Long Term Memory

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The term long-term memory is somewhat of a catch-all phrase because it can refer to facts learned a few minutes ago, personal memories many decades old, or skills learned with practice. Generally, however, long-term memory describes a system in the brain that can store vast amounts of information on a relatively enduring basis. When you play soccer, remember what you had for lunch yesterday, recall your first birthday party, play a trivia game, or sing along to a favorite song, you draw on information and skills stored in long-term memory.

Psychologists have different theories about how information enters long-term memory. The traditional view is that that information enters short-term memory and, depending on how it is processed, may then transfer to long-term memory. However, another view is that short-term memory and long-term memory are arranged in a parallel rather than sequential fashion. That is, information may be registered simultaneously in the two systems.

There seems to be no finite capacity to long-term memory. People can learn and retain new facts and skills throughout their lives. Although older adults may show a decline in certain capacities for example, recalling recent events they can still profit from experience even in old age. For example, vocabulary increases over the entire life span. The brain remains plastic and capable of new learning throughout one’s lifetime, at least under normal conditions. Certain neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, can greatly diminish the capacity for new learning. Psychologists once thought of long-term memory as a single system. Today, most researchers distinguish three long-term memory systems: episodic memory, semantic memory, and procedural memory.

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