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What Are the Different Types of Long-Term Memory?

By Deneatra Harmon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A person's brain can retain information learned over time, as well as memories of events that occurred anywhere from a few minutes to several years ago, using the different types of long-term memory. They include include explicit and implicit, which are further broken down into subgroups that distinguish between conscious and unconscious thought. The different types of long-term memory usually are stored and recalled through processes of repetition or specific reminders.

Explicit memory, also known as declarative memory, involves conscious thought. It allows a person to reflect on something or someone who is important. Remembering facts such as the names of the 50 states, or recalling an event such as a relative’s birthday party provide examples of explicit memory. Additionally, this type of long-term memory is associative because it helps the brain link scenes, objects, or scents to a specific memory. For example, the smell of popcorn and cotton candy may remind a person of a day spent at the carnival with family.

As one of the types of long-term memory, explicit comprises two categories: episodic and semantic. Episodic memory may sometimes be referred to as autobiographical memory because it helps a person to recall personal experiences. Sometimes, in episodic explicit memory, the brain triggers emotional memories so strong that the person may even remember exactly where he or she was when a major event occurred. Semantic explicit memory helps the brain to remember general knowledge like facts and figures, such as math concepts or grammar rules. This type of information recall does not require the person to remember the exact time or place in which he or she learned the concepts or ideas, but rather triggers the person to remember facts or numbers over time without remembering exactly how it was learned.

One of the other types of long-term memory — implicit — does not require conscious thinking. It often revolves around remembering through repetition. With implicit memory, it is sometimes easier for people to show how to do something rather than explain it. Also referred to as nondeclarative, implicit long-term memory allows the person to do basic routine tasks without a lot of thought, such as getting dressed, washing dishes, or even driving a car. Like explicit long-term memory, implicit also splits into two categories — procedural memory and priming.

Procedural implicit memory can basically be defined as the “how-to” part of information processing, according to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). This aspect of information recall allows a person to do simple tasks or activities, such as washing dishes or walking, without thinking about how to do them. Most procedural long-term memory processes involve learned movements that are practiced over time. This category of implicit memory may also include no movements, as in the case with learning how to read.

Priming is the second category of implicit long-term memory that revolves around experiences. The person may recall information learned from a past experience without giving it thought. Priming usually occurs when the person can recall something that was seen or heard just a few hours or a few days ago. An example may be having someone review a word list, then recalling the words on that list a few hours later.

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