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Different Types of Memory & How Memory Works in the Brain

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:
Evguenia Alechine
Nattha Wannissorn
Medically reviewed by
Evguenia Alechine, PhD (Biochemistry), Nattha Wannissorn, PhD | Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

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Memory isn’t a monolith: different types of short- and long-term memory are stored in different parts of the brain. Learn the basics here.

Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory is the holding amounts of information in an active, readily available state for a short period of time.

An example would be trying to hold the answer to a test question in your head before a test, if you stop repeating it for as short as a few seconds, you will forget what you were thinking.

Working Memory

Often compared to short-term memory, working memory is a limited-capacity cognitive system, important for reasoning and guidance of decision making and behavior.

Long-term Memory

1) Explicit Memory

Explicit Memory is when you consciously memorize something, such as phone numbers, or your personal social security number.

Declarative Memory is a type of explicit memory. It is a recall of factual information such as a date of an event, faces, concepts, or rules to a game.

Three main types of declarative memory:

  • Semantic memory the recall of general facts, a part of the declarative memory.
  • Episodic memory – the recall of personal facts, a part of the declarative memory.
  • Autobiographical memory – refers to knowledge about events and personal experiences from the individual’s life. While similar to episodic memory, autobiographical memory only pertains to the individual events.

2) Implicit Memory

Implicit memory is an unconscious store of memory that can affect thoughts and behaviors even though the event of the memory is not remembered.

An example would be visiting a location as a child, and when you come back as an adult decades later, you remember the specific location of something.

Implicit memory includes:

  • Procedural memory – which helps you remember how to perform actions or skills. An example of this would be remembering how to drive or tying a shoelace even after not doing so for a long time.
  • Emotional memory – memories that evoke a strong emotional response, can have both declarative and procedural processes.

Parts of the Brain (Cortex) that are Involved in Memory

  • Frontal Lobe – The frontal lobe is a very important coordinator of information, and thus important in working memory. The frontal lobe is also important for remembering what we need to do in in the future, select relevant memories for a given occasion, and coordinating various types of information into a memory trace.
  • Temporal Lobe – The temporal lobe is the most associated with memory. Home of the hippocampus, the temporal lobe is associated with autobiographical memory and recognition memory.
  • Parietal Lobe – The parietal lobe helps us direct our attention to the task at hand, and assists with verbal short-term memory.

Source: [1].

Other Parts of the Brain Involved in Memory

  • Hippocampus (spatial and recognition memory) – The hippocampus is usually the first part of the brain that would be damaged in Alzheimer’s disease [2]. The hippocampus also plays a big role in the transfer of short-term to long-term memory [3].
  • Amygdala (emotional memory) – Involved in the transfer of memories to long-term memories of emotionally arousing events.
  • Cerebellum (procedural memory) – The cerebellum plays a role in memory involving movement coordination and how to do repetitive day to day tasks.
  • Prefrontal Cortex (process and retain information)
  • Striatum or neostriatum (procedural memory) is important in the retrieval of procedural memory.

While different parts of the brain are associated with memory, learning and memory involve long-term potentiation (persistent strengthening of synapses), and long-term depression (long-lasting decrease in synaptic strength). These processes are involved synaptic plasticity.

Read this post to learn more about how to improve memory.

About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen won the genetic lottery of bad genes. As a kid, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, and other issues that were poorly understood in both conventional and alternative medicine.Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a journey of self-experimentation and self-learning to improve his health--something that has since become known as “biohacking”. With thousands of experiments and pubmed articles under his belt, Joe founded SelfHacked, the resource that was missing when he needed it. SelfHacked now gets millions of monthly readers.Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, author and speaker. He is the CEO of SelfHacked, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer.His mission is to help people gain access to the most up-to-date, unbiased, and science-based ways to optimize their health.
Joe has been studying health sciences for 17 years and has read over 30,000 PubMed articles. He's given consultations to over 1000 people who have sought his health advice. After completing the pre-med requirements at university, he founded SelfHacked because he wanted to make a big impact in improving global health. He's written hundreds of science posts, multiple books on improving health, and speaks at various health conferences. He's keen on building a brain-trust of top scientists who will improve the level of accuracy of health content on the web. He's also founded SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer, popular genetic and lab software tools to improve health.

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