Sensory memories are stored for a few seconds at most. They come from the five senses: hearing, vision, touch, smell, and taste. They are stored only for as long as the sense is being stimulated. They are then reprocessed and associated with a memory that may store in your short-term memory.
Types of Sensory Memory
Each sense has a different type of sensory memory linked with it, including:
Iconic memory. This is associated with things that you see. It has a large amount of storage but stores the memory for less than a second. The brighter the image, the longer it stays in your iconic memory.
Echoic memory. This is associated with sound and hearing. Your brain takes a few seconds to process echoic memories. Once the sound enters your ear, your temporal lobe processes it. Research shows that echoic memory is essential to learning a language and that people who have trouble speaking may store echoic memories for shorter amounts of time.
Haptic memory. This type of memory is related to your sense of touch. It can include sensations like pressure, pain, itching, or something that feels good. Haptic memory allows you to identify things you’re touching.
Olfactory memory. This is associated with smell. Once you take in a smell, it travels quickly to the parts of the brain that help form long-term memories. Olfactory memory helps you identify tastes because molecules from the food you chew go into your nose. Without smell, you would only be able to taste basic flavors like sweetness.
Gustatory memory. Associated with taste, gustatory memory has a close relationship with olfactory memory. It helps you identify foods through the five basic flavors your tongue identifies through the gustatory receptor cells:
Examples of Sensory Memory
Iconic memory examples. Iconic memories are visual. When you flip a light switch, the brief image in your memory that remains of what you saw before you turned off the lights is an iconic memory.
Or imagine that you’re riding in a car and see cows grazing in a field. After you pass the field, the short memory that remains of the cows is an iconic memory. If you pass a row of businesses on a road, your short memory of which businesses were there and what their signs looked like is also an iconic memory.
Echoic memory examples. The ability to listen to a song and recognize it involves echoic memory. Your echoic memory records each note and helps your brain connect the tones, allowing you to recognize it as a song.
Another example is the ability to understand language. A similar process happens with speech and echoic memory. This form of memory records each syllable or sound and connects it to the next syllables, helping your brain recognize words and sentences that you can understand.
Haptic memory examples. Anything that uses the sensation of touch also uses your haptic memory. For example, when you feel a raindrop on your skin, your haptic memory records that sensation, helping you recognize what ‘s happening.
Haptic memory is also involved when you play a musical instrument. It helps you sense where your fingers are so you can play the right notes. Similarly, haptic memory helps you find the right keys when you’re typing on a computer.
Olfactory memory examples. Your olfactory memory plays a role in taste, but it can also conjure up old memories and emotions. For example, when you smell something from your childhood, it helps your brain bring up other memories associated with that smell. This sense can also convey emotions. When you smell a candle and it reminds you of a peaceful feeling, your olfactory memory is at play.
Gustatory memory examples. Similar to smells, tastes can help you recall old memories. For instance, if you eat something that once made you sick to your stomach, you may have nausea the next time you eat that food. This is an evolutionary advantage that helps you avoid poisonous foods by remembering things that may be harmful.