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Sensory Memory

Sensory memory allows an individual to remember an input in great detail


but for only a few milliseconds.

Sensory memory allows individuals to retain impressions of sensory


information for a brief time after the original stimulus has ceased. It allows
individuals to remember great sensory detail about a complex stimulus
immediately following its presentation. Sensory memory is an automatic
response considered to be outside of cognitive control. The information
represented in this type of memory is the “raw data” which provides a
snapshot of a person’s overall sensory experience. Information from
sensory memory has the shortest retention time, ranging from mere
milliseconds to five seconds. It is retained just long enough for it to be
transferred to short-term (working) memory.

In sensory memory, no manipulation of the incoming information occurs as


it is transferred quickly to working memory. The amount of information is
greatly reduced during this transfer because the capacity of working
memory is not large enough to cope with all the input coming from our
sense organs.

Types of Sensory Memory

It is assumed that there is a subtype of sensory memory for each of the five
major senses (touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell); however, only three
of these types have been extensively studied: echoic memory, iconic
memory, and haptic memory.
Iconic Memory

Sensory input to the visual system goes into iconic memory, so named because the
mental representations of visual stimuli are referred to as icons. Iconic memory has a
duration of about 100 ms. One of the times that iconic memory is noticeable is when we
see “light trails.” This is the phenomenon when bright lights move rapidly at night and
you perceive them as forming a trail; this is the image that is represented in iconic
memory.

Light trails: In iconic memory, you perceive a moving bright light as forming a continuous line because of the
images retained in sensory memory for milliseconds.

Echoic Memory

Echoic memory is the branch of sensory memory used by the auditory


system. Echoic memory is capable of holding a large amount of auditory
information, but only for 3–4 seconds. This echoic sound is replayed in the
mind for this brief amount of time immediately after the presentation of the
auditory stimulus.
Haptic Memory

Haptic memory is the branch of sensory memory used by the sense of


touch. Sensory receptors all over the body detect sensations like pressure,
itching, and pain, which are briefly held in haptic memory before vanishing
or being transported to short-term memory. This type of memory seems to
be used when assessing the necessary forces for gripping and interacting
with familiar objects. Haptic memory seems to decay after about two
seconds. Evidence of haptic memory has only recently been identified and
not as much is known about its characteristics compared to iconic memory.

Characteristics:

SM is considered to be outside of cognitive control and is instead an


automatic response. The information represented in SM is the "raw data"
which provides a snapshot of a person's overall sensory experience.
Common features between each sensory modality have been identified;
however, as experimental techniques advance, exceptions and additions to
these general characteristics will surely evolve. The auditory store, echoic
memory, for example, has been shown to have a temporal characteristic in
which the timing and tempo of a presented stimulus affects transfer into
more stable forms of memory Four common features have been identified
for all forms of SM:[4]

1. The formation of a SM trace is only weakly dependent on attention to


the stimulus.
2. The information stored in SM is modality specific. This means for
example, that echoic memory is for the exclusive storage of auditory
information, and haptic memory is for the exclusive storage of tactile
information.
3. Each SM store represents an immense amount of detail resulting in
very high resolution of information.
4. Each SM store is very brief and lasts a very short period of time.
Once the SM trace has decayed or is replaced by a new memory, the
information stored is no longer accessible and is ultimately lost. All
SM stores have slightly different durations which is discussed in
more detail on their respective pages.

It is widely accepted that all forms of SM are very brief in duration;


however, the approximated duration of each memory store is not static.
Iconic memory, for example, holds visual information for approximately 250
milliseconds.[6] The SM is made up of spatial or categorical stores of
different kinds of information, each subject to different rates of information
processing and decay. The visual sensory store has a relatively high
capacity, with the ability to hold up to 12 items. Genetics also play a role in
SM capacity; mutations to the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a
nerve growth factor, and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors,
responsible for synaptic plasticity, decrease iconic and echoic memory
capacities respectively.

Relationship with other memory systems[edit]

SM is not involved in higher cognitive functions such as consolidation of


memory traces or comparison of information. Likewise, the capacity and
duration of SM cannot be influenced by top-down control; a person cannot
consciously think or choose what information is stored in SM, or how long it
will be stored for. The role of SM is to provide a detailed representation of
our entire sensory experience for which relevant pieces of information can
be extracted by short-term memory (STM) and processed by working
memory (WM). STM is capable of storing information for 10–15 seconds
without rehearsal while working memory actively processes, manipulates,
and controls the information. Information from STM can then be
consolidated into long-term memory where memories can last a lifetime.
The transfer of SM to STM is the first step in the Atkinson–Shiffrin memory
model which proposes a structure of memory.
SM is not involved in higher cognitive functions such as consolidation of memory traces or
comparison of information.[21] Likewise, the capacity and duration of SM cannot be influenced by top-
down control; a person cannot consciously think or choose what information is stored in SM, or how
long it will be stored for.[4] The role of SM is to provide a detailed representation of our entire sensory
experience for which relevant pieces of information can be extracted by short-term memory (STM)
and processed by working memory(WM).[2] STM is capable of storing information for 10–15 seconds
without rehearsal while working memory actively processes, manipulates, and controls the
information. Information from STM can then be consolidated into long-term memory where memories
can last a lifetime. The transfer of SM to STM is the first step in the Atkinson–Shiffrin memory
modelwhich proposes a structure of memory.