MEMORY 102: To Store or Not to Store – Short Term Memory to Long Term Memory

Long Term Memory Photograph of Buzz Aldrin on the moon surface

Long Term Memory – 1969 Man Lands on the Moon

What turns a short term memory to long term memory ? What makes memory work better? How come I remember where I was when man walked on the moon but I can’t remember the name of the person I met briefly yesterday?


Today short term memory to long term memory follows on from the discussion in Memory 101 What is Memory  about three main stages of memory –

1) We take in and form (or forget) memories.

2. We store memories. For a short term or a long term.

3. We recall memories.

And that is as simple as I can make a process where billions of cells are all tripping over each other to remember stuff!

I am using the term ‘Stuff’ here – this is my very own technical term  to describe all the information, events, actions, tasks, senses and on and on – that our brain remembers. In the words of the song “Memories are made of this”.

Today a closer look at storage and Short Term Memory to Long Term Memory.


Storing Memories – Short Term Memory to Long Term Memory

Memory storage

Memory like Food is stored in different places for different lengths of time

A memory use-by date for storing stuff.

Like our food pantry information is stored for differing lengths of time, in different places according to need.

Our Memory has three main ‘use-by’ dates or timelines:

  1. Sensory
  2. Short Term Memory
  3. Long Term Memory


Sensory Memory

Sensory messages that are kept and acted on all in a few, immediate seconds.

Most sensory messages you won’t even be aware of. Some may be stored and become long term memories. Most will disappear.

You may have brief recall of a sensory experience, such as what you just saw or heard but you don’t store it away.  An “In one ear and out the other” kind of memory.


Short term memory (STM)

Short term memory to long term memoryThis is stuff you need for a short time to do something with.

It does not need to be stored away for later use.

Definitions can vary describing STM as being minutes up to a few days.

Some definitions separate it into categories such as Immediate, and Recent memory. Whatever time frame you read about. Whatever it is called –

Stuff in STM is remembered for only a short time.

In addition to being remembered for a short time – very little information can be held in this short term way.

It is said our STM generally can only hold about 7 items – we might have luck remembering a 7 digit phone number but struggle to remember our bank account number.

The brain is very grateful not to be overloaded with useless information.  When stuff in your STM is forgotten – it is generally gone. The nerve path is no longer there.

You get a phone number for a shop you want to call – you use it, then forget it.

You read through the television program- choose something to watch. Mostly you don’t remember the detail of the program afterwards.

You read this article but only hold the words in memory till you have finished the sentence or paragraph.

Remembering a bill you need to pay. Once paid you forget about it. Hopefully you don’t forget it before it gets paid!

Short term memory is often damaged with brain injury.


Long term memory (LTM)

Short term memory to long term memory - cartoon figure standing on the word rememberExperiences, skills and knowledge – memories held in more permanent storage and for a longer time. Maybe forever.

LTM stores the stuff important to you. Information you want to remember and use again later.

It is less likely to be interrupted, so LTM is less likely to be affected after brain injury –  it does happen but less often than STM difficulties.


LTM has a number of forms which I have tried to summarise in the chart below. I have used the fancy language with explanations so that when you see it again you will know what it all means (I hope):

Long term memory Chart showing types of Long term memory storage

Even with the most severe brain injury there is often less of a problem with procedural memory (how to do things), and more of a problem with declarative memory. It may help to learn by doing.


Need a bit more?  HERE is a short simple video talking charty kind of video that may help explain Short Term Memory to Long Term Memory

And more – This article in The Brain From Top to Bottom describing Short term memory to Long term memory


Remembering Stuff

Short term Memory to Long term Memory - cartoon elephant holding sign "Don't Forget"

As you read this article your eyes take in the words – millions of brain cells get to work –

Matching up what you are reading with something you already know.

Matching experiences you have already had, that link to what you are now reading.

And some of what you read will waft off, and be forgotten before you even finish the page.

What makes it more likely you will remember something?

Memory 102 5 starFive star remembering mostly happens when

you really concentrate,

you really pay attention,

and there is a connection for you to the memory – especially an emotional memory.

This all makes it pretty likely stuff will go from short term memory to long term memory.


Other memory helpers include:
Short Term Memory to Long Term Memory - Many coloured padlocks on a fence

What helps memories to be kept and stored?

Something you are passionate about: – your interests, a job you love, family you care about.

It links to some bit of information already stored away – you learned about Memory at school so information from this article might be added.

It links to an experience you have had that makes it more memorable. You first learned about memory when at a summer school you loved.

A memory linked to smell can be more powerful – when I smell Chlorine I immediately have a strong memory of early morning swimming in the primary school pool.

Chunking information together can make it more likely you will remember.

The topic / event / action may be important to you right now and this will help it move into longer memory storage. You know someone who has difficulty with Memory so you remember information from this article.

We tend to remember music more that language. Have you ever started to sing a song and been surprised at how easily the words come.

Practicing or repeating information.  “Use it or Lose It” kind of theory.

Repetition or frequent exposure to the same information or experience.

These memory helpers can also be used as a basis for building strategies for memory.


A short National Geographic video exploring memory and whether it is our DNA or determination that helps us remember:


  And Finally

This short article “Memory and Recall: 10 Amazing Facts You Should Know”  is part of a readable series  on How Memory Works in PsyBlog


Next week Memory 103 – a simple look at who does what and where in our brain to form, store and bring back memories. Did I say simple?


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