Our memories are a very important part of our life because they make up our entire experience of living. Without our memories, we would have no sense of self or any other sense of being alive. There are indeed cases of memory loss. However, we don’t merely have memories stored in one particular area. Instead, it’s a case of us having many different subcategories of our memory as a whole.
The topic of human memory has particularly fascinated me since I was identified by neuropsychologists at the University of California, Irvine as having HSAM (or Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory). As its name suggests, I have an extra strong ability to both retain and retrieve autobiographical memories. However, it certainly hasn’t given me a perfect memory overall.
Over the past few years, I’ve been researching different kinds of human memory from both books and reliable online psychology sites. Below I give a brief overview of the four (main) areas of human memory. As mentioned before they are distinct subcategories that work together to create our overall memory:
Our working memories consist of events that happened in the immediate (or near immediate) moment. They could be of words, images, instructions or situations requiring some form of action. The duration of a single moment or two is far less than that of our past. So our working memory capacity is of course much smaller than that of our long term memory. Our working memories are pretty much like new information stored on the brain’s doorstep ready to be sorted out through our other stages of memory.
Semantic memories consist of facts, skills, and concepts that we have a general grasp of. We do need to at least vaguely remember events (such as taking a class for example) in order to have learnt anything new. However, we don’t need to have any recollection of what we experienced personally from that event. Semantic memories are in the long term memory category. Yet many of our semantic memories can evolve into procedural memories.
Our procedural memories are those which began as semantic or episodic memories, yet from growth and repetition transformed into habits and instincts. In other words, our procedural memories are essentially our subconscious mind. They may even be so ingrained within us that we’re unable to remember how they got there. Very early in our life, our knowledge of walking and sounding out words are semantic memories. Though after performing those actions so often they become second nature to us. Those are just two examples of how procedural memories form. Nagging fears and habits we have also come from our procedural memories.
Episodic memories are not as deeply ingrained as procedural memories are. But I wanted to mention them last as autobiographical memories make up virtually all of them. These are our recollections of what we’ve personally experienced in our lifetime. They will always be from our own perspective and may contain associated images, sounds, smells, tastes, or any other form of sensory perception. There will also be our own understanding and emotions attached. Usually, a person will forget (or perhaps will seemingly forget) most of their life experiences. Yet there are some people who have an inability to let go of their autobiographical memories, and therefore any of their episodic memories. These are the people who have a newly discovered memory called HSAM, or Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory.
So there’s a brief piece about the four main kinds of memory which usually make up a person’s whole life experience. All of those subcategories filter things through to each other, which is why memory loss in one area affects that of elsewhere to some degree, even if it’s in an indirect way.