Short-term Versus Long-term Memory

Experts believe that there are three ways we store memories once they are created—the sensory stage; short-term memory; and long-term memory. These different stages of human memory function as a sort of filter to protect us from the flood of information we are bombarded with every day.

Sensory Stage—When we perceive something, the information is registered in a brief sensory stage lasting only a fraction of a second. This sensory memory allows a perception such as a visual pattern, a sound, or a touch to linger for a brief moment after the stimulation is over.

Short-term Storage–After that first flicker, the sensation is stored in short-term memory. Short-term memory has a fairly limited capacity—it can hold about seven items for no more than 20 or 30 seconds at a time. You may be able to increase this capacity somewhat by using various memory strategies. For example, a ten-digit number such as 8005840392 may be too much for your short-term memory to hold. But divided into chunks, as in a telephone number, 800-584-0392 may actually stay in your short-term memory long enough for you to dial the telephone. Likewise, by repeating the number to yourself, you can keep resetting the short-term memory clock.

Long-term Memory–Important information is gradually transferred from short-term memory into long-term memory. The more the information is repeated or used, the more likely it is to eventually end up in long-term memory, or to be “retained.” (That’s why studying helps people to perform better on tests.) Unlike sensory and short-term memory, which are limited and decay rapidly, long-term memory can store unlimited amounts of information indefinitely.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has been helping to improve the cognitive skills of clients of all ages. Find out more about Optiminds customized brain fitness programs and cognitive skills training by calling us today at (248) 496-0150 or email us at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit our website at www.optimindsct.com.

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