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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