Sensory Memory Types and Examples: Facts About Perception
Updated on January 31, 2024
6 min read

Sensory Memory Types and Examples: Facts About Perception

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In general, memorization begins with the senses’ perception of facts and events. The human mind tends to build meaningful memories through personalized and unique experiences. Human emotions shaped through senses perform a potent function in how we gain those experiences and thoughts and, accordingly – our memories.

Understanding and regulating our senses can help us take greater control of our brains. This is the proven way to accomplish goals, become a more positive thinker, and manage behavior even in the harshest situations. Usually, in such situations, feelings may become so strong that they dominate rationality and other thinking modes important for powerful cognitive output. So if your emotions often hijack your brain, your sense memory can be affected. You will forget important feelings while keeping in mind negative experiences. It generally spoils cognitive function and memorization capabilities. So let’s unlock the sensing mechanism, how to control impulses and create strong memories, and why senses are pivotal for properly interacting with the environment.

The Algorithm of Sensory Memory Work

The human mental system is wired to detect threats, look for rewards, respond to surroundings, and perceive situations as positive or negative ones. And our senses are the driving force behind our behavior, attitudes, vision, and perception. When detecting some of those threats or rewards, the brain area responsible for our emotions and feelings alerts us. And in order to do it, the brain processes information obtained from the senses. A set of our nerves and a range of sense organs send inputs to the brain. It is a kind of notification that we must act, reacting to the stimulus.

When the potentially threatening situation is detected, cortisol and adrenaline are released. These chemicals tell our mind and body to prepare to fend off these potential challenges and respond properly to protect ourselves. However, when our senses detect something nice for us, and this is probably a rewarding situation, dopamine is produced, and we feel satisfied in response to this chemical release. It also motivates us to continue on the task or the specific pattern of behavior that our brain has selected for a concrete situation. As you can see, humans would not be capable of functioning correctly or encoding memory accurately without senses. This is how the mind gets external input to the sensory register, processes it within the complex brain systems, and outputs a reasonable and logical decision.

However, now you need to take a second to think about everything that has happened to you today. You’ve taken in way more information than you could possibly encode and retrieve in detail. You have smelled, touched, tasted, heard, or seen these things. Although somehow, some pieces of information get processed in a way that lets your mind access it later. Such data is stored thanks to our sensory memory. This mode of memory is the first spot in the overall memorization algorithm. The input placed in the sensory register is kept there for a few seconds and then moves further to be encoded or erased. Unfortunately, this memory is quite short and limited. Why is it so? Well, having an onslaught of data and inputs, it is only possible to hold on to all of it for a while. If you held onto all that sensory data, you would quickly be overwhelmed by the amount of it. And while there is some vital information to memorize, there are also excessive unwanted memories that do not necessarily need to be coded. Training overall memory capacity, for example, with the help of mental-boosting exercises or an improve-memory app, you can gain total control over which types of inputs would be transformed into short or long-term memories and which would be wiped off.

What Was Proven By Sperling’s Experiments

Our iconic type of memory allows us to structure visual information in our brains during a continuous stream of images. However, retrieving visual data after some time, some pieces of puzzles are erased, and it is almost impossible to recall every detail. Even despite the fact that the iconic processing mechanism registers almost 100% of incoming information, it happens unconsciously. And the part of such visual impulses will decay. They simply self-destruct in order to avoid brain overloading. This mental procedure takes less than a second. This is what was proved during the experiments of Sperling.

What Are the Types Of Sensory Memory

Due to the fact that there are several senses, scientists distinguish the corresponding number of sensory memory kinds. Thus, our mind encodes visual data, sounds, tactile senses, taste, or smell differently. Moreover, each such input lasts a different amount of time. For example, visual scenes have a duration of less than half a second. It is also considered a photographic type of memory, meaning these visual scenes can imprint into the brain; however, they will be instantly erased. Such photographic abilities can be trained to enhance the recall of visual details and features, and their strength can be checked with the help of an eidetic memory test. Prolonged retaining of iconic content with great accuracy can be quite useful and can improve your mental acuity. Having a strong eidetic type of memorization means that an individual can encode complex data in the form of diagrams or through creating associations.

The haptic type of memory is the most interesting one because it has yet to be fully explored. However, it is clear that without a sense of touch, it would be difficult to recognize objects and respond to tactile stimuli. Agree our lives would be boring and senseless without experiencing the whole spectrum of tactile feelings. As for echoic memory, it lasts for about 3-4 seconds. However, if visual memory can be amped up, it is more complex with echoic encoding. By registering a specific sound and noise, the brain will probably discard such auditory data. But if it is so short, why do we need it at all, then? The thing is that it is extremely pivotal for the perception of a part of our surroundings. Just imagine that there are several sources of audio at the same time. And somehow, our mind recognizes each of them separately, although they are simultaneous. This is when our echoic sense memory is in function.

Examples of Sensory Memory

Because of how our senses work, the existence of the stimulus in the mind system can be prolonged even after it has already disappeared physically. If the brain could only process information while the stimulus was present and it could not be registered by the senses for its further use, much knowledge would be lost along the way. This is why we can describe the picture we’ve just seen, even closing our eyes. How we perceive the sparkler is also a good sensory memory example. Because if you move a hand-held sparkler too quickly, your eyes will see a light trail for a matter of seconds. When you feel a fabric that is pleasant to the touch, smell freshly cut grass, or see the beauty of a rainbow, it is all thanks to different modes of sensory perception. Our brain is naturally granted to perceive the diversity of this world. But even though such a perception is innate, it does not mean that it cannot be honed and harnessed.

Apart from computing the world around you, it assists in learning and exploration. With strong sensory memory, lapses and other aging signs are kept to a minimum. Even using mnemonics and mind exercises would be much easier since such techniques usually stimulate several senses at once. For example, it is needed to launch iconic memory to create a mental map. Thus, sensory deficits might be the most unpleasant condition ever. Because then, an individual may suffer due to a range of symptoms, such as impaired balance, wrong perception of light, or feeling an itching sensation from a touch. This is proof of how important our senses are. Lacking hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, or smelling would result in a passive connection with the world. The mind simply wouldn’t be able to perform tasks and give commands to our nerves and body.


What is the key function of sensory memory?

The process of memorizing begins with the perception of facts and events by the senses. Generally, the sense memory is attributed to the cognitive subsystem, which ensures the retention of the products of the sensorial processing of new data.

Why is sensory memory important?

The sensory register is a kind of short-term storehouse of concepts, thanks to which the individual perceives the world in its continuous integrity. Otherwise, a person’s perception of the world would consist of unrelated, chaotic images. The whole human organism is built of mechanisms that complement each other for proper functioning, without which a person would not be able to accept the world as it is.

Where does sensory memory occur?

Some particular neurons within the prefrontal cortex are involved in sensory processing. This area also guides behavioral patterns by choosing the appropriate response to perform a specific task.

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