Arbitrary and involuntary memory

The highest level of the thought process enables an individual to accumulate, store and mentally reproduce a large amount of knowledge and skills acquired over a long period of time. In psychology, some types of human memory are distinguished by the nature of the connection with the purpose of the activity. The arbitrariness or involuntariness of memorization is due to certain conditions: by accident or intentionally, a person has learned some information.

Involuntary memorization occurs automatically. It does not require any special effort from the subject. The brain itself fixes some perceived data. The individual does not set himself the goal of remembering them, but the information remains in the head. Passive action is inextricably linked with hobbies, professional interests of the individual.

Information that is not included in the zone of purposeful activity is usually forgotten.

Arbitrary memory requires from a person some volitional efforts for conscious imprinting and reproduction of information. The individual needs to immerse himself in the subject being studied. The quality of fixing events and facts in the head depends on the depth of study of the material. In this way, a person prepares for exams, remembers formulas and verses. Purposeful retention in the head of the mastered material is a special and complex thought process.

According to the degree of awareness of memorized information, there are two varieties.

The reproduction of the necessary information by the volitional effort of the individual is called explicit memory. The subject consciously and purposefully keeps the accumulated experience in his head. If necessary, a person can extract from the depths of the brain once learned rules, foreign words, dates and other events.

The characteristic of implicit memory is reduced to the restoration of information using indirect methods. The human brain is able to store all the data ever perceived. A striking example is typing on a computer: the fingers themselves know where the keys are located. Until the subject starts typing, he does not remember the keyboard layout. He has no conscious access to this knowledge.

It is believed that implicit memory has a precedence effect and affects the subsequent consolidation of new information.

Classification by mental activity

The specific features of human memory are that it is involved in thought processes. The individual is able to dream, to combine concepts or images. Man has imagination and emotions. It can be very difficult for people to forget unpleasant memories. The mental properties of a person contribute to the reproduction of individual experiences of past events.

The human brain remembers the essence with reference to the context.

For the mental restoration of facts and information, the subject needs to revive all the memories, recall the necessary associations and the situation at the time of the actions taking place.

A person can restore long-past events in a distorted way. In contrast, the computer reproduces the entered data very accurately. The file system does not allow electronics to make mistakes. Differences in information processing between people and volatile devices are observed in the fact that electronics encodes information using a processor, and a person transmits data through nerve cells.

People have a mess in their heads. They need to look for among the many flashing thoughts one related to the desired topic. The brain does not store anything ready-made. Unlike human memory, volatile storage devices can store content data only when a supply voltage is present.

The process of retaining informative traces in the subject’s head is influenced by individual personality traits.

With a conditional division into the main varieties according to the nature of mental activity, psychologists take into account the receptors and analyzers involved in the perception, processing and storage of the data received.


The act of memorization is performed by perceiving images through some kind of sensory systems. Reproduction is carried out in the form of representations. The subject remembers pictures of nature, life phenomena, sounds, smells, taste. The individual is able to restore the missing object in memory according to the image imprinted in the head, to characterize it in detail. He can imagine the smell and taste of a freshly cooked kebab, the scent of a tea rose, the trill of a nightingale.

Often, the information stored in the images differs from the original.


The baby is endowed with conditioned motor reflexes, which gradually develop into motor memory. It begins to form in the baby in the first months of life. Holding the head, crawling, the first steps are mastered through motor memorization. In the future, the fixation and reproduction of motor operations takes on a conscious character. The child learns to dress, wash, brush his teeth, hold a spoon, cut his nails, make his bed, comb his hair. Among these activities are walking, running and writing. Memorized movements form the main base of labor skills and practical motor operations. Young specialists gradually master professional skills. Movement over time is brought to automatism. This kind of memorization is very important for athletes and dancers.


The most reliable and durable storage of any information is the archive of memory, formed on the basis of various feelings: joy, grief, fear. It can be inflicted grievances that cannot be forgotten, or shame for one’s own actions. Experienced and stored emotions act as signals that encourage or hold back from action. By the end of the first year of life, this type of memorization is clearly manifested in children. A child may laugh or cry when he sees a thing that brought him joy or an object of his suffering. The subject can completely forget some events, read books, watched movies, and impressions and feelings remain in the store of the brain. Fragments fixed in the brain structures can be reproduced in the smallest details instantly in the form of bright photo flashes. This type of memorization has a huge impact on personality. Empathy and compassion for people is based on emotional memory.


The basis of this type of memory is words and thoughts. These two concepts are interconnected: words arise as a result of reflections, and thoughts are embodied through various linguistic forms. The main meaning of the material obtained as a result of the thought process is conveyed in literal verbal form. The form of presenting information depends on the understanding of the text, on the ability to find important and secondary parts, on the level of speech development.

The ability to memorize the texts presented in words affects the formation of personality.

Types by way of memorization

Depending on participation in the thought process, psychologists distinguish two subspecies of memory, characterized by the presence or absence of comprehension when fixing the necessary material.


