Memory Types

Much has been discovered about how memory works. Some of it surprising, like we don’t have a video recorder that plays events back, but we reconstruct what happened by what seemed important to us and fill in the missing pieces from our general knowledge.

Enjoying a University of Toronto DVD class on memory.

Long term memories are of 2 types—episodic and semantic.  Episodic memories are those that have happened to you, like a trip to New York City in the 9th grade that has a special emotional content for you.  Semantic memories are facts, like Paris is the capital of France or bricks are red.

The type distinction becomes important in the reconstruction of memories.  We do not replay like a DVD a happening.  We recall the significant, emotional elements of the memory and complete the non-emotional content from semantic memories.

We also have sensory memory.  Whether we pay attention to it or not, our visual memory lasts about a second, while auditory memory lasts about 4 or 5 seconds.   That assists us  in handling the here-and-now, by letting us shift from one focus to another, often times without losing sense data.

We also have working memory, which is more than just memory.  It is the work place where we hold information to apply to life’s problems.    Our working memory seems to be where our consciousness is experienced.

Working memory has two special processes to note.  The visual-spatial scratchpad helps us answer questions like ‘how many windows in your house?’  We also have a phonological loop that we use for reasoning, ‘to talk to ourselves’,  and to prepare for hypothetical situations.

Working memory (in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) works with the hippocampus as a gateway to convert immediate memories into long-term memories.

Daily Life

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