Types of Memory

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Types of Memory
Chapter 6
or find that you can use a pogo stick many years after you last played with one, you
are depending on the storage capacity of your memory.
The third memory process, retrieval, occurs when you find information stored in
memory and bring it into consciousness. Retrieving stored information such as your
address or telephone number is usually so fast and effortless that it seems automatic.
The search-and-retrieval process becomes more noticeable, however, when you read a
quiz question but cannot quite recall the answer. Retrieval involves both recall and
recognition. To recall information, you have to retrieve it from memory without much
help; this is what is required when you answer an essay test question or play Jeopardy!
In recognition, retrieval is aided by clues, such as the response alternatives given on
multiple-choice tests and the questions on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Accordingly,
recognition tends to be easier than recall.
Types of Memory
As she practices, this young
violinist is developing procedural memories of how to play her instrument that may be difficult to put into
words. To appreciate the special nature of
procedural memory, try writing a step-bystep description of exactly how you tie a
retrieval The process of recalling
information stored in memory.
episodic memory Memory for events
in one’s own past.
semantic memory Memory for generalized knowledge about the world.
procedural memory A type of memory containing information about how
to do things.
explicit memory The process through
which people deliberately try to
remember something.
implicit memory The unintentional
recollection and influence of prior
When was the last time you made a phone call? Who was the first president of the
United States? How do you keep your balance on skates? Answering each of these questions involves different aspects of memory. To answer the first question, you must
remember a particular event in your life. To answer the second one, you have to recall
general knowledge that is unlikely to be tied to a specific event. And the answer to the
third question is easier to demonstrate than to describe. So how many types of memory are there? No one is sure, but most research suggests that there are at least three.
Each type of memory is named for the kind of information it handles: episodic, semantic, and procedural (Roediger, Marsh, & Lee, 2002).
Any memory of a specific event that happened while you were present is an
episodic memory (Tulving, 2002). It is a memory of an episode in your life. What
you had for dinner yesterday, what you did last summer, or where you were last Friday
night are episodic memories. Semantic memory contains generalized knowledge of
the world—such as that twelve items make a dozen—that does not involve memory
of a specific event. So if you were asked “Are wrenches pets or tools?” you could answer
using your semantic memory; you don’t have to remember a specific episode in which
you learned that wrenches are tools. As a general rule, people report episodic memories by saying, “I remember when . . .” whereas they report semantic memories by saying, “I know that . . .” (Tulving, 2000). Memory of how to do things, such as riding a
bike, folding a map, or playing golf, is called procedural memory. Information in
procedural memory often consists of a sequence of movements that are difficult or
impossible to put into words. As a result, teachers of music, dance, cooking, woodworking, and other skills usually prefer to first show their students what to do rather
than describe how to do it.
Many activities require all three types of memory. Consider the game of tennis.
Knowing the official rules or the number of sets needed to win a match involves semantic memory. Remembering who served last requires episodic memory. And knowing
how to hit the ball involves procedural memory.
Recalling these three kinds of memories can be either intentional or unintentional.
When you deliberately try to remember something, such as where you went on your
last vacation, you are relying on explicit memory. In contrast, implicit memory
involves the unintentional recollection and influence of prior experiences (McDermott,
2002; Nelson, 1999). For example, if you were to read this chapter twice, implicit memories from your first reading would help you to read it more quickly the second time.
For the same reason, you can solve a puzzle faster if you have solved it in the past. This
improvement of performance—often called priming—is automatic, and it occurs without conscious effort. In fact, people are often unaware that their actions have been influenced by previous events (see the chapter on consciousness). Have you ever found yourself disliking someone you just met, but you didn’t know why? The person might have
triggered an implicit memory of a similar-looking person who once treated you badly.
In such cases, we are usually unaware of any connection between the two individuals
(Lewicki, 1992). Because some influential events cannot be recalled even when people
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