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Categorizing Memory

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  1. 0:53 Categorizing Memory
  2. 1:26 Sensory Memory
  3. 2:53 Long Term Memory
  4. 3:40 Explicit Memory
  5. 4:11 Implicit Memory
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Taught by

Jessica Bayliss

Did you know that there are several types of memories? How does your brain keep track of them all? In this lesson, as you observe your surroundings at an art museum, you'll come to understand how your brain categorizes memory so you can remember your experiences.

On a trip to the art museum with your best friend, you stop in front of a still life of an apple. You note the water pouring off of it and maybe think about the unfortunate fact that you skipped breakfast. After you walk on, can you still picture the apple? What color was it? Since you just saw the apple, you probably have a picture of it and the color is stored in your short-term memory; you can remember that it was red. If I ask you in hour what color the apple was, you might not remember. If I ask you in a week, you might not remember that you saw a painting of an apple at all, let alone what color it was!

The length of time and way in which you remember something has to do with categorized memories, or memory categorization. Every day we encounter thousands of things that go into and out of our memory - way too many things to keep track of. The brain uses memory categories to slot memories where they belong. The color of the apple isn't that important, so your brain discarded it shortly after you moved on. The name of your best friend? Hugely important (if you want to keep your friendship), so it's in a long-term memory that you won't forget.

The very shortest-term memory is called sensory memory, and, like the name implies, it's more of a feeling rather than an actual memory. You experience sensory memory when you still see the flash of a camera after it has gone off or when you can still hear the ringing of a fire alarm in your head even after it stops.

Two main types of sensory memory are iconic and echoic.

Iconic memory is also called visual memory, and it's when you can picture an image for a split second after it has disappeared from view. Look at this red dot. It's moving in a circle, and you can easily track the dot's progress. If the speed picks up, though, your sensory memory kicks in. It keeps the red dot in mind so that soon, it looks like a red circle rather than a single dot. This is an example of the way your iconic memory works. Even after the dot has moved on, an image of it remains in your head for a split second. Since the dot is moving so quickly, your sensory memory constructs a circle where none actually exists.

Echoic memory is similar, but instead of remembering images, you hear sounds for a split second after the sounds stop. Guess how echoic memory got its name? That's right, from echoes. Hearing an echoic memory in your head is just like hearing the actual echo from the crash of your keys dropping on the museum's marble floor.

Sensory memories disappear after a split second, and if we only had sensory memories, we'd never remember anything at all! Fortunately, we all have long-term memory as well. There are several types of long-term memory. One type, semantic memory, helps you remember information and concepts, while another type, episodic memory, helps you remember specific events or people. If you go to the museum with your best friend, your semantic memory will help you remember the difference between Monet's Impressionistic landscapes and Rembrandt's portraits. Your episodic memory will help you remember the fun lunch you and your friend had after seeing the artwork.

Both your memories of the artwork and of your lunch conversation are clear - you can picture them in your head and maybe even hear your friend's voice. A memory that you can clearly picture in your head is called declarative. Another word for this type of clear memory is explicit. An explicit memory is anything you have to think about in order to remember. For example, if your mom asks you how the museum was, you'll call up your explicit memories of the trip to tell her about the exhibit and the lunch. Other examples of explicit or declarative memories are facts you learned in school, people's faces and the color of that apple.

Of course, not all memories are explicit. Implicit memories are memories that are unconscious. For example, you didn't have to remember how to move your legs as you walked through the museum. Knowing how to walk is part of your implicit memory and is something you can do without thinking about it. After all, if you had to consciously remember how to walk or talk, you'd never get anything done! The memories of how to do things you do on a regular basis are called procedural memories. Your procedural memory took over while you were at the museum so you could concentrate on the artwork without trying to remember how to put one foot in front of the other. Other procedural memories are daily tasks like getting dressed or brushing your teeth. These tasks require several steps, but they are so second-nature that you probably don't have to stop and think about each step before you do them.

To review, the brain uses categorization tricks to help you put your memories in appropriate slots. This is an important skill because you can't retrieve or find memories if you don't know where they are! Sensory memories are super-short term memories that you remember as actual senses - the sound of a bell ringing or the sense of that red dot twirling in a circle.

Longer-term memories are also divided into multiple categories. Your semantic memories help you remember specific facts and different bits of information, like the difference between Monet and Rembrandt, while episodic memories help you remember specific conversations or experiences you had with your friend. And procedural memories are the way you can get things done like walking, talking and getting dressed in the morning without too much thought. So what type of memory will help you remember the memory facts in this video? Can you remember?
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