Human Memory

Procedural Memory: Why It Is Pivotal To Keep It Sharp

Sharpen acquired skills to retain perfect performance levels.

Procedural memory controls the automatic reproduction of the different types of activities and serves as a subtype out of all known memory types. Being aware of what functions our memorization mechanisms perform can make a difference in your memorization experience.

Moreover, it is of paramount importance to know how to activate one or another memory mechanism. We use many ordinary abilities daily without launching our conscious mind. Once a human learns how to ride a bike, swim, play a game, use a laptop, or cook pizza, they will never forget it. Perhaps, for improvement and ingraining such automatic processes, it is imperative to practice, repeat, and strengthen them. Such skills will never be erased from your mental storage. So what is procedural memory, and how can it be elevated?

The cerebellum is the brain area where all the automatic memories are kept. Their consolidation and repetition are proven to make your procedural type of memory acute and strong. The knowledge accumulated through this type of memory is related to the practice of performing tasks related to the body's ability to control movements. The complexity of motor skills can vary. Such skills may be acquired naturally through experience or our intention to learn something. Let’s explore one typical procedural memory example, such as driving a car, which we can obtain through education and regular and systematic procedural experience. Such abilities are unlikely to be forgotten because they involve overcoming the everyday tasks you are so used to. It means no serious mental effort is applied to recall the sequences of actions of how to start or stop your engine.

What Is Procedural Memory And How it Works

For recalling, for example, declarative information encoded by the explicit mind, activating your conscious thinking is needed. Some mental effort must be launched; otherwise, retrieval of such data will be poor and slowed down. However, procedural memory doesn't encompass conscious thinking. This memorization mechanism is responsible for guiding activities that comprise motor skills and an array of routine processes. It often resides at a lower level of human consciousness, awareness of one's surroundings and environment, or even alertness.

Encoding memory of this type allows its automatic retrieval and use to execute coordinated processes and actions pertain to cognitive capacity and motor skills, from playing darts to painting or typing. Procedural memory can be ingressed and activated without mindfulness, total thought control, or strong engagement and focus. However, to produce any type of skill without no direct mental and cognitive control, repeating this particular skill must be the top priority. Generally, this memory type is critical for exploring the surroundings and gaining a basic and more advanced set of vital abilities.

Procedural Memory Example: How Often Do You Use Automatic Memories?

Playing musical instruments is a great procedural memory example. Of course, drumming requires laser focus, well-developed echoic memory, and an ear for music. It is also essential to understand that the process of playing a musical instrument requires multiple memorization types. The mechanics, fundamentals, and act of playing, for example, the violin, are about procedural encoding, while the right sequence of notes or chords requires long-term information retention. It is the task for the semantic type of memorization and our logic. How your fingers should move to extract sounds is also about muscle memory. To know by heart a musical composition, for example, repetition, is critical. This is how you can transform new knowledge into a sensorimotor pattern or skill that doesn't require supervision and control of every next action. Motor skills needed for swimming or dancing are also inadvertently reproduced and applied every time you are engaged in the act of swimming or dancing. As you can see, our daily routine life is impossible without activating our procedural memory.

Procedural Type of Memory in Psychology

Generally, memory is a mental function, the most long-lasting among other cognitive abilities, which is aimed at accumulating, holding, and reproducing information in various forms and a range of capacities. One of them is the division of memory according to the data storage time; the other is based on the dominant in the process of memorizing, retaining, and reproducing the information. Thus, it can be the visual, sensory, echoic, or episodic type of memory, etc. Some mechanisms are automatic and spontaneous, and some are intended and deliberate.

Exploring what procedural memory is - it is presumed that it has complex connections with consciousness. Most brain researchers define this type of memory as a non-effortful one. It was proven that neurons’ activation starts before we consciously plan the next movement. It means that if you think that your intention to make a movement is conscious, it is not quite true. It is rather an illusion of such brain perception. Of course, it is possible to control your next move and step. But be careful, as sometimes, the control and recognition of our automatic actions can have poor effects on our level of performance and learning experience. Thus, when we strive to manage every move, we are running the risk of degrading our level of performance. It, in turn, may lead to uncorrectable errors in what we do. Based on such facts, it is believed that once created; automatic memories don't require focus or concentration in order to recall them.

Disorders That May Affect Procedural Memory

Some individuals may suffer from impairments and disorders and be impinged by attention-related issues and deteriorated cognitive functions. There is a set of brain issues that intervene in various functions of procedural memory. Thus, brain damage may trigger serious impairments of motor functions, such as incapacity to accomplish concrete purposive actions, tremors and an involuntary quivering movement, or even abnormal posture and muscular spasm. Every individual should monitor their own health to detect some disorders, including dystonia, apraxia, ataxia, and choreic movements, and fight them with a smart strategy that may comprise lifestyle changes and medications. To stave off signs of memory deterioration and loss, it is recommended to take care of your well-being, check your brain condition regularly, and learn science-backed ways and tried and true tips on how to improve memory and maintain your intellectual power.

There are lots of tests to check the level of development of every memorization mechanism, e.g., it can be an eidetic memory test, tools for assessment of the procedural type of memory, or any other actions that were designed to evaluate and monitor your mental and intellectual capacity. Such tests can become a great diagnostic tool for analyzing your brain activity and understanding whether there are some signs of aging or cognitive decrease. Once you've spotted that simple tasks are challenging for you, it can be an early symptom of a brain-related disorder. If left ignored, it could lead to deterioration of any kind of memory, concentration, and cognition. Remember that any neurodegenerative disease can weaken your memory strength. So be ready to take care of yourself, your brain, and your nervous system health. Such an approach yields an array of cognitive advantages and definitely enhances brain function longevity.

How to Improve Procedural Memory: Give Your Mind a Break

It has been widely recognized that procedural memory is consolidated during offline retention and rest time. That is, we structure our memories during periods of rest between training, especially during sleep. For example, after learning to play a musical composition,  reproducing a particular part and the sequence of notes will be much more straightforward after a rest session. Try to empty and declutter your mind before incorporating new skills obtained through procedural experience.

Thus, it has been observed that motor tasks seem to improve markedly when accessed after a rest interval. Rest-tactic can be applied to almost any type of memory. After a period of practice, it was found useful to relax, maybe even meditate, to become less nervous or edgy, so everything that was learned could be consolidated. These post-learning effects are enhanced by resting immediately after training. But remember that although some of the skills are easier to encode, others can take time and effort to convert into long-term memories. It means that your rest sessions must also be more extended or diversified. Try to distract yourself - by freshening up newly gained information. Otherwise, you may overexert your brain, resulting in extreme tiredness and inability to grasp new data easily.


What are two types of procedural memory?

To ensure a particular skill is encoded properly in long-term mind storage, two types of memorization are launched: episodic and semantic.

What are procedural and semantic memory?

Semantic data encoding is responsible for knowledge acquisition; the procedural mechanism is needed to be aware of how to apply that knowledge.

What does muscle memory mean?

When you type on a laptop keyboard, your brain already knows what to do, even if your conscious mind is not yet aware of it. This is a clear example of muscle memory which we probably apply every minute.

Alex Ruzh

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