Different types of memory

What are the main types of memory and how can we improve them?

How do we remember? We look at the types of memory that help us learn different things…

Memory can be both a frustrating and fantastic thing. On the one hand, it is amazing to think about everything you can remember, whether it’s names of people, facts, every detail of your favourite tv show, or cheesy song lyrics. However, when you’re trying to remember certain things for exams or work, getting the information to stick can be a struggle!

But why do we remember some things and not others? And how can we improve our memory?

The key to understanding this is not necessarily to stress ourselves out learning how to remember more, but rather understanding the different types of memory, how they work, and why we forget things.

What are the different types of memory?

Short-term memory

This could also be called ‘working memory’ as it allows people to actively process auditory, visual, and spatial information. In other words, it helps you to function in everyday life! For example, it calculates how far away something is and where things are, to help you pick things up or walk around.

This section of memory is active as it uses the information to do something, but it only holds onto the information for a short period of time. It can only cope with a limited number of information too, just like a juggler can only handle a certain number of items at a time.

Using short-term memory expends a lot of energy. However, training it and learning how to manipulate it effectively can free up some energy to enable you to take on more information.

Long-term memory

This memory form is never static and is always changing. Anything remembered for longer than 30 seconds is classed as long-term memory, which means it covers a whole range of stored information!

Think of long-term memory as a warehouse, with individual memories stacked on the different shelves. Making sure these memories/items are organised helps people to find and retrieve them quicker and more efficiently, and this skill can be developed with practice and training.

Long-term memory has an almost infinite capacity, and its ever-changing nature can cause memories to alter, depending on how often a particular one is recalled. Memories can get blurry, or people can start to remember what happened in different ways, depending on what they consider to be most important from that event.

Why do we remember certain things?

There are three main types of memory which explain why we remember some things but struggle to learn others.

1.      Procedural – this helps people to do things and perform certain tasks e.g. riding a bike, tying shoelaces, playing a musical instrument, or doing a sport. These are ingrained processes and skills that are learnt step-by-step over a long period of time and are almost impossible to forget.

2.      Semantic- this is memory of general facts and common knowledge acquired over a lifetime e.g. names of countries, colours, historical facts, and spelling. These memories are not based on personal experience and are generally hard to forget.

3.      Episodic- this is a personal memory of specific events or experiences, unique to each individual. They usually involve some emotion, which helps the person to hold onto that memory as it meant something to them. For example, knowing that France is in Europe is a semantic memory, but remembering your holiday there three years ago is an episodic memory.

“Memory is imagination and learning connected by the story”

Everybody has a memory that can be improved with practice, and one tip is to utilise our imagination. Connecting facts to a story with some emotion can help people to absorb more information and hopefully remember more!

Completing online courses can give people tips on how to memorise things quicker and suggest strategies to help you learn and retain information.

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