Types of Memory and their Functions (2023)

Memory is the ability to store and retrieve information when people need it. The four general types of memory 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).

Memories 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.

Types of Memory

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 on to 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.

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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 (for instance, 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 that memory 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.

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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.

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How Are Memories Made?

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.

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Can You 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.

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5 Sources

(Video) How We Make Memories: Crash Course Psychology #13

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. 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.

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What are the types of memory function? ›

The three major classifications of memory that the scientific community deals with today are as follows: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Information from the world around us begins to be stored by sensory memory, making it possible for this information to be accessible in the future.

What do you understand by memory explain the types of memory and their functions? ›

Memory is the ability to store and retrieve information when people need it. The four general types of memory 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).

How many types of memory are there answer? ›

Memory Types

There are two major categories of memory: long-term memory and short-term memory.

What are the types of memory and explain any one of them? ›

There are technically two types of computer memory: primary and secondary. The term memory is used as a synonym for primary memory or as an abbreviation for a specific type of primary memory called random access memory (RAM).

What is main memory and its function? ›

Computer memory is divided into main (or primary) memory and auxiliary (or secondary) memory. Main memory holds instructions and data when a program is executing, while auxiliary memory holds data and programs not currently in use and provides long-term storage.

Where are memory functions? ›

When we call a function, the function and the variables inside that function are stored in stack memory. Stack memory is allocated and deallocated for us automatically.

What are the four main types of memory describe each? ›

What are the different types of memory?
  • Working memory. You use this to store information for short periods. ...
  • Episodic memory. Episodic memory is needed to recall past events – recent or distant. ...
  • Semantic memory. You use this to remember the meanings of words or remember facts. ...
  • Prospective memory.

What is main memory explain the three types of main memory in detail? ›

Main Memory

The size of Main memory is the largest when compared to Cache Memory and Register memory but the cost is the lowest among them. Main memory can be divided into two main types viz., Random Access Memory (RAM), Read-only memory (ROM), and each of these is divided into further sub-types.

What are the functions of memory quizlet? ›

The 3 functions of memory are? encoding, storage, & retrieval.

What is primary memory answer? ›

Primary Memory is a section of computer memory that the CPU can access directly. Primary Memory has a faster access time than secondary memory and is faster than cache memory in a memory hierarchy. Primary Memory, on average, has a storage capacity that is lower than secondary memory but higher than cache memory.

What are the different types of memory quizlet? ›

Terms in this set (7)
  • Procedural (Implicit) Memory. One of the two types of long term memory. ...
  • Episodic Memory. A type of declarative memory that has to do with events in ones life. ...
  • Semantic Memory. ...
  • Declarative (or Explicit) Memory: ...
  • Long Term Memory: ...
  • Working Memory. ...
  • Sensory Memory:

How many types of memory are there 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.

How is memory classified into different types? ›

Main memory can be generally classified into random-access memory (RAM) and read-only memory (ROM). It is a volatile memory. Due to the absence of power, the content of this memory will be lost. Secondary Memory– Secondary memory is also frequently known as auxiliary memory.

What is the function of primary and secondary memory? ›

The difference between primary and secondary memory is that Primary memory is the main memory of the device/ computer where the processing data exist and the secondary memory of a device/ computer is an auxiliary memory that stores the data permanently.

What is the function of primary memory and secondary memory? ›

Primary memory is the computer's main memory and stores data temporarily. Secondary memory is external memory and saves data permanently. Data stored in primary memory can be directly accessed by the CPU, which cannot be accessed in secondary memory.

Which memory is used when function is called? ›

Stack Memory: Automatic Local Variables

The precise locations are determined at the time the function is actually called. Once execution of that function finishes, that stack storage is recycled for use by subsequent function calls, either to the same function or to other functions.

What are functions of short-term memory? ›

Short-term memory (STM) encompasses cognitive functions for the storage, maintenance, and mental manipulation of information that is no longer present in the sensory environment. Selective attention, on the other hand, relates to functions that modulate the processing of sensory events during encoding.

What is memory function in psychology? ›

Memory is today defined in psychology as the faculty of encoding, storing, and retrieving information (Squire, 2009). Psychologists have found that memory includes three important categories: sensory, short-term, and long-term.

What are the three types of memory function *? ›

Memory is a system or process that stores what we learn for future use. Our memory has three basic functions: encoding, storing, and retrieving information.

What are the three basic memory processes? ›

As such, memory plays a crucial role in teaching and learning. There are three main processes that characterize how memory works. These processes are encoding, storage, and retrieval (or recall).

What is the most common type of main memory? ›

DRAM (pronounced DEE-RAM), is widely used as a computer's main memory. Each DRAM memory cell is made up of a transistor and a capacitor within an integrated circuit, and a data bit is stored in the capacitor.

What is secondary memory example? ›

Secondary memory is known as a Backup memory or Additional memory or Auxiliary memory. Hard Drive, SSD, Flash, Optical Drive,USD Drive are some examples of secondary memories in computer.

What is secondary memory explain? ›

Secondary memory is computer memory that is non-volatile, persistent and not immediately accessible by a computer or processor. It allows users to store data and information that can be retrieved, transmitted, and used by apps and services quickly and easily. Secondary storage is another name for secondary memory.

What is secondary memory called? ›

Auxiliary memory, also known as auxiliary storage, secondary storage, secondary memory or external memory, is a non-volatile memory (does not lose stored data when the device is powered down) that is not directly accessible by the CPU, because it is not accessed via the input/output channels (it is an external device).

What are two main memory types? ›

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. ... RAM is further classified into two types- SRAM (Static Random Access Memory) and DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory).

Which is the main memory? ›

the main memory of a computer can also be called as primary memory. it is also known as random access memory that is RAM . when computer is shut down all the data in RAM is erased. primary memory is computer memory that is accessed directly by the CPU .

What are the 4 functions of memory? ›

Memory is a system or process that stores what we learn for future use. Our memory has three basic functions: encoding, storing, and retrieving information. Encoding is the act of getting information into our memory system through automatic or effortful processing.

What are the 4 types of memory? ›

Most scientists believe there are at least four general types of memory:
  • working memory.
  • sensory memory.
  • short-term memory.
  • long-term memory.
Nov 1, 2020

What are the 4 types of main memory? ›

There are four types of primary storage:
  • read only memory (ROM)
  • random access memory (RAM)
  • flash memory.
  • cache memory.

What are four 4 types of memory in a computer? ›

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 three functions of primary memory? ›

Types and Function of Primary Storage

The data in RAM can be read (retrieved) or written (stored). It stores data and programs that can be accessed directly by the processor. RAM holds temporary instructions and data needed to complete tasks. RAM stores data during and after processing.

What are the 3 types of working memory *? ›

The three subcomponents involved are phonological loop (or the verbal working memory), visuospatial sketchpad (the visual-spatial working memory), and the central executive which involves the attentional control system (Baddeley and Hitch, 1974; Baddeley, 2000b).


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