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What is implicit memory? (Definition, examples, and more)

You know those things you can do without really thinking about it? That’s down to implicit memory!

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Heights
September 14, 2022
3 min read

When you wake up and brush your teeth, you don't need to think about how to do it. When you're looking for a friend in a crowd, you don't need to think about what they look like. And when you sit down at your laptop and start typing, you find the right keys instantly. This is all thanks to implicit memory.

Article breakdown

What is implicit memory? (Definition, examples, and more)

The term refers to the unconscious, automatic aspects of memory. Implicit memories don't need to be consciously learned. They happen automatically, as you acquire them through experience. That's why they're sometimes implicit learning. They're the things we don't have to try to remember, we just do!

Implicit vs explicit memory

Implicit memory is a type of unconscious memory, but there's another type of learning process, explicit memory, that involves conscious recollection.

So how is an explicit memory different from an implicit memory?

Well, unlike implicit memories, explicit ones are usually remembered deliberately rather than unconsciously. They involve digging around in your brain and recollecting something specific from the past (like who wrote Moby Dick). Rather than the memory of your experiences, explicit memory is the conscious recollection of events.

What is an example of implicit memory?

Implicit memory allows us to complete tasks without having to think about how we learned them in the first place. For example, have you ever driven home from work without having to think about your route or how to drive your car, and instead started planning what to have for dinner? Driving a car on a regular route isn't something you consciously needed to think about when you were doing it—it just came naturally. What to cook? that's a trickier matter.

What are the 3 types of implicit memory?

There are 3 main types of implicit memory to be aware of:

1. Procedural memory

The ability to do various tasks, such as sending a text or driving a car. It's the type of implicit memory that allows you to perform learned motor skills without conscious effort.

2. Priming

Priming is how the speed and accuracy of your responses improve through repetition or association with a stimulus, for example hearing the word school and immediately thinking of students, teachers, classes, etc.

3. Classical conditioning

This is when you learn to associate two initially unrelated things with each other. It's another type of learning by association. For example, if you've set a certain song to be your alarm on your phone when you hear that noise, it'll automatically evoke a response. The sound and the response weren't initially related, but in your implicit memory, they now are!

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Knowing how we acquire information can help us remember it better

One of the most important things to know about implicit memory is that it can be a very powerful tool for learning and remembering information. The trick is knowing how we acquire information in order to use it more effectively.

For example, if your friend tells you about a great book she read, you may not have time at that moment to commit the title or author's name to memory. If she mentions that the book was really funny and had characters named Bob and Lisa in it, however, then later when you are browsing through your favourite bookstore looking for something new to read these details might automatically come back to you.

Remember:

  • Implicit memory is based on our experiences with the world

  • We can recall information without consciously trying

  • There are different types that each serve a different purpose.

Find out more about how memory works!

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