hold and for how long. We can further split long-term memory into two main categories: explicit and implicit long-term memory.

Explicit Long-term Memory

Explicit long-term memories are memories we consciously and deliberately took time to form and recall. Explicit memory holds information such as your best friend’s birthday or your phone number. It often includes major milestones in your life, such as childhood events, graduation dates, or academic work you learned in school.

In general, explicit memories can be episodic or semantic.

  • Episodic memories are formed from particular episodes in your life. Examples of episodic memory include the first time you rode a bike or your first day at school.
  • Semantic memories are general facts and bits of information you absorbed over the years. For instance, when you recall a random fact while filling in a crossword puzzle, you pull it from your semantic memory.

Conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease heavily affect explicit memories.

Implicit Long-term Memory

We are not as deliberate with forming implicit memories as we are with explicit ones. Implicit memories form unconsciously and might affect the way a person thinks and behaves.

Implicit memory often comes into play when we are learning motor skills like walking or riding a bike. If you learned how to ride a bike when you were 10 and only ever pick it up again when you are 20, implicit memory helps you remember how to ride it.

We can retrieve long-term memories a few different ways. The three types of memory retrieval are recall, recognition, and relearning.

Writing by Hand Boosts Brain Activity and Fine Motor Skills, Study Shows

Why Do We Have Different Types of Memory?

Each different type of memory we have is important, and they all have various functions. Your short-term memory allows you to process and understand the information in an instant. When you read a paragraph in a book and understand it, that’s your short-term memory at work.

Your most treasured and important memories are held in your long-term memory. Your long-term memory facilitates how to walk, talk, ride a bike, and engage in daily activities. It also allows you to recall important dates and facts.

In your day-to-day activities, you are bound to find yourself relying on your long-term memory the most. From waking up and brushing your teeth to getting on the right bus to commute to work, recalling all of these steps is facilitated by your long-term memory.

How Long-Term Memory Retrieval Works

How These Types of Memories Are Formed

Memories are made in three distinct stages. It starts with encoding. Encoding is the way external stimuli and information make their way into your brain. This could occur through any of your five senses.

The next stage is storage, where the information we take in is stored either briefly, like with sensory and short term memory, or more permanently, like with long term memory.

The final stage is recall. Recall is our ability to retrieve the memory we’ve made from where it is stored. These processes are also how sensory memory might be turned into short-term memory or short-term memory into long-term memory.

Reasons Why People Forget

How to Improve Your Memory

It’s commonplace to hear people complain about having poor memory. When we try to recall information we have encoded and stored, and we can’t, then our memory has failed us.

The good news is that it is possible to improve your memory and make the process of encoding, storing, and recalling information more seamless. Here are a couple of tips that could help you improve your memory:

  • Take care of your body. If you take care of your body by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep, you improve your brain health which helps you process and recall memories better.
  • Exercise your mind. There are several activities and puzzles you could do to give your mind a great workout.
  • Take advantage of calendars and planners. Clear up memory space in your brain by using calendars and planners to remember the little things like shopping lists and meeting times.
  • Stay mentally active. Reading, writing, and constantly learning help you remain mentally active, which can improve your memory.

How to Use Mnemonic Devices to Improve Your Memory

6 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Stangor C, Walinga J. 9. 1 Memories as types and stages. In: Introduction to Psychology 1st Canadian Edition. BCcampus; 2014.

  2. Camina E, Güell F. The neuroanatomical, neurophysiological and psychological basis of memory: current models and their origins.Front Pharmacol. 2017;8:438. doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00438

  3. Cascella M, Al Khalili Y. Short term memory impairment. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2021.

  4. Queensland Brain Institute. Types of memory.

  5. University of Central Florida. General psychology: Retrieval.

  6. Harvard Health. 7 ways to keep your memory sharp at any age.

Types of Memory and their Functions (1)

By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.

See Our Editorial Process

Meet Our Review Board

Was this page helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!

What is your feedback?

Sure, I can dive into those concepts! My background in cognitive psychology has involved extensive research and practical application regarding memory processes. The description you provided about sensory memory, short-term memory, working memory, and long-term memory aligns closely with my expertise in memory systems.

Sensory memory, as you mentioned, captures sensory information briefly after its stimulation ends. It's like a snapshot that holds information for a very short period. Iconic memory stores visual information, echoic memory retains auditory details, and haptic memory deals with touch-related sensations.

Short-term memory, often referred to as working memory, holds information temporarily. It's crucial for immediate tasks, allowing retention for about 30 seconds or so without rehearsal. This memory is the mental workspace that helps in problem-solving, reasoning, and decision-making.

Long-term memory is where the bulk of our memories reside, and it's split into explicit and implicit categories. Explicit long-term memory encompasses consciously formed and recalled memories, such as factual information or personal experiences. It further branches into episodic (specific events) and semantic (general knowledge) memories.

Implicit long-term memory involves unconscious memory formation and includes skills and habits, like riding a bike or playing an instrument. This type of memory aids in procedural tasks without conscious effort.

