Procedural Memory: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Procedural memory is one of two types of long-term memory. Learn more about procedural memory from examples. Then test what you have learned with a quiz.

What Is Procedural Memory?

Mary is an instructor at the local swimming club. Each month, Mary teaches a new class of young children how to swim. From the first day of class, the children are brought into the water to become familiar with it. Every week thereafter, the children spend at least an hour in the water with Mary and another instructor. Mary shows the children different techniques and strokes they can use to swim. By the last day of class, all of Mary's students are able to stay afloat. Swimming is an example of a procedural memory.

Procedural memory is the memory of how we do something. As its name suggests, procedural memory is our memory of how to perform some action or 'procedure'. Procedural memories are mostly unconscious. That is, we do not consciously recall procedural memories. We can perform these actions without putting in much mental effort. They become almost automatic for us.

It is difficult to demonstrate procedural memory verbally; procedural memories are usually shown by doing. For example, it is nearly impossible to demonstrate that you know how to walk without actually walking. Sure you can tell someone that you know how to walk, but there is no way to prove that you actually know how to walk without walking. Likewise, it is nearly impossible to demonstrate that you know how to swim without actually getting in the water and going for a swim.

Procedural memory should not be confused with the other type of long-term memory, declarative memory, which includes memories you can actually state or 'declare' out loud, such as factual events, situations, and information.

Long-Term Memory
long term memory

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