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Categories of Memory: Sensory & Long-Term

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  • 0:00 Memory Categorization
  • 1:12 Sensory Memory
  • 2:35 Long-Term Memory
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Bautista
Did you know that there are several types of memories? How does your brain keep track of them all? In this lesson, as you observe your surroundings at an art museum, you'll come to understand how your brain categorizes memory so you can remember your experiences.

Memory Categorization

On a trip to the art museum with your best friend, you stop in front of a still life of an apple. You note the water pouring off of it and maybe think about the unfortunate fact that you skipped breakfast. After you walk on, can you still picture the apple? What color was it? Since you just saw the apple, you probably have a picture of it and the color is stored in your short-term memory; you can remember that it was red. If I ask you in hour what color the apple was, you might not remember. If I ask you in a week, you might not remember that you saw a painting of an apple at all, let alone what color it was!

The length of time and way in which you remember something has to do with categorized memories, or memory categorization. Every day we encounter thousands of things that go into and out of our memory - way too many things to keep track of. The brain uses memory categories to slot memories where they belong. The color of the apple isn't that important, so your brain discarded it shortly after you moved on. The name of your best friend? Hugely important (if you want to keep your friendship), so it's in a long-term memory that you won't forget.

Sensory Memory

The very shortest-term memory is called sensory memory, and, like the name implies, it's more of a feeling rather than an actual memory. You experience sensory memory when you still see the flash of a camera after it has gone off or when you can still hear the ringing of a fire alarm in your head even after it stops.

Two main types of sensory memory are iconic and echoic.

Iconic memory is also called visual memory, and it's when you can picture an image for a split second after it has disappeared from view. Look at this red dot. It's moving in a circle, and you can easily track the dot's progress. If the speed picks up, though, your sensory memory kicks in. It keeps the red dot in mind so that soon, it looks like a red circle rather than a single dot. This is an example of the way your iconic memory works. Even after the dot has moved on, an image of it remains in your head for a split second. Since the dot is moving so quickly, your sensory memory constructs a circle where none actually exists.

Echoic memory is similar, but instead of remembering images, you hear sounds for a split second after the sounds stop. Guess how echoic memory got its name? That's right, from echoes. Hearing an echoic memory in your head is just like hearing the actual echo from the crash of your keys dropping on the museum's marble floor.

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