what is it in psychology? How long does the sensory subsystem last?

What is sensory memory and how to train it?

The process of mem­o­riz­ing any infor­ma­tion does not begin with the work of the brain, but with the per­cep­tion of facts and events by the sens­es. It’s about sen­so­ry mem­o­ry. Let’s see what it is and how to train it.

What is it and why is it needed?

In psy­chol­o­gy, it is referred to as a mem­o­ry sub­sys­tem that ensures the reten­tion of sen­so­ry pro­cess­ing prod­ucts of new infor­ma­tion per­ceived by the nerve cells of the sense organs for a very short peri­od of time. This type of mem­o­ry is need­ed as the ini­tial stage of retain­ing the image for long-term preser­va­tion in the future. At this stage of mem­o­ry, new mate­r­i­al is processed to trans­fer it to the next sub­sys­tem — short-term mem­o­ry. Infor­ma­tion can go direct­ly into long-term mem­o­ry, bypass­ing the lev­el of con­scious pro­cess­ing.

Sen­so­ry mem­o­ry works regard­less of the desire of the indi­vid­ual. This type of mem­o­ry is con­di­tion­al, since retains only phys­i­cal fea­tures with­out their seman­tic cod­ing. These signs are equal to the vol­ume of per­cep­tion. Sen­so­ry copy of infor­ma­tion has a large capac­i­ty. In the process of pro­cess­ing, part of the sig­nals is erased from mem­o­ry due to the rapid fad­ing, destruc­tion and mask­ing of infor­ma­tive traces at the sen­so­ry lev­el.

Old events are instant­ly replaced by new infor­ma­tion.

The sen­so­ry reg­is­ter is an over­ly short-term volu­mi­nous stor­age of con­cepts, thanks to which the indi­vid­ual per­ceives the world in its con­tin­u­ous integri­ty. Oth­er­wise, every­thing in the human imag­i­na­tion would con­sist of unre­lat­ed images. Blink­ing eyes would lead to for­get­ting all pre­vi­ous events. Sounds would also be bro­ken frag­ments. Babies see the world as a con­cen­tra­tion of col­or spots, because their sens­es are still under­de­vel­oped.


Sen­so­ry mem­o­ry is the pri­ma­ry stage of mem­o­riza­tion. It acts at the lev­el of recep­tors that per­ceive any stim­uli from the exter­nal world or the inter­nal envi­ron­ment and con­vert them into nerve sig­nals. Infor­ma­tion leaves instant imprints on the periph­er­al parts of the ana­lyz­ers. The time of preser­va­tion of infor­ma­tion traces is neg­li­gi­ble. Pro­cess­ing of the mate­r­i­al is car­ried out with­in 0.25–0.5 s. If dur­ing this time the data has not advanced fur­ther, then they are for­got­ten, and the sen­so­ry reg­is­ter is replen­ished with new sig­nals. Infor­ma­tion is being shed.

This type of mem­o­ry does not cre­ate any obsta­cles for mem­o­riz­ing large infor­ma­tive blocks. A dis­tinc­tive fea­ture is the unlim­it­ed capac­i­ty for stored facts. The process of cap­tur­ing all the infor­ma­tion is con­tin­u­ous. The speed of infor­ma­tion receipt is so high that the infor­ma­tion does not have time to be processed at this stage. Illu­sions are cre­at­ed in thoughts. For exam­ple, there is no move­ment on the TV screen, but the pic­tures fol­low each oth­er so quick­ly that the illu­sion of move­ment appears.

In this way, sen­so­ry mem­o­ry is char­ac­ter­ized by a very short-term stor­age of incom­ing mate­r­i­al, which imme­di­ate­ly pass­es into anoth­er sub­sys­tem or is lost with­out a trace. At this stage, the infor­ma­tion is saved unchanged. They can­not be delayed, sharp­ened or repro­duced. It is impos­si­ble to con­scious­ly con­trol the process­es that occur at the sen­so­ry lev­el of per­cep­tion. Such mem­o­ry func­tions in the moments of eye move­ment and in the min­utes of blink­ing, pro­vides the usu­al per­cep­tion of the world.


The struc­ture of the sen­so­ry sub­sys­tem has sev­er­al lev­els of modal vari­eties. The ana­log code of the sen­so­ry reg­is­ter con­tains visu­al, sound images and tac­tile sen­sa­tions. Depend­ing on this dis­tin­guish icon­ic (from the word “icon” — image) and echoic (from the word “echo”) mem­o­ry.


