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For the journal of the same name, see Memory (journal)

Memory is the ability of the brain to store, retain, and subsequently recall information. Although traditional studies of memory began in the realms of philosophy, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century put memory within the paradigms of cognitive psychology. In the recent decades, it has become one of the principal pillars of a new branch of science that represents a marriage between cognitive psychology and neuroscience, called cognitive neuroscience.

There are several ways of classifying memories, based on duration, nature and retrieval of information. From an information processing perspective there are three main stages in the formation and retrieval of memory:

  • Encoding (processing and combining of received information)
  • Storage (creation of a permanent record of the encoded information)
  • Retrieval/Recall (calling back the stored information in response to some cue for use in some process or activity)

Classification by duration[]

A basic and generally accepted classification of memory is based on the duration of memory retention, and identifies three distinct types of memory: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory.

The sensory memory corresponds approximately to the initial moment that an item is perceived. Some of this information in the sensory area proceeds to the sensory store, which is referred to as short-term memory. Sensory memory is characterised by the duration of memory retention from milliseconds to seconds and short-term memory from seconds to minutes.

These stores are generally characterised as of strictly limited capacity and duration, whereas in general stored information can be retrieved in a period of time which ranges from days to years; this type of memory is called long-term memory.

It may be that short-term memory is supported by transient changes in neuronal communication, whereas long-term memories are maintained by more stable and permanent changes in neural structure that are dependent on protein synthesis. Some psychologists, however, argue that the distinction between long- and short-term memories is arbitrary, and is merely a reflection of differing levels of activation within a single store.

If we are given a random seven-digit number, we may remember it only for a few seconds and then forget (short-term memory). On the other hand, we can remember telephone numbers for many years (assuming we use them often enough). Those long-lasting memories are said to be stored in long-term memory.

Additionally, the term working memory is used to refer to the short-term store needed for certain mental tasks - it is not a synonym for short-term memory, since it is defined not in terms of duration, but rather in terms of purpose. Some theories consider working memory to be the combination of short-term memory and some attentional control. For instance, when we are asked to mentally multiply 45 by 4, we have to perform a series of simple calculations (additions and multiplications) to arrive at the final answer. The ability to store the information regarding the instructions and intermediate results is what is referred to as working memory.

Classification by information type[]

Long-term memory can be divided into declarative (explicit) and procedural (implicit) memories.

Declarative memory requires conscious recall, in that some conscious process must call back the information. It is sometimes called explicit memory, since it consists of information that is explicitly stored and retrieved.

Declarative memory can be further sub-divided into semantic memory, which concerns facts taken independent of context; and episodic memory, which concerns information specific to a particular context, such as a time and place. Semantic memory allows the encoding of abstract knowledge about the world, such as "Paris is the capital of France". Episodic memory, on the other hand, is used for more personal memories, such as the sensations, emotions, and personal associations of a particular place or time. Autobiographical memory - memory for particular events within one's own life - is generally viewed as either equivalent to, or a subset of, episodic memory. Visual memory is part of memory preserving some characteristics of our senses pertaining to visual experience. We are able to place in memory information that resembles objects, places, animals or people in sort of a mental image. Visual memory can result in priming and it is assumed some kind of perceptual representational system or PRS underlies this phenomenon. [1]

In contrast, procedural memory (or implicit memory) is not based on the conscious recall of information, but on implicit learning. Procedural memory is primarily employed in learning motor skills and should be considered a subset of implicit memory. It is revealed when we do better in a given task due only to repetition - no new explicit memories have been formed, but we are unconsciously accessing aspects of those previous experiences. Procedural memory involved in motor learning depends on the cerebellum and basal ganglia.

So far, nobody has successfully been able to isolate the time dependence of these suggested memory structures.

Classification by temporal direction[]

Tie a string around your finger

Prospective Memory: Tying ribbon or string around a finger is the iconic mnemonic device for remembering a particular thought, which one consciously trains oneself to associate with the string.

A further major way to distinguish different memory functions is whether the content to be remembered is in the past, retrospective memory, or whether the content is to be remembered in the future, prospective memory. Thus, retrospective memory as a category includes semantic memory and episodic/ autobiographical memory. In contrast, prospective memory is memory for future intentions, or remembering to remember (Winograd, 1988). Prospective memory can be further broken down into event- and time-based prospective remembering. Time-based prospective memories are triggered by a time-cue, such as going to the doctor (action) at 4pm (cue). Event-based prospective memories are intentions triggered by cues, such as remembering to post a letter (action) after seeing a mailbox (cue). Cues do not need to be related to the action (as the mailbox example is), and lists, sticky-notes, knotted hankerchiefs, or string around the finger (see box) are all examples of cues that are produced by people as a strategy to enhance prospective memory.


