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What Is the Difference between Visual and Auditory Memory?

By Erik J.J. Goserud
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Visual and auditory memory are both different categories of the broader concept of memory, the recollection of information. Memory is categorized in both broad and specific manners, and understanding each concept independently helps to truly comprehend the disparity between visual and auditory memory. Generally speaking, visual memory, as the name suggests, refers to the recollection of visual information, whereas auditory memories are the recollection of things that were heard.

Visual memories may be formed by the actual perception of a visual stimulus as well as from more imaginative sources. This encoding of stimuli occurs over time frames ranging from momentary, such as the blink of an eye, to longer term, such as the recollection of watching a movie. Of course, these memories may further be altered across time spanning months or years as well.

This particular subtype of memory is able to be stored due to the parietal and temporal lobes. These lobes are a part of the cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain involved in most "higher thinking" cognitive processes. The temporal lobe is located on the lateral aspect of the cortex and can be thought of as in the same region as the ear. The parietal lobe is above, superior in anatomical terms, to the temporal lobe, spanning the side and top of the cortex.

Due to the complexity of neurophysiological processes, the exact mechanism of storing visual and auditory memories is not easily articulated or understood. The same holds true for the storing of auditory, or echoic, memory. Echoic memory generally can only be retained for about three to four seconds, which is a relatively short amount of time. Other recollection of sounds, such as what a person was saying during a particular memorable event, is more attributable to episodic memory and other longer-term forms of auditory memory.

Therefore, visual and auditory memory differ specifically as smaller parts of a bigger mnemonic scheme. The difference is primarily the sense that is utilized to acquire the information in addition to the neural storage pathway. In visual memory, the eyes are used to sense reflected light, and the temporal and parietal lobes store the corresponding images. The auditory system is ear based and translates sound waves into particular vibrational patterns that are then interpreted in different ways by the brain to come up with specific sounds. If this sound is of any particular significance, it may then be stored as auditory memory in the brain and recalled for various reasons on both conscious and subconscious levels.

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Discussion Comments

By croydon — On May 05, 2013

@KoiwiGal - To me, what gets really strange, is that the mind is divided up even further than that. There are people who have had brain damage to the point that they can no longer speak, or understand speech, but they can still understand and respond to music and song.

Which means the area of the brain which can remember and process singing must be in a separate place to the place where it processes speech.

By KoiwiGal — On May 05, 2013

@Ana1234 - I guess that explains why, when students get asked by the teacher to repeat what he just said, they can often do it if it's right after he said it, even if they weren't paying attention.

I can vaguely remember doing this myself. It's always interesting to me that the brain has such separate bits for everything. This shows that visual and audio information are not processed in the same place, since they happen in different ways. Auditory processing is probably in a completely different area. And yet they work in combination so well, that we can watch someone speak and listen to the words and it all makes perfect sense.

By Ana1234 — On May 04, 2013

Something I heard recently which I found interesting was that your working memory will hold onto auditory information for a bit longer than to visual information. This works whether you are paying attention or not.

So if I show you a number and you aren't really looking, and then I take it away and ask you what it was, even a few seconds later, the chances are you won't remember.

But if I tell you a number and you aren't paying attention, if I ask you a few seconds later you will be able to remember.

After those seconds, if you don't re-look at the memory and put it into your long term storage, you won't remember, but with audible information you have a couple of seconds more grace time.

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