The processes of encoding, storage, and retrieval play vital roles in how memories are formed and accessed. Encoding is the initial process where information enters the memory system, followed by storage in either short-term or long-term memory, depending on its significance. Lastly, retrieval involves recalling stored memories, which can happen through recall, recognition, or relearning.

Memory improvement strategies, such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, engaging in mental activities, using mnemonic devices, and organizing information effectively, can significantly enhance memory functions.

The sources you mentioned, like studies on memory types and stages, neuroanatomical and psychological bases of memory, and practical applications like ways to improve memory, all contribute to the comprehensive understanding of memory processes.

Feel free to ask about any specific aspects or details within these memory concepts!

Types of Memory and their Functions (2024)


Types of Memory and their Functions? ›

The four general types of memories are sensory memory, short-term memory, working memory, and long-term memory.

What are the 4 main types of memory? ›

The four general types of memories are sensory memory, short-term memory, working memory, and long-term memory.

What are the three types of memory or memory functions? ›

In the recent literature there has been considerable confusion about the three types of memory: long-term, short-term, and working memory. This chapter strives to reduce that confusion and makes up-to-date assessments of these types of memory.

How do I know what type of memory I have? ›

Open up Task Manager by right-clicking on the Windows taskbar and selecting Task Manager. Navigate to the Performance tab — it will open with the CPU view selected, so you'll want to choose the Memory view from the left navigation panel. After clicking on Memory, you can view your RAM speed and other details.

What are the functions of the memory? ›

Our memory has three basic functions: encoding, storing, and retrieving information.

What memory goes first with dementia? ›

Loss of memory is among the first symptoms reported by patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease (AD) and by their caretakers. Working memory and long-term declarative memory are affected early during the course of the disease.

What are four 4 types of memory in a computer how does each memory operate? ›

Memory consists of four types of memory chips: RAM, ROM, CMOS and flash. RAM stand for random access memory and ROM stand for read only memory. These are also called primary memory of a computer.

What are the 2 main types of memory? ›

Memory types

There are two major categories of memory: long-term memory and short-term memory. To learn more, choose from the options below. Long-term memory is our brain's system for storing, managing, and retrieving information. Learn more about it.

How many types of memory are there in psychology? ›

In this section we will consider the two types of memory, explicit memory and implicit memory, and then the three major memory stages: sensory, short-term, and long-term (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968).

How many types to main memory are there? ›

Random Access Memory (RAM) is volatile memory and Read Only Memory (ROM) is non-volatile memory. It is also called as read write memory or the main memory or the primary memory. ...

What is normal memory type? ›

Normal memory is used for all code and for most data regions in memory. Examples of Normal memory include areas of RAM, Flash, or ROM in physical memory. This kind of memory provides the highest processor performance as it is weakly ordered and the compiler can perform more optimizations.

Do I have a photographic memory? ›

People who believe they have photographic memories say they can recall visuals for very long periods of time, or permanently, without alterations in detail. Most other people are able to assess visual images and recall them once they look away.

What is the difference between the different types of memory? ›

There are three main types of memory: working memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Working memory and short-term memory allow you to store and use temporary information, while long-term holds your lifelong memories.

What is meant by a semantic memory? ›

Semantic memory is conscious long-term memory for meaning, understanding, and conceptual facts about the world. Semantic memory is one of the two main varieties of explicit, conscious, long-term memory, which is memory that can be retrieved into conscious awareness after a long delay (from several seconds to years).

What is the difference between implicit and explicit memories? ›

Implicit and explicit memory are both types of long-term memory. The information we store or remember unconsciously is called implicit memory, while the information we memorize consciously is known as explicit memory.

What is memory function in the brain? ›

The cerebellum's job is to process procedural memories; the hippocampus is where new memories are encoded; the amygdala helps determine what memories to store, and it plays a part in determining where the memories are stored based on whether we have a strong or weak emotional response to the event.

What are 4 memory slots? ›

These memory slots are sometimes labelled A1, A2, B1, and B2, with the letter representing which channel the slot is connected to. As we've already said, you want to occupy both channels to achieve optimal performance.

What causes memory loss and forgetfulness? ›

Factors that may cause memory problems include: Head injury, such as a concussion. Blood clots, tumors, or infections in the brain. Thyroid, kidney, or liver problems.

What are the four main types of memory quizlet? ›

There are also four subsets of long-term memory they are Explicit, Implicit, Episodic, and Semantic memory. It is one of the two main types of long-term human memory. It is the conscious, intentional recollection of factual information, previous experiences, and concepts.

What is explicit and implicit memory? ›

Implicit and explicit memory are both types of long-term memory. The information we store or remember unconsciously is called implicit memory, while the information we memorize consciously is known as explicit memory.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Msgr. Benton Quitzon

Last Updated:

Views: 6351

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (43 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Msgr. Benton Quitzon

Birthday: 2001-08-13

Address: 96487 Kris Cliff, Teresiafurt, WI 95201

Phone: +9418513585781

Job: Senior Designer

Hobby: Calligraphy, Rowing, Vacation, Geocaching, Web surfing, Electronics, Electronics

Introduction: My name is Msgr. Benton Quitzon, I am a comfortable, charming, thankful, happy, adventurous, handsome, precious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.