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What Is the Connection between Long-Term Memory and Critical Thinking?

Esther Ejim
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Long-term memory and critical thinking are both methods of reasoning and cognition that are interrelated. Critical thinking involves the willful engaging of the reasoning process in order to appraise or dissect information or to solve problems. It's connected to long-term memory because, during the critical thinking process, the brain often relies on remembered information.

The memory is composed of three basic parts: attention, storage, and retrieval. The attention is noticing information in the first place. This information is stored in either the short-term or long-term memory, and the data stored in the long-term memory lasts longer. The retrieval is the process of accessing the stored information when the need arises.

An individual trying to use critical thinking to solve a problem will rely on the information stored in the long-term memory to a large extent. This is because most of what he or she will use to solve the problem is information that he or she has learned in the past that is stored there. For instance, a person trying to solve a math problem will rely on equations and mathematical processes he or she learned in the past. This information is stored in the long-term memory for retrieval when needed.

This relationship between long-term memory and critical thinking can be seen in almost every facet of life. For example, a business manager trying to use critical thinking to resolve a crisis in his or her organization will rely on information retrieved from the long-term memory. This could include memories about business practices, the individual personalities of those he or she is dealing with, and previous tactics that have helped in the past. Even babies use both to some degree as part of their cognitive development. For instance, a toddler who has been burned by a candle flame in the past may make the conscious decision to move around a burning candle that is in his or her path. This is a somewhat simple version of critical thinking on the toddler’s part, involving information retrieved from the long-term memory.

Another way of looking at long-term memory and critical thinking is to regard long-term memory as experience. An individual trying to use critical thinking to solve a problem or create a solution will rely on his or her experience, the long-term memory of a similar experience. The person may also refer to other emergent factors or new information stored in the short-term memory.

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Esther Ejim
By Esther Ejim
Esther Ejim, a visionary leader and humanitarian, uses her writing to promote positive change. As the founder and executive director of a charitable organization, she actively encourages the well-being of vulnerable populations through her compelling storytelling. Esther's writing draws from her diverse leadership roles, business experiences, and educational background, helping her to create impactful content.
Discussion Comments
By fBoyle — On Mar 03, 2013

I personally don't think that there is any causation between these two. There may be correlation, but not causation.

I know plenty of people who have good long-term memory but who are terrible at analyzing things and drawing conclusions. My aunt for example, remembers so much from her childhood, things that my mom who is much younger can't remember. But when she's faced with a problem, she doesn't know how to use her knowledge and experiences to solve that problem. It's like she can't reason, she just does whatever comes to her mind.

I think that critical thinking has to be learned and the sooner it is learned, the better. Just because we remember stuff from the past doesn't make us good at critical thinking.

By turquoise — On Mar 02, 2013

@burcinc-- As far as I know, short-term memory is more affected by aging than long-term memory. So I don't know if aging implies that critical thinking will become more difficult. Critical thinking might be poor in the elderly for other reasons, like degeneration of brain cells. The elderly are also more inclined to suffer from conditions that affect memory like Alzheimer's, so that's something else to consider.

By burcinc — On Mar 01, 2013

If critical thinking relies on long term memory, does this mean that we will have a harder time doing critical thinking as we get older?

Esther Ejim
Esther Ejim
Esther Ejim, a visionary leader and humanitarian, uses her writing to promote positive change. As the founder and...
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