How permanent is your permanent memory?

Permanent memory is a vast and capacious structure which stores all the collected information about the world as well as all our memories and abilities.

Can you say it?

Permanent memory may be divided according to the criteria of descriptiveness - declarativeness. This classification is founded on the question: “Can we describe it with words?” Declarative memory is therefore such a kind of knowledge or collection of memories which we can easily express using words, whereas non-declarative memory is a kind of memory which cannot be expressed solely with words. 

Declarative memory 

We may distinguish two types of declarative memory. This time the criteria for the classification is an object to which all the collected knowledge is related to.

Episodic memory – also called autobiographic or historic encompasses all events in which we take part. It consists of all those memories in which we see ourselves as actors. They usually have a precise time and place and context which we memorize simultaneously with the events. An example may be memories concerning yesterday’s dinner or our first date. This type of memory is usually the victim of amnesia. 

Semantic memory – or cultural memory – is a system in which all information about the world is kept. The stored information is abstract and detached from the context in which they were acquired. An example of semantic memory is knowledge of the meaning of words of mathematic formulas. Normally it is not impaired by amnesia, however it may be influenced by some types of dementia (for example Alzheimer). 

Non-declarative memory

It does not require conscious thinking therefore it is very hard to express it in words. Non-declarative memory covers activities and automatic reactions. The four types of non-declarative memory are differentiated by the way in which the information contained in it has been acquired. 

Procedural memory – motor and habitual memory. It consists of automatic behaviors and abilities, and for the most part is based on practice. These are all acquired manual abilities such as type writing, changing gear or playing the piano. 

Responses – reactions to external stimuli which allow us to adapt to the surroundings. They are shaped in a specific process of learning called conditioning. An example of conditioning may be the behavior of a chicken. After it’s born it has the reflex action to peck all small objects. After some time it is able to recognize which of them may be eaten and consciously picks out only those which satisfy his hunger. 

Habituation – consists of a gradual weakening of our bodies reaction to stimuli which doesn’t have any particular meaning for us. For example, if we spend a lot of time in noise we slowly begin to adapt to it and stop noticing it. 

Priming – a memory effect recognized by cognitive psychologists, often a tool for manipulation. Priming takes place when the earlier recalling of certain associations influences our way of perceptions and later action. An example may be a popular psychological test in which the examined person is shown a list of items among which there is the word table. The participants of the test are later asked to name a word starting with the letters “ta”. In effect, the word given most often is “table”. Priming doesn’t have to be the result of conscious activity. A Pole asked to give a name of a country starting with the letter “p” will immediately answer ‘Poland’ because it’s the name of this country that he or she hears most often and it is therefore the easiest and fastest to remember. Hence the name – earlier experiences “prime” the way for specific thinking patterns. 

Unfortunately all types of permanent memory weaken as time passes. All of a sudden we may forget the code unlocking our cell phone although we were convinced that we typed it in almost automatically. Permanent memory allows us to function normally in everyday life – communicate and perform basic activities such as washing our hands. For this reason it is extremely important to maintain our memory in a good condition.

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