Sensory Memory: importance and its types

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Do you know? Sensory memory fades in the region of 200-500 milliseconds (1/5 – 1/2 second) after the exposure of a stimulus.

This article is all about:

  • Sensory memory
  • Importance of sensory memory
  • Types of sensory memory
  • When to seek help

What is sensory memory?

Sensory memory is a type of memory which is ultra-short-termed. This means that when you sense an unfamiliar stimulus for 1 second, the image of that stimulus retains in your memory for a very short period of time, mostly for a second or half and then decades or fades. 

For instance, quickly scroll this article till the end, now recall what you remember? Maybe the structure, pictures or the highlighted words. Now when you come back to this line and start reading, you probably remember nothing that you saw. Thus, you’ll be able to recall very little, for a very short period, this is called sensory memory. 

Why is sensory memory important?

We experience a lot of environmental factors and sense them. However, not all of them need to be remembered. Thus, thanks to our sensory memory that it fades out the unimportant or unwanted information. Regardless of having, everything we sense, stored in our memory, our brain decides what is important and what is not. Certainly, the important information stays as short-term or long-term memory in our brains and the unimportant information fades.

What if every sound you hear or everything you see stays in your memory? The light present in your environment, little sounds that you could hear, unwanted smells, size, shape, color, etc? Because we sense a tremendous amount of environmental information rapidly. Nevertheless, without being consciously processed, this unwanted information dissolves. 

Types of sensory memory

It is believed that each major sense (touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing) has its own memory, however only three of them are studied extensively. These three types are:

  • Iconic memory (visual)
  • Echoic memory (sound)
  • Haptic memory (touch)

Iconic Memory

Memory for visual stimuli is called Iconic memory. For example, light, icons, images, shape, etc are some examples of iconic memory. For instance, look at a picture for 1 sec and close your eyes. Now recall what you can remember from that picture. Everything you are able to recall is an iconic memory of that picture. 

Iconic memory lasts for a few milliseconds.

Echoic Memory

Memory for auditory stimuli is called Echoic memory. For example, all the noises present in your environment. Echoic memory stays in your mind for 3-4 seconds and then fades. 

Echoic memory lasts longer than iconic memory as it is heard only once. For example, you can read a newspaper over and over again but you can hear a radio only once at a given time.

Haptic Memory

Memory for the sensation of touch is called Haptic memory. For example, the feeling of itching, pain, pressure, etc. These feelings fade after being sensed for two seconds. 

Since haptic memory ha recently identified and is rarely studied and it’s characteristics are not well-known as much as iconic or echoic memory.  


Sensory memory itself doesn’t cause or have any disorder, however, people suffering from Schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease are unable to make new memories. This is because they have low levels of MMN (mismatch negativity).  

When to seek help?

When you or your loved one is unable to make new memories, you must share your problem and seek help from a mental health professional. There might be any disorder that is affecting your sensory memory. Seek medical help when:

  • Acquiring much time to do familiar activities 
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Persistently asking questions
  • Forgetting the names of your loved ones 
  • Forgetting how to pronounce or use common words
  • Unable to make new memories

However, there are many tests that check your sensory memory and MMN. If your tests show that you’re having low MMN or sensory memory issues, don’t worry, it can be treated. 

Before you Leave!

Importance of sensory memory can’t be denied or ignored. Although you don’t notice or remember your sensory memory, but this article would have helped you in learning how essential this memory is. Thus, before being processed in our short-term or long-term memory, the information is scanned in our sensory memory. It helps the brain to decide what is important and what is not. Once the sensory memory is discarded, the information is lost forever.