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What is a memory? Types of memory

Most people may have the knowledge or at least an idea of what memory is. However, its definition goes far beyond a simple ability to store information. Here we are going to know what it really is, some types of it and other important data of this so important skill that people have.

What is Memory?

To begin with, we must define what it is. Memory is a function of the brain that allows the organism to process, store and retrieve some previously known information. This ability arises from the result of repetitive connections between neurons, which create neural networks. However, despite being such a common and ancient subject, there are still not enough studies on the precise formation of these networks in the human brain.

It is what allows human beings to store and retain past experiences, and depending on the temporal scope of each, these are conventionally classified into short-term, medium-term or instantaneous and long-term. We will explain each of them and other types of memory in more detail below.

To express it in a more practical way, it is the expression that something has been learned. This involves the processes of it and learning, which are more complex to study.

However, for the study of memory researchers tend to take hominids as a base, because they have a more complex brain structure on the evolutionary scale. But it is also important to study it in other species, not only to find neuroanatomical and functional differences but also to observe how they relate to each other or what they have in common. It is also important to study it in animals to rule out possible tests on humans.

In spite of having carried out different tests, the capacity of the brain is still unknown, due to the fact that there is no study or reliable tool available to calculate it. Estimates can vary between 1 and 10 terabytes. It is only known that the average adult human brain contains at least 100 billion neurons and some 100 trillion interconnections between them.

In addition, it is important to note that there is no fixed physical place for it in our brain. It is scattered throughout different specialized locations for its purpose. One of the regions where our childhood memories are stored is in the temporal cortex, the meaning of the words is stored in the central region of the right hemisphere and the learning data in the parietal-temporal cortex. In the front, the lobes are dedicated to organizing perception and thought, and several of the automatisms of our organism are stored in the cerebellum.

Memory Studies

It began to be studied for the first time in the field of philosophy, which included techniques to improve it. During the last years of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, it became a paradigm of cognitive psychology par excellence. Since then, it has become one of the main pillars of science known as cognitive neuroscience, an interdisciplinary combination of neuroscience and cognitive psychology.

Today, medicine and psychology maintain a very similar concept of it, since in both cases it is known as the mental ability to recognize, store and evoke feelings, images, ideas, and other experiences. These are currently conventionally classified as Time related, sensory and working.

Types of Memory

Relation To Time

memory related to time


Long-term memory (LTM) is the type of memory we refer to when we talk about memory as a general topic. This is where lived experiences, knowledge about the world, images, concepts, languages, etc. are stored.

This type of storage does not seem to have the capacity and can store all types of information, regardless of its nature. It is considered as the “database” in which information is added through the operating memory, to be used later.


We can define short-term memory (STM) as the component of memory that allows us to retain a limited amount of information for a short period of time. This type temporarily retains processed information, either to fade away or to move to long-term memory. Therefore, Short-term Memory has two main characteristics: limited capacity and finite duration.

A classic example where the capacity of the STM can be illustrated is when you are asked to remember a series of 10 digits; you can read the ten digits but you will probably only remember between 5 and 9 numbers. This is because the amount of information this type can hold is 7 elements with a slight variation of 2, by default or excess. However, this type of memory can vary in different types of people, some may have more capacity than others to store information.

In STM the time we can retain the information is finite, so our memory can only hold the information for 30 seconds. However, there are methods and exercises to ensure that the information that remains on our STM remains on it until it is transferred to the LTM. A clear example of this is when we practice calculations over and over again until we master the function of the operation.

We can say that the STM is the gateway to the LTM, although the information does not always pass from one side to the other. Everything can depend on our interest in that information. In addition, if our STM is damaged, it may be difficult to acquire new memories in LTM.


Among other types this is the one that allows us to make a quick analysis of the information that can be captured by any of the senses with really fast speed.


sensory memory

It is defined as memory whose capacity allows the sensations perceived through the senses to be recorded. The ability to process large amounts of information at the same time from this is its main characteristic, although this is only for a very short time.


The different senses of our organism also have some types of information stores which facilitate the processing of the operating memory.

There are a number of stores of information coming from the different senses that prolong the duration of stimulation. This generally facilitates their processing in the so-called operating memory.


It is the one that allows us to recognize and remember smells and/or aromas. In this type also usually appear those memories that were once captured through smell.


This is activated when we eat something, it is directly related to tastes and flavors. This memory is one of the least developed in human beings, although in wine tasters, for example, it is constantly used to make comparisons of different types of wine.


This is the memory that allows us to store or record memories that have been captured through sight. It is through it that we can recognize faces that we have already known or seen before, or remember some reading, etc..


Being one of the most important memories, it is the one that allows us to remember, store or record information through what we hear. It also helps us identify sounds such as noises, tones, songs, etc.


It is the memory that allows us to recognize textures or surfaces of different objects.


biological memory

Biological memory is one which comes from your genes and impressions of previous generations.

Every cell of human body is filled with biological memory. It contains all evolutionary and survival information and natural abilities, or talents.

Importance of Memory

Memory is a fundamental element for all human beings. It is necessary for our organism because it is what allows us to recognize and remember lived experiences. In addition, it is important to socialize with our environment, not only with people but with everything around us. It is also important because thanks to it we can develop skills to learn, to acquire knowledge. If we did not have it we would not be able to learn new things because we would be unable to remember it.

Phases of Memory

For many people, it can be very simple to understand memory and how it works. However, the process of remembering, having access to memories involves a series of complex cognitive processes. Each process is really important and necessary to be able to access memories if any of these processes fail we may not be able to remember the information. These processes are:

  • Codification: in this phase is where, through perception, we incorporate into our organism the information that we could remember in the future. For example, if we know someone and they tell us their name, we must pay attention in order to be able to code the person’s name.

  • Storage: in order to keep the information for a long time, it must be stored in our memory system. Taking the previous example, we could say that we learn the name of the person and associate it with his face or other data.

  • Recovery: If we need information about something we know, we only access that stored information and retrieve it. Continuing with the same example, we can recover the name of the person if we see it the next day or another time.

Memory, like all cognitive skills, can and should be trained to improve the performance of your body and maintain good mental health for as long as possible. Exercise your brain and keep learning good things, along with a good diet and a healthy life.

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