Long-Term Memory

Published on November 5th, 2020

Updated on March 12th, 2022

Long-Term Memory

The term ‘long term memory’ refers to memories that last more than a few minutes. Long term memory is different from short term memory, which only holds information for up to a few minutes. Long term memory stores memories for extended periods of time. This means that long term memory can last hours, days, weeks, months or even years.

Short term memory works closely with long term memory. Short term memories are transferred into long term memory if the information stored into the short term memory needs to last more than a few seconds or minutes. If the information in the short term memory needs to last longer, it will be transferred into long term memory banks.

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Short Term Memory And Long Term Memory

All long term memories start off as short term memories. Short term memories are created by observing sensory information. What we see and hear is stored into the short term memory. If it is deemed significant it will be transferred into the long term memory.

The following are factors that may make a short term memory significant enough to be transferred into the long term memory:

How Long Term Memory Is Stored

Long term memories are stored in the areas of memory that are left out of consciousness. Unlike short term memory, long term memories can be stored in the unconscious mind to be recalled at a later time. They do not need to remain in active attention centers of the mind to be recalled.

Long term memories can be recalled or recognized. Recalled memories are memories that can be accessed through retrieving a memory’s details. Recognized memories are memories that have to be prompted by a trigger for the memory.

Example: Samantha was able to retrieve a memory of a time when she received a reward in her 3rd grade class, but could not remember her teacher’s name. Her friend, Keri, helped her remember by reciting a list of names of teachers in the school. After asking “Was it Ms. Smith, Ms. Long or Ms. Jones?” Samantha remembered it was Ms. Jones.

Accuracy Of Long Term Memories

Long term memories have varying degrees of accuracy. Some memories people will remember a memory clearly, but other memories people may struggle to recall details about. It can be a challenge at times, because people often do not realize that their memories are not entirely accurate.

Example: Timmy remembers when he had his seventh birthday party because it was the day he got his puppy. He values the memory, and thinks about it often. When talking to his mother, Timmy recounts that he even remembers wearing his blue and white striped shirt the day he got his puppy. His mother however, remembers him wearing a red button-down shirt. The two argue over this for some time, until his mother grabs the photo album to find the answer. When they find the picture of Timmy’s seventh birthday, they are both surprised to see Timmy wearing a yellow collared shirt.

While both Timmy and his mother have created a strong and fond memory of the day, the details of their memory were not as accurate as they thought.

Memories are strongest when they have significant value to them. Timmy’s seventh birthday, when he got his puppy as a gift, is a strong memory for him. His first trip to the dentist however, is not as strong. This is because the events were not as significant to Timmy.

Less significant memories tend to leave less of an impact on a person than significant life events. Significant life events are subjective. The person who holds the memories decides what memories are significant and what memories are not.

Example: Susan remembers the day or her daughter’s kindergarten graduation very clearly. She remembers her daughter’s dress, the scene of the school, and all of her daughter’s teachers standing for pictures. She also remembers her daughter walking up to get her kindergarten completion certificate. Her daughter however, does not remember the day. She does not remember the day because it was not a significant event in her life. She did not find much value in the memory, so after three years or so, she had forgotten about the day of the event altogether.

Susan’s daughter forgot about the event altogether because long term memories can fade. Some long term memories last for the span of a person’s lifespan, but not all long term memories make it the course of life. Memories that are not recalled often are forgotten. Forgotten memories often cannot be recalled or recognized. The longer that a person does not think about a certain memory, the less likely they are to be able to remember it.

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