The human brain is an incredible organ that works day and night to support life. In addition to practically controlling every little thing that happens in the body, it is home to trillions of bytes of information that we know as memories. But did you know that memory can be of different types depending on the content it contains?
The two major types of human memory include implicit and explicit memory, and both have their differences. Knowing how to read a book or ride a bike is an example of implicit memory whereas the ability to recall and reproduce a complex mathematical formula on your exam day is the classic example of explicit memory. Both memories work together and play essential roles in your ability to recall information and interact with your surrounding, and knowing how each of them works is necessary to understand how the human memory works.
While most of the research on memory has primarily focused on explicit memory, researchers are now exploring the working of implicit memory and its influence on knowledge and behavior. This article will discuss what explicit and implicit memories are, how they work, and the differences between them. It will also briefly discuss various factors that may potentially affect these types of memory.
What Is Implicit Memory?
Have you ever wondered how you can still make your favorite childhood pudding without any recipe in hand? It’s amazing how the ingredients list and the cooking method come back to you on their own without any conscious effort. What you do not know is it’s your implicit memory helping you create the perfect dessert in the same way after so many years.
Every little piece of information that you may not purposely try to remember gets stored in implicit memory. Also known as unconscious or automatic memory, this type of memory is purely unintentional, and you cannot consciously bring it into awareness. Moreover, implicit memories also cannot be verbally articulated and often include step-by-step processes that must be performed to complete a task.
Some common examples of implicit memory include typing on a computer keyboard, singing a familiar song, brushing your teeth, and more. Riding a bike is another typical example of implicit memory and helps you hop on it and ride it effortlessly, even after years of being out of practice.
Some other examples of implicit memory include the following:
- Remembering how to dress yourself every day
- Knowing how to use utensils in the kitchen
- Navigating a familiar area, such as your old neighborhood
- Remembering the lyrics of a popular song you heard many years ago
- Driving a car
In simpler words, implicit memory saves any skills or knowledge that you do not need to relearn to perform them. These memories are mostly unconscious and come back to you automatically i.e. you do not need to recall the exact steps to follow so that you can complete a task.
What Is Explicit Memory?
When you attempt to intentionally remember something, like your friend’s email address or a formula you learned last year in your mathematics class, the information you are trying to retrieve is in your explicit memory. People use these memories daily for tasks like remembering the time and date for a doctor’s appointment or remembering information for a test.
Also known as declarative memory, explicit memory is something you can consciously recall and explain. Other examples of things that you remember through this type of memory include the following:
- The items on your grocery list
- Names and locations of various countries on the world map
- Significant life events, such as weddings, engagements, or a special trip
- Birthdays of family members and friends
Many examples of explicit memory include experiential or textbook learning that must be consciously brought into awareness.
Explicit Vs. Implicit Memory: What are the Key Differences?
To understand the key differences between these two types of memory, the following comparison may help.
- It is encoded to memory and can be retrieved later
- It is deliberately formed through repeated rehearsals
- Its encoding is often unconscious and tied to different emotions
- This can get drawn awareness through familiar associations
- It becomes automatic with repetitions over time
- This type of memory depends on cues and context
- It can lead to priming or responding the same way to similar stimuli
- It begins with mastering a task or learning skills
You can perform a quick and easy demonstration to understand how implicit and explicit memory work. Take out your keyboard on your laptop or mobile phone and type the following sentence without looking down: “every red pepper is tantalizing.” Once you are done, keep your eyes away from the keyboard and try to name the ten alphabets on the keyboard’s top row.
You will notice how easy it was to type the sentence mentioned above without even having to think where each letter appears on the keyboard. This is where your implicit memory supports you. However, trying to recall where each letter appears on the keyboard and in what order is something your explicit memory helps you with. Because you probably never tried to intentionally memorize the order of the keys on your keyboard, you cannot recall it so easily.
What Influences the Implicit and Explicit Memories?
Research indicates that a number of factors can directly influence the formal of implicit and explicit memories, such as emotional states and stress levels. Let’s look at some of these factors below.
Research has revealed that high-stress levels can directly affect working memory, a part of short-term memory that acts as a temporary holding space to retain information people are focusing on. This part of memory plays an essential role in the development of explicit memory.
Other research studies reveal that stress can facilitate implicit memory formation, especially when it includes negative emotional information.
Experts believe that mood plays an essential role in forming and recollecting explicit and implicit memories. People who experience depressed moods are more likely to show implicit recall of negative information. On the other hand, those who are not depressed focus more on recalling positive implicit information.
Explicit memory tends to decline with age, whereas implicit memories remain preserved.
How Implicit and Explicit Memory Work Together
Implicit and explicit memory do not usually work in isolation but interact with each other in different ways. For example:
- When you are riding a bike, implicit memories help you engage in the physical activity you need to ride the bike. At the same time, you use your explicit memory to recall the new route you just memorized from a map to navigate your way.
- You use your implicit memory to perform tasks related to cooking, such as chopping vegetables or boiling water. However, it is the explicit memory you use to recall a recipe.
- Implicit memory helps you navigate a familiar supermarket, and explicit memory helps you recall the items on your grocery list that you need to buy.
As evident from the examples above, your brain uses both explicit and implicit memory to perform various everyday tasks as efficiently as possible.
Protecting Implicit and Explicit Memory
Many healthy habits and specific strategies can help protect both types of memories. Some steps to take in this context include the following:
- Getting enough sleep: Sleep plays an essential role in the memory consolidation process, so ensure you get adequate rest each night.
- Be physically active: Exercise is good for your brain and body, and regular physical activity may help you maintain healthy memory throughout life.
- Try brain training activities: Mental exercises can help keep your mind sharp and may even help strengthen certain cognitive skills.
- Eat a healthy diet: Foods that are good for your brain include fruits, vegetables, fatty fish, nuts, and eggs.