Overall, the mechanisms of memory are not well understood. Brain areas such as the hippocampus, the amygdala, or the mammillary bodies are thought to be involved in certain kinds of memory. For example, the hippocampus is believed to be involved in spatial learning and declarative learning. Damage to certain areas in patients and animal models and subsequent memory deficits is a primary source of information. However, rather than implicating a specific area, it could be that damage to adjacent areas, or to a pathway traveling through the area is actually responsible for the observed deficit. Further, it is not sufficient to describe memory, and its counterpart, learning, as solely dependent on specific brain regions. Learning and memory are attributed to changes in neuronal synapses, thought to be mediated by long-term potentiation and long-term depression.

Main article: Neurophysiology of memory

Development of memory[]

As humans develop and mature their capacity for memory changes.

Main article: Development of memory in childhood
Main article: Aging and memory


Much of the current knowledge of memory has come from studying memory disorders. Loss of memory is known as amnesia. There are many sorts of amnesia, and by studying their different forms, it has become possible to observe apparent defects in individual sub-systems of the brain's memory systems, and thus hypothesize their function in the normally working brain. Other neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease can also affect memory and cognition.


Memorization, or rote learning, is a method of learning that conditions an individual to recall important information verbatim. This method of learning involves repetition, with the assumption that an individual can learn a necessary process or an amount of information through repetitive action or study, such to the point that it becomes near-automatic.

Emotional Memory[]

Main article: Emotion and Memory

Hightened emotions can lead to experiences crystalizing into long-lasting and vivid memories. The Flash back's of Post traumatic stress disorder are one example of this. This boost in memory formation is partly due to the effects of the stress hormone norepinephrine. It appears that the hormone effects a receptor molecule called glautamate receptor 1 (GluR1) on nerve cell surfaces. The action appears to to be that Norepinephrine (a form of adrenaline triggers the attachment of a phosphate grroup to GluR1 and that this added phosphate group expedites the movement of GluR1 molecules to the surface, where they help cells form memories.[1]

See also[]

References & Bibliography[]

  1. Malinow, R., in Cell, October 5, 2007 as reported in Science News, October 20, 2007, 172(16), p. 254.

Key texts[]


  • Baddeley,A (1990) [Human Memory: theory and practice]]. Erlbaum.
  • Bourtchouladze, R.(2002) Memories Are Made of This, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London,
  • Dudai, Y.(2002). Memory from A to Z, Oxford University Press, Oxford,
  • Deutsch. J.A.(1983)(ed.) The Physiological Basis of Memory, New York: Academic Press.2nd ed. ISBN 0122134605
  • Ebbinghaus, H. (1885) Memory: a Contribution to Experimental Psychology, rev. edn 1964, New York: Dover.
  • Eichenbaum, H., and Cohen, N. J., From Conditioning to Conscious Recollection: Memory Systems of the Brain, Oxford University Press, New York, 2001, 2002
  • Lieberman, Learning and Memory: An Integrative Approach ISBN 0-534-08603-9 ISBN 0-534-10638-2
  • Medin,D. (2002) (Ed.), Steven's Handbook Of Experimental Psychology: Third Edition, Vol. 2: Memory And Cognitive Processes. New York: J. Wiley.
  • Neath & Surprenant, Human Memory: An Introduction to Research, Data, and Theory Approach ISBN 0-534-43162-3 ISBN 0-534-13192-1
  • Purdy, et al., Learning & Memory ISBN 0-534-11639-6 ISBN 0-534-13696-6
  • Schacter, Daniel L. (2001) The Seven Sins of Memory, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston,
  • Squire, Larry R. and Kandel, E. R.(1999) Memory From Mind to Molecules, Scientific American Library, New York,
  • Tulving E and Craik F (2000)(eds). The Oxford Handbook of Memory. Oxford University Press, New York.
  • Zimmer, H., Mecklinger, A. & Linderberger, U, (2006) Handbook of Binding and Memory. OUP ISBN 0198529678


Atkinson, R.C. and Shiffrin, R.M. (1977) Human memory: a proposed system and its control processes.In: O.H. Bower (ed.) Human Memory: Basic Processes, New York: Academic Press.

Additional material[]


  • Draaisma D (2005) Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: how memory shapes our past (CUP, Cambridge).
  • Hunter, I.M.L. (1964) Memory, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • Loftus, G.R. and Loftus, E.R (1975) Human Memory: the Processing of Information, New York: Halsted Press.
  • Harris,J.E. and Morris,P.E.(1984) (eds) Everyday Memory, Actions and Absentmindedness, London: Academic Press.

