How Does Secondary Memory Affect Our Lives

Updated December 19, 2018

Reviewer Laura Angers


There are two types of memory that we work with: primary, and secondary. Primary memory is something that you're familiar with, but secondary memory is something that you may not know as much about. Well, you're in luck, for you'll learn about how secondary memory affects our lives, what it is, and how it plays into memory processing.

What Is Secondary Memory?

Secondary memory is essentially known as long-term memory. This is a memory that you have for a very long time. These can include information that you process, and you keep it there, forget it for a bit, and then retrieve it.

Usually, you have only about 5-9 items in your short-term memory, but secondary memory is long-term, and it's the final stage of memory that you have. In essence, this memory is retained as information.

Now, how much can you store in here? Well, the capacity is essentially unlimited, and the constraint is on the accessibility of the recall, rather than the information itself. The duration of this can have semantic and pictorial meaning usually, but it does sometimes have an acoustic memory as well.

It gets tested through a recall test, name recognition and the like. Most of the time, you remember secondary memory through verbal, rather than visual. Over time though, this does tend to break down, with after 50 or so years, this becomes only 30% accurate.

The Process of Memory Retrieval

This is a very in-depth process that begins the moment you perceive something. Let's say you're n a business meeting, and you see all of the information that's taken in, such as the people, any sights, and smells of note, and even hat was discussed. At this point, the information that's taken in is then kept in your sensory memory for a bit, and from there, we take anything that we have to know right away and give it to the primary memory. For example, let's say the biggest factor in that meeting was you need to send something to Billing and Sales. That goes to the primary memory.

Now, the entire memory itself is then manipulated and encoded into the secondary memory, since it does bring forth the emotional response, or maybe it relates to other memories. For example, maybe you wanted to remember this meeting because it's a meeting that was important, or maybe you met someone important. It then goes into the secondary memory, and then, the secondary memory puts the information there for an unlimited amount of time, to retrieve it. Maybe you needed to remember something else from that meeting, something discussed, well you can then recall it, and then there you go.


Now, let's say you need to remember that meeting in the future, such as it's brought up in conversation. Or maybe you get home, and your spouse asks for how the meeting went. You recall this, and then, in the retrieval process, memory is transferred from secondary, to primary memory to recall information. You've already handled the billion for example, but then, you tell your partner that it went well, you met with the president, and you talked sales, yadda yadda.

However, let's say that you're then asked about six months down the road about this memory. You start to recall it, and then, you totally can'. This is because the process is compromised, and the person makes experience false memories, or they may even not remember it period. Sometimes this gets mixed too, and then they doubt it, and then, the individual may not be able to experience the recall.

This happens even more so for those with bad long-term memory, or if it's an older memory. Lots of us are always asked to recall the first memory that we remember. As we get older, that memory starts to become greater and greater regarding bodily age, and we may not remember it right away. For example, some can remember various items when they are a year or two, whereas others may not remember unless it was something that happened when they were six. They may also not remember it correctly too, and just go off of words that their parents or other peers may have espoused to them, such as old memories of them as a kid.

Can This Be Unreliable?

Secondary memory has limitless storage, but the problem is, it actually can be unreliable sometimes. That's because with secondary memory, over time as a person gets older, the ideals and beliefs change, and sometimes later on when you look for the memory, it creates a distortion, and lots of times, the way questions are asked can have different answers.

For the memory to be accessible, the person needs to look at the information too, and if it's not properly reviewed, it causes the memory to be incomplete, and unreliable, and that's how the "tip of the tongue" reaction takes place in a person.

Types Of Secondary Memory

now to take this to an even more in-depth level, there are different types of memory storage, and it's important to understand each one.

The first one that we'll discuss is a semantic memory, which is a long-term memory that stores information about your life, whether it be what a word means, or even general trivia, such as what the nation's capital is and where it's located, and what the word "cat" means.

Procedural memory is a long-term memory on how to do stuff, such as how to drive a car, and can sometimes be unconscious, and not very declarative, such as on how to rid e a bike, or even how to run.

Finally, you have episodic memory, which is the events that are stored and experienced. You May remember events from the past that are good, and not so good, such as maybe you remember that time you ripped your pants in second grade, or maybe you remember graduating high school, which could've been thirty years ago.


Most of the time, we have knowledge that's either declarative or procedural. Procedural involves procedures, such as how to tie your shoes or ride a bike, or even brush your teeth, which requires little thought. Declarative knowledge is knowing about different information, and this one does involve more conscious efforts.

Both semantic and episodic memories are more declarative than anything, and we may have the semantic memory that knows that the capital of Italy is Rome, but then you may remember the one time you studied about Rome in college classes.

How This Helps Us, And How To Improve

Long-term memory is important. Without it, we suffer from amnesia, and may not even be able to remember important elements. For example, degenerative mental afflictions do involve a compromising of memory, and often, the problem is people can't remember what happened, and if this gets too bad off, it can cause the person not to remember key elements or situations.

Memory is important. Short-term is good for the here and now, if you need to remember a current event, but long-term is important for remembering basic actions, including how to go about daily activities. Think about it, how well off would you be if you didn't know how to tie your shoes? It's an important part of our lives.

But, memory does need to be polished, and there are a few ways that you can put memories into the long-term, and recall them over time:

  • Relating facts to experience: putting different semantic memories with episodic ones actually can help with learning and recall
  • Putting information into subsets can also help since it puts various items into categories, which can help a person understand and recall better
  • Recall with understanding: if you do have an understanding of what you're reading or trying to remember, then you'll be better at remembering it. that's why, when you're studying in school or anything, understanding how it works will keep the memories there
  • Remembering prior knowledge: if you can have current information activate the prior knowledge, it'll allow you to remember various elements and situations that have happened in the past
  • Lifestyle changes, including meditation to help focus your mind and improve your long-term memories, having some coffee each day to get the body going, and even eating berries before working on memory tasks can help you with remembering items better
  • Try to recall these memories a lot. By using rehearsal, you can help bring it forward from the long-term memory banks, and into the actual recall that you want to better


Get Help!

You can also get help from others to help improve your secondary memory. If you want to become better at remembering items, you should consider talking to a counselor to get more information on how to better this skill. Secondary memory is important, and being able to better your memory and recall will help you live a better and more fulfilling life.

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