Procedural Memory

skd229714sdcProcedural memory is responsible for storing memories of how to follow specific procedures such as riding a bike, driving a car, reading, or mopping the floor. Once a procedure is stored in procedural memory, it typically feels automatic and unthinking.

Procedural Memory Storage

Procedural memory is part of long-term memory, which stores memories for long-term usage. All long-term memories must be rehearsed in order to be easily retrieved. For example, retelling a story about a birthday party or singing the alphabet song are forms of rehearsal. The procedure is basically the same for procedural memory.

However, procedural memory typically takes longer to be stored and become automatic. During the first phase of storage, a person must master the cognitive tasks associated with the memory. A person learning to read must know the rules of reading and apply them. During this period, the process is not automatic and may take considerable time to perform. Next, the person develops associations between the individual steps of the procedure and associates the procedure with a particular context. This causes the procedure to become automatic. Automatically pressing the brakes at a stop sign is an example of the automatic component of procedural memory.

Problems with Association

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, he or she may work more slowly, forget basic moves, or have trouble concentrating.


  1. Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Last Updated: 08-18-2015

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