Long-term Memory is the one that makes it possible for you to recall a face, a place or your own pet, when you see them. The information stored in here, remains for a life-time and its storage capacity is endless.
Working with Long-term Memory
Long-term memory is the most complex of all memory types. There are different forms of working with it, for it and within it.
Repetition, for example, is a way of getting Long-term memory and short-term memory to interact with each other. It will allow the information’s transference from Short-term to Long-term, at the same time that it also helps the Long-term storage information to be able to also have a place and remain in the Short-term where it’s easily accessed.
Another way of working with it is through coding, which basically equates to giving some meaning to the pieces of information in order to make them easier to remember. This will help the recuperation process which is, according to some authors, the component which is truly responsible for our inability to recall certain memories.
Different Memories in one Memory?
But, speaking about Long-term Memory isn’t that simple, and different authors have presented different theories. Long-term Memory allows us to be who we are, it’s a permanent storage of knowledge and information, and it will have a great impact in the way we perceive the world around us.
There are many theories around Long-term Memory, but the one which seems to be the most widely accepted is the one that divided Long-term Memory into two separated sections: declarative memory and procedural memory.
Declarative memory refers to facts and situations that can be recalled, as in, we can say what happened or took place, how something looks or feels like… It’s something conscious and that gives us the possibility of expressing it. This can, by itself, be divided into episodic memory and semantic memory.
Episodic memory refers to particular events and specific episodes we lived and we’re now able to remember with surprising detail. It’s linked to an event or specific occasion.
Semantic memory is more about knowledge and the significance that we attributed to something. Here, the knowledge is stored under a form of words and symbols, and it contains general knowledge about the world, about facts and not particular events.
Also known as implicit memory, procedural memory doesn’t really imply an active and conscious effort from us. It’s related to motor or cognitive skills that are automatically brought up in order to do or achieve something, like playing a guitar or driving a car.
It also reflects, for example, grammar acquisition. You can speak correctly without being able to explain why it is indeed correct. The classical conditioning is associated to procedural memory too, since you can’t, for example, consciously explain why you fear elevators.
This kind of memory can be affected by abnormally high levels of stress. In these occasions we seem to forget, temporarily, how to do something that we’re usually able to do very easily.
So, if it lasts a life-time, why can’t you remember everything?
As you may be thinking right now, you can’t remember everything you want to, at least, not exactly as it happened. There are some gaps here or there. Well, that’s totally normal.
There are many diseases that can affect long-term memory, such as Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Schizophrenia or Parkinson’s, but even a perfectly normal and healthy adult can’t recall anything he or she wanted. For example, it’s quite normal for an adult to remember with more intensity and details, events that occurred during adolescence that those during his middle-age. Maybe because, teenagers live everything with amplified intensity and when you are older you give less and less importance to some situations and they kind of fade away in your memory.
Flashbulb Memory Theory
Brown and Kulik (1977) developed some investigation in this area, regarding episodic memory, where they tried to prove that emotions could indeed affect our memory.
They centered their investigation in specific historical events and asked people how they remembered it (the most famous experiment being how they remembered the news about John Kennedy’s death). These memories were too vivid and had many details, but they weren’t accurate…
The fact is, that a vivid and detailed memory doesn’t mean a correct description of the event, because memories (specially the older ones) are thought of, repeated and elaborated by our mind, especially if they had a great emotional impact. Our brain will mix what really happened with what we think happened and what we think should had happened.
So, most of the time, these memories are very far-off from the reality of the described event. They are like flashes of a camera that pops up in our mind and we interpret them accordingly with the importance and distinctiveness of the event, its consequences, how surprised we were and the proximity and personal involvement with the event.