What is explicit memory

implicit memory

Since human information processing is only partially conscious and controlled, many perceptions and memory functions remain unconscious due to a lack of attention, but can still influence behavior by taking place without conscious control. Implicit memory is therefore that part of human memory that affects human experience and behavior without entering consciousness, and it limits it explicit memorywhose memory contents are aware and can therefore also be reported. A central part of implicit memory is procedural memory, in which automated actions such as walking, cycling, etc. are stored. The implicit memory becomes effective, among other things, at Priming, i.e. if a stimulus implicitly activates memory contents, this can influence the processing of a subsequent stimulus. Also the Mere exposure effect, according to which people rate things more positively based on mere perception, is mostly based on implicit memory, so that one only regards certain statements as correct because one has already heard them several times.

Implicit memory example: You are looking at the photo of a kitchen and a large fox is sitting at the kitchen table. If you were asked what is wrong in the picture, you would immediately realize that a fox has nothing to do with a kitchen table. With no effort and no conscious search in your memory, you have remembered that a fox has no business at a kitchen table.

Daniel Schacter describes the case of a woman who learned to work on a computer, yet every time she sat down at the device she claimed to have never seen one. Apparently there is a subterranean world of unconscious memory in our brain that is inaccessible to consciousness. He called this form of memory implicit memory. In everyday life, people store a lot automatically and unconsciously, although this mechanism in the brain runs independently of conscious memory.

Neuroscientists discovered a puzzling phenomenon in trauma patients with complete amnesia, with which they initially could not do anything. Affected people were able to learn new skills as a result of severe head injuries, but afterwards could no longer remember this learning at all. For example, if they were shown a puzzle and asked to solve it, they could, but the next day they could not remember this puzzle, but solved a new task faster than the day before. that is, they had learned to solve such puzzles. However, such implicit memories can also be found in healthy people, and they influence numerous behavior patterns.

That too perceptual memory is counted as implicit memory, although it occupies an intermediate position between conscious and unconscious learning. Perceptual memory makes it possible to recognize patterns that are already known, i.e. every apple can be recognized as an apple if it has typical features stored in perceptual memory. Every apple is different and in your life you have never saved all apples seen in your memory, only the characteristics or the rules that make an apple unmistakably an apple. These characteristics or rules are not conscious, but the perception or recognition of the apple itself is. Incidentally, the same principles also apply to them Face recognition.

Jacoby et al. (1989) have a experiment carried out. A list of names was presented to the test subjects, and it was expressly pointed out that the names on this list come from people who are not famous. While reading the list, a group of subjects was distracted by another task. The other group read the list without distraction. Then the subjects were asked to rate the celebrity of the named people on another list, which included some names from the previous list and new names. It turned out that the subjects who were distracted while reading the first list rated people who were mentioned on both lists as more famous. They did not notice that they only recognized the name from previous reading, but instead attributed familiarity with the name to the person's alleged celebrity. The other group, however, could still remember that the names on the first list came from not famous people and therefore did not consider them famous. Here it becomes clear that due to a lack of attention only unconsciously. Processed information can influence judgments.

It is known that of the large amounts of data continuously flowing in on humans, most of it quickly fade and only a small part is selectively and long-term stored. Kuhbandner et al. (2017) were able to show experimentally that people store significantly more of the incoming information in the long term, even without the intention to memorize anything. Subjects were shown a total of pictures of everyday objects in quick succession, with an independent word being superimposed over each object. The test subjects should ignore the pictures and only pay attention to the words and press a button when repeating a word. The memories of the objects shown were then checked by presenting two of them, one of which was a previously shown object, while the other was a new object, but which was partly very similar to the object shown. The test subjects had to indicate which of the two objects they had seen before and if they could not remember, they should simply guess. Although the test subjects stated that they would guess most of the time, they identified almost half of the objects in the test immediately after the first attempt, and still a fifth of the objects in the test the next day, even if a high level of visual detail knowledge for correct identification was necessary. The findings show that people store far more details of their perception than they are aware of.

With today's information overload, people can no longer remember whether a message was wrong or right, only that it was somewhere. The mechanics of intuition is misleading, because researchers succeeded in playing off implicit and explicit memory against each other in such a way that unknown people became celebrities within 24 hours. The subjects were presented with a number of names with the indication that none of them were prominent. The next day they were given a mixed list of names shown the day before and new names. The task: estimate the celebrity of these people. The result: the names shown the day before were rated as famous above average. Because conscious memory had been lost, intuition rummaged through implicit memory and found the names there, albeit without any indication that they were not famous.

Learning through conditioning also usually remains in implicit memory.

See also Implicit learning


Jacoby, L. L., Woloshyn, V., & Kelley, C. M. (1989). Becoming famous without being recognized: Unconscious influences of memory produced by dividing attention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 118, 115-125.
Kuhbandner, C., Rosas-Corona, E. A. & Spachtholz P. (2017). High-Fidelity Visual Long-Term Memory within an Unattended Blink of an Eye. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, doi: 10.3389 / fpsyg.2017.01859.

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