Implicit Memory

Couple bicycling

Implicit memory is a type of memory that is not consciously recalled. It allows people to perform habits, skills, and automatic behaviors such as driving a car. It can also prime people to react to certain stimuli without consciously remembering the reason for their behavior. Implicit memory is also referred to as nondeclarative memory.

Types of Implicit Memory

One common form of implicit memory is procedural memory. This allows people to store memories of how to follow specific procedures. Once learned, these behaviors become automatic and don’t require much conscious thought. Examples of this kind of implicit memory include:

  • Automatically using the complex motor skills required to ride a bike.
  • Remembering the right order of steps to mop a floor.
  • Navigating the rooms of one’s home.
  • Recalling the words to a popular song after someone sings the first few words.

Another type of implicit memory is priming, which occurs when a person is exposed to one stimulus, then later reacts to a similar stimulus without consciously recalling why. For example, someone who watches a scary monster movie may scream or run when they later see a spider in their sink. They may not have reacted as strongly to the spider if the movie hadn’t primed them for a fear response.

How Procedural Memories are Stored

Procedural memory is part of long-term memory, which stores memories for long-term usage. Procedural memory typically takes longer than explicit memory to be stored and become automatic. However, it is also less likely to be forgotten.

All procedural memories must be rehearsed in order to be easily retrieved. Forming procedural memories often occurs in stages.

  • During the first phase of storage, a person must master the cognitive tasks associated with the memory. During this period, the process is not automatic and may take considerable time to perform.
    • Example: Learning the rules of reading a book (start at the top left of the page, recognize each letter of the alphabet, read from top to bottom, etc.).
  • Next, the person develops associations between the individual steps of the procedure.
    • Example: Putting on a shirt can remind a person to button up said shirt as part of getting dressed.
  • Over time, the brain associates the procedure with a particular context. This causes the procedure to become automatic.
    • Example: Automatically pressing car brakes at a stop sign.

Because procedural memory is highly automatic, it is also context-dependent. When someone buys a new car, for example, they may struggle with locating the gear shift or the blinker, forcing them to actually think about the process rather than performing it automatically.

People who have heavily practiced a certain procedure—such as playing chess or tennis—may struggle with following the same procedure under pressure, particularly if their performance takes place in a new context. If a chess player who normally practices outside participates in a large indoor chess tournament, they may work more slowly or have trouble concentrating.

References:

  1. American Psychological Association. APA Concise Dictionary of Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
  2.  Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  3. Norden, J. J. (n.d.). Brain areas involved in different types of memory [PDF]. Retrieved from https://www.vanderbilt.edu/olli/class-materials/Neuroscience_April4th.pdf

Last Updated: 04-30-2019

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