What are memory skills?

Memory refers to the ability to store, retain and recall information, events and procedures. Typically memory functioning is defined in terms of the length of time between the exposure and the recall (i.e. long term, short term and immediate memory). A more formal way of saying the same thing would be to refer to the three categories as remote, recent and working memory. Within these three general time based categories of memory there are further divisions of memory functioning. Visual (or non-verbal) memory refers to the ability to recall what one sees or experiences in terms of shape, size, location, position, color etc.. Verbal memory refers to the ability to recall information that is encoded in words and includes hearing, reading and any other avenue that involves speech and language. Procedural memory refers to the ability to recall how to do something. A person can have a weakness in one or a combination of these areas.

Working memory (or immediate recall) refers to the memory that we use at the very moment we are doing something such as working a math problem, looking up a phone number or just engaging in a conversation. Working memory requires joint effort from attention and executive skills. These three skills together form the constant “thinking” that we do to function from minute to minute. Information used in working memory is not necessarily stored for recall as recent or remote memory. Working memory information can be, mostly, discarded after a person finishes using it. There is a limit to the capacity of working memory. Research has consistently shown that an average person can hold about seven pieces of information in working memory, plus or minus about two pieces. So, the average person could hold about five to nine pieces of information in working memory for use in problem solving, dialing a phone number, working a math problem etc.. When working memory is reduced to a capacity of five or less items and/or when the ability to manipulate the information in working memory is compromised and/or when the ability to stay on track is impaired, then one would probably experience some difficulty in functioning in more complex and fast moving situations.

It appears that the capacity of working memory can be expanded by practice and by the use of compensation techniques. In addition, work to improve the attention and executive skills can improve the utilization of working memory. Accomplishing this can greatly improve a person’s functioning in daily life situations. If problems with more long term memory, such as recent memory (a few minutes to a few hours) and remote memory (longer than a few hours) are due in some part to low capacity working memory or impairment of attention and/or executive skills then practice and the learning of compensation skills can improve those memory functions as well.

Comments are closed.