The trace of this stim­u­lus is repro­duced using a visu­al ana­lyz­er. There is a por­trait fix­a­tion. The stor­age lev­el varies from 0.25 to 0.75 s. It is deter­mined by the indi­vid­ual inter­ests of a per­son, char­ac­ter­is­tics, cre­ative and intel­lec­tu­al abil­i­ties, life expe­ri­ence. The influ­ence of the emo­tion­al back­ground on the visu­al appear­ance of the sen­so­ry reg­is­ter is of great impor­tance. At its high lev­el, the effect of reverse mask­ing is pro­vid­ed.

The image codes enter the struc­ture of the brain instant­ly. Due to this, the bound­aries of the visu­al field reg­u­lar­ly expand. In emerg­ing new infor­ma­tion, the indi­vid­ual sees fea­tures of pre­vi­ous facts. A per­son has an illu­sion in rela­tion to what he sees. The func­tion­ing of icon­ic mem­o­ry can be eas­i­ly checked by quick­ly pass­ing a pen­cil in front of the eyes. It will leave a trail behind it.

Uncon­scious­ly, the draw­ing of events begins.


The trace of a short audi­to­ry stim­u­lus of sen­so­ry mem­o­ry is char­ac­ter­ized by rather long stor­age of images in com­par­i­son with the visu­al trace. Incom­ing acoustic infor­ma­tion can last from 1 to 3 sec­onds. This prop­er­ty makes it pos­si­ble to cap­ture not indi­vid­ual sounds, but to per­ceive a holis­tic melody.

The sen­so­ry copy pro­vides inte­gra­tion into the image of sequen­tial­ly incom­ing sound infor­ma­tion. For mem­o­riza­tion, the rhythm and strength of sounds, the tim­bre of the voice mat­ter. The pos­si­bil­i­ty of repro­duc­ing pre­vi­ous­ly received infor­ma­tion depends on the speed of pro­cess­ing the heard mate­r­i­al.

How to train?

The brain is plas­tic. Dai­ly prac­tice devel­ops it. Often, mem­o­ry prob­lems arise due to the inabil­i­ty to con­cen­trate. Sen­so­ry mem­o­ry deter­mines the inter­con­nec­tion of all the sens­es. It is some­times good enough for a per­son to con­cen­trate on remem­ber­ing in the moments of receiv­ing new infor­ma­tion.

Sen­so­ry mem­o­ry can be improved. Learn­ing for­eign lan­guages, replen­ish­ing vocab­u­lary, acquir­ing new knowl­edge con­tribute to obtain­ing the desired result. It is nec­es­sary to repeat the new­ly acquired knowl­edge for sev­er­al hours. Then you need to switch your­self to anoth­er type of activ­i­ty. Then you have to go back to repeat­ing.

In the ear­ly days, infor­ma­tion is for­got­ten quick­ly, so it should be tied to some images or emo­tions. The men­tal flow must be turned into a visu­al­iza­tion of bizarre images. Draw­ing up asso­cia­tive links helps to keep infor­ma­tion in the head for a long time.

There are many exer­cis­es for mem­o­ry train­ing.. It is advised to look at any pic­ture, and after 2 sec­onds close your eyes and men­tal­ly remem­ber what is depict­ed. Then you need to open your eyes and look again at the pic­ture: was it cor­rect­ly repro­duced in the imag­i­na­tion.

Anoth­er exer­cise involves scat­ter­ing sev­er­al pens in a chaot­ic man­ner. Then their loca­tion is fixed in mem­o­ry and after a few sec­onds on anoth­er table the pens are laid out in the same order with­out peep­ing. With easy repro­duc­tion of the orig­i­nal loca­tion, the num­ber of han­dles is increased.

Desir­able mem­o­rize a few qua­trains every day. This enhances the abil­i­ty to remem­ber. It is rec­om­mend­ed every evening to recall the past day in detail, but in reverse order: play­back begins with prepa­ra­tion for going to bed and ends with awak­en­ing.

An active lifestyle, good nutri­tion, healthy sleep, avoid­ance of stress­ful sit­u­a­tions and neg­a­tive emo­tions also con­tribute to improv­ing mem­o­ry.

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