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What Is Verbal Memory?

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden

Verbal memory is a broad term used to refer to the memory of language in various forms. Researchers and medical professionals often test this form of memory by asking test subjects or patients to attempt to memorize lists of words or phrases. Such lists can be spoken or written, as verbal memory can refer to memory of language perceived either visually or orally. Various forms of brain damage, such as those caused by trauma or disease, can have a negative impact on one's verbal memory. Some psychological conditions can similarly effect memory, whether or not they are linked to physical causes within the brain.

There are many different aspects of verbal memory that extend beyond the ability to recite a list of words or phrases. One such aspect, word association, involves the phenomenon in which one remembers a certain word only upon hearing another related word. If, for instance, the words "house" and "domestic" were paired in a memory test, a test subject who hears "house" is likely to recall "domestic," even if he could not remember the word prior to hearing "house."

Verbal memory is commonly linked with the medial temporal lobe.
Verbal memory is commonly linked with the medial temporal lobe.

Many people remember concrete and abstract terms differently and are able to memorize one more easily than the other. In general, people are able to memorize and recall concrete terms such as "stone," "moon," and "water" better than they are able to recall abstract terms such as "evil," "deceit," and "holiness." Both sets of words fall into the category of verbal memory, but there seem to be differences in how well one is able to memorize each type of word.

This type of memory has commonly been linked to the left side of the brain. Particularly, it is generally associated with the medial temporal lobe on the left side. This is not the case in all individuals, though, and some people who use both sides of the brain to access this type of memory have demonstrably better verbal memories.

Some studies have suggested that memory of language is improved if the words to be remembered are set to music. This could explain, for instance, the ease with which people are able to memorize music lyrics. It has been demonstrated in multiple situations that music can alter brain function in many ways, some of which are not directly or clearly related to the music itself. It is believed that "musical memory" and "non-musical memory" may be distinct from each other. As such, an individual with a poor memory for spoken words may have a good memory for the same words put to music.

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Discussion Comments


My doctor said that psychological health is important for verbal memory. People who suffer from psychological ailments apparently have less verbal memory than others.


@burcidi-- Improving verbal working memory requires some effort but you can certainly do it.

One way is by reading a short story or even a children's book and then retelling the story. You don't have to memorize it word for word, but thinking about how the story goes and how it was worded improves verbal memory. If you have children, you can improve your verbal memory by telling them stories.

Listening to music, learning and singing songs, and keeping a diary are other great ways to improve verbal memory.


I think my verbal memory is quite bad. Words escape me all the time and I find myself literally pondering over it while I'm talking to people. Sometimes I will even describe the word but I can't remember it.

It's embarrassing and I feel a little silly and stupid. The funny part is that I read and write a lot but this doesn't improve my verbal memory.

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    • Verbal memory is commonly linked with the medial temporal lobe.
      By: designua
      Verbal memory is commonly linked with the medial temporal lobe.