Talland, G.A. (1968) Disorders of Memory and Learning, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

  • Ribot, T., 1882.Diseases of Memory, Appleton, New York,


  • Google Scholar
  • Alba, J. W. and Hasher, L. (1987) Is memory schematic? Psychological Bulletin 93: 203-3 1.
  • Bower, G.H. (1972) Mental imagery and associative learning. In: L. Gregg (ed.) Cognition in Learning and Memory, New York: John Wiley.
  • Bower, G.H. (1981) Mood and memory, American Psychologist 36: 129-48.
  • Estes, W.K. (1982) Learning, memory and intelligence. In: R.J. Sternberg (ed.) Handbook of Human Intelligence, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Kreutzer, M.A., Leonard, C. and FlavelL, J.H. (1975a) An interview study of children's knowledge about memory, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 40: no. 159.

Further reading[]

Relevant quotes[]

  • "Memory is but the storage of fragmentary but 'relevant' features" - Walter J. Ong
  • "It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards" - Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll, Ch. 5, Wool and Water.
  • "The existence of writing changed the nature of memory" - Jennifer Wise, in Dionysus Writes: The Invention of Theatre in Ancient Greece, 1998, p.25
  • "The language of the Homeric epic exhibits a 'formulaic' linguistic style [to aid the memory]" - Jennifer Wise, in Dionysus Writes: The Invention of Theatre in Ancient Greece, 1998, p.27
  • "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it - there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones." A Study In Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ch. 2, The science of Deduction

External links[]

Types of memory
Articulatory suppression‎ | Auditory memory | Autobiographical memory | Collective memory | Early memories | Echoic Memory | Eidetic memory | Episodic memory | Episodic-like memory  | Explicit memory  |Exosomatic memory | False memory |Flashbulb memory | Iconic memory | Implicit memory | Institutional memory | Long term memory | Music-related memory | Procedural memory | Prospective memory | Repressed memory | Retrospective memory | Semantic memory | Sensory memory | Short term memory | Spatial memory | State-dependent memory | Tonal memory | Transactive memory | Transsaccadic memory | Verbal memory  | Visual memory  | Visuospatial memory  | Working memory  |
Aspects of memory
Childhood amnesia | Cryptomnesia |Cued recall | Eye-witness testimony | Memory and emotion | Forgetting |Forgetting curve | Free recall | Levels-of-processing effect | Memory consolidation |Memory decay | Memory distrust syndrome |Memory inhibition | Memory and smell | Memory for the future | Memory loss | Memory optimization | Memory trace | Mnemonic | Memory biases  | Modality effect | Tip of the tongue | Lethologica | Memory loss |Priming | Primacy effect | Reconstruction | Proactive interference | Prompting | Recency effect | Recall (learning) | Recognition (learning) | Reminiscence | Retention | Retroactive interference | Serial position effect | Serial recall | Source amnesia |
Memory theory
Atkinson-Shiffrin | Baddeley | CLARION | Decay theory | Dual-coding theory | Interference theory |Memory consolidation | Memory encoding | Memory-prediction framework | Forgetting | Recall | Recognition |
Method of loci | Mnemonic room system | Mnemonic dominic system | Mnemonic learning | Mnemonic link system |Mnemonic major system | Mnemonic peg system | [[]] |[[]] |
Neuroanatomy of memory
Amygdala | Hippocampus | prefrontal cortex  | Neurobiology of working memory | Neurophysiology of memory | Rhinal cortex | Synapses |[[]] |
Neurochemistry of memory
Glutamatergic system  | of short term memory | [[]] |[[]] | [[]] | [[]] | [[]] | [[]] |[[]] |
Developmental aspects of memory
Prenatal memory | |Childhood memory | Memory and aging | [[]] | [[]] |
Memory in clinical settings
Alcohol amnestic disorder | Amnesia | Dissociative fugue | False memory syndrome | False memory | Hyperthymesia | Memory and aging | Memory disorders | Memory distrust syndrome  Repressed memory  Traumatic memory |
Retention measures
Benton | CAMPROMPT | Implicit memory testing | Indirect tests of memory | MAS | Memory tests for children | MERMER | Rey-15 | Rivermead | TOMM | Wechsler | WMT | WRAML2 |
Treating memory problems
CBT | EMDR | Psychotherapy | Recovered memory therapy |Reminiscence therapy | Memory clinic | Memory training | Rewind technique |
Prominant workers in memory|-
Baddeley | Broadbent |Ebbinghaus  | Kandel |McGaugh | Schacter  | Treisman | Tulving  |
Philosophy and historical views of memory
Aristotle | [[]] |[[]] |[[]] |[[]] | [[]] | [[]] | [[]] |
Journals | Learning, Memory, and Cognition |Journal of Memory and Language |Memory |Memory and Cognition | [[]] | [[]] | [[]] |


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