Improspectives

Improv skills lead to success

Types of Memory

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When the average person talks about memory, they usual mean long-term memory. In other words, can you study a subject today and remember it for a test tomorrow or next week. There are many other different types of memory, each with its own function.

Short-term memory refers to the system you use to maintain small amounts of information for a brief period of time. In general terms, short-term memory refers to information you keep at hand for about 30 seconds and consists of seven items, plus or minus two. If you have ever tried to memorize a phone number and repeat it back, you’ve most likely found that you can remember the last seven digits with no trouble but can throw yourself off when you repeat the area code at the start. What happens is that recalling the area code of the number pushes some or all of the information out your short-term memory.

Two other types of memory that operate on an even shorter time frame than short-term memory are iconic memory and the phonological loop. Iconic memory is associated with vision and lets you retain an image of something you saw for about a second. The same is true of the phonological loop, except it works for things you hear. The best example of the phonological loop at work is when someone says something to and you say “What…oh nevermind, I heard you.” What happened is that you weren’t paying attention to what the other person said, but you were able to replay their statement using the contents of the phonological loop.

The final two types of memory I want to mention are episodic memory and semantic memory. Episodic memory is the more obvious of the two. As the name implies, it refers to your recall of events or episodes in your life. If I were to ask you about the last movie you saw in a cinema, you might have to think about it for a moment. By contrast, if I were to ask you to add 3+4, you would answer seven instantaneously. You have practiced simple addition so often that the answer just comes to you, but recalling the movie you watched most recently is a rare event that requires you to dig into your internal autobiography to find the answer.

These memory systems all play significant roles in life, improv, and business. I’ll take them on a few at a time over the next several posts.

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