A necessary condition for meaningful memorization is understanding. Semantic links are needed between assimilated objects or phenomena. They form the basis of logical memory. It is desirable to break all the information into its component parts, come up with headings or highlight strong points with which the content of the material is associated. You need to mentally link headings with each strong point, create associative series. One of the methods of logical memorization is comparison. First, you need to identify bright differences, and then you can pay attention to less noticeable distinguishing features. Semantic memorization is based on a clear understanding of the logical chains of the memorized material, therefore it is perfectly ordered and fixed in the head.


Repeated repetition of information without a deep understanding of the content leads to rote memorization. Toddlers are easier to memorize than adults who have the ability to capture the basic meaning. It is difficult for children to isolate the main pieces of information. They usually focus on the details. Students on the exam can reproduce the material memorized mechanically, but they find it difficult to explain specific concepts. Mechanical fixation of information occurs without the establishment and awareness of the logical connection between the fragments of the text. Intentional memorization without comprehending the information is ineffective, since it does not allow knowledge to break through from the operational storage to the long-term archive.

Description of species by duration of storage

According to the duration of fixing and preserving information traces, memory is divided into 3 main varieties:

  • sensory memory performs a lightning-fast retention of an image or phenomenon just received by the senses, which it holds for about half a second, then significant information is sent to short-term storage, the rest of the traces are erased;

  • short-term memory processes the material obtained from an instant print for 20-25 seconds, after which it sends it to long-term storage or displaces it from short-term storage;

  • long-term memory can store information of any size for an unlimited time period, reproduce it many times without any loss until the end of a person’s life.

Thus, the mechanism of fixing information in the head consists of three levels. First, the sensory register is activated, then the information is sent to short-term storage and from there it is archived for a long time. Let’s consider these stages in detail.

The primary stage of processing new information occurs at the sensory level. Instant prints remain for a short time on the peripheral areas of the analyzers. This level is conditional. Only the physical signs are held in the head without any coding. Most of the various signals are quickly destroyed and fade away. Old informative traces are instantly replaced by new symbols. The sensory register has too little storage capacity, so the subject perceives the world in its continuous integrity. Otherwise, instead of a single picture, unrelated images would appear. Blinking would lead to forgetting the previous information. Sounds would also consist of separate passages.

At the stage of short-term preservation, the perceived information is emotionally experienced and reconstructed. Coding occurs at the visual and acoustic levels. At this point, non-essential data is filtered out, so random and unnecessary information does not overload the brain. After the loss of some part of the material, the rest of the successfully encoded information is placed for long-term storage in the archive.

The following processes are observed at the basis of long-term memory: knowledge coding, archiving and retrieval. The quality of information encryption depends on activity and meaningfulness. Coding occurs at the semantic level. With the realization of the goal and motivation, certain emotions and active imagination are turned on. Important factors for maintaining the required level of information are the analysis and structuring of the knowledge being mastered, the search and selection of the main thoughts, the establishment of logical chains between text fragments, the alignment of associative series, and the repetition of material. A reliable archive stores the perceived information, divided into many headings and sorted into shelves.

Between short-term and long-term memorization there is an intermediate link in the form of random access memory. Operational storage of material occurs over a certain period of time from several minutes to a certain number of days, depending on the specific task: a person may need to keep intermediate information in mind. For example, to perform an arithmetic operation, the necessary numbers must be remembered for several minutes, and to implement a project, the necessary parameters should be kept in mind for a week or even a month. Then there is a displacement of unnecessary facts in order to make room for new source data.

What is the memory according to the leading analyzer?

The most active part in the process of memorization is played by the sense organs.


It is no coincidence that there is a saying: it is better to see once than hear a hundred times. An individual is able to memorize and reproduce a visual image: faces of familiar people, covers of favorite books, specific fragments of texts. The imprint remains in the imagination for a long time after the end of the impact of the perceived image on the senses. This kind of memory is essential for artists and engineers. It is based on the process of memorizing and restoring information.


This type of retention of informative traces helps a person to memorize speech and musical sounds. A subject that quickly and accurately captures and reproduces a variety of sounds is able to perceive and remember a large amount of information heard: the sound of the surf, the trill of a nightingale, the roar of a jet aircraft, the voice of a loved one, the sound of a piece of music. This feature is usually inherent in musicians, acousticians and simultaneous interpreters.


There is a memory for touch. It allows a person to save information about the outside world. Some people, with just one touch of an object, are able to reproduce an event that happened many years ago in great detail. A rough book cover, a tender mother’s hand, a soft fluffy cat, streaks of green leaves can evoke a lot of pleasant memories.

An individual with a well-developed tactile memory needs to evaluate a thing not only visually, but also by touch.


Fragrances often evoke memories in people. Pictures from past years emerge in the imagination: the faces of acquaintances, the furnishings of the apartment, natural phenomena, sounds and emotions. A subject with an excellent olfactory memory can easily imagine the smoke of a fire, the smell of a cool river, the aroma of a favorite fragrant water. The ability to fix various smells in memory is necessary for perfumers and tasters.


The activity of the taste analyzer is aimed at remembering taste. The individual is able to feel the bitterness of hot pepper, the sweetness of confectionery, the acidity of lemon. Not every person manages to taste the ingredients present in any dish. Tasting a certain food and determining exactly what it consists of, up to recognizing all the spices, can only be a subject with a well-developed taste memory. This is an indispensable quality for chefs and tasters.

Types of memory and their characteristics in the video below.