Echoic Memory: What It Is and How It Affects Us


| 5/21/2015 1:57:00 PM


Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes just the simple smell of bread baking in the oven or the sound of children laughing can trigger vivid memories of something that happened to you many years before, and with such detail that you’re amazed by your powers of recollection. Then you start looking for the keys that you put down somewhere just five minutes ago and they’ve vanished, leading to hours of fruitless searching before you realize you left them in the door. Equal parts endlessly amazing and frustrating.

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Sensory memory, that which is gleaned from our five senses, is the most short-term form of memory. The amount of time between the information being captured and processed and when it can be retrieved and used is only mere seconds to minutes. The areas of sensory memory that have been most keenly studied by researchers are iconic, or visual input, and echoic, or auditory input.

We all know that the eye is one of the most complex parts of our body, but as anyone who’s spoken to a specialist hearing organization such as Hidden Hearing will be aware, the workings of the ear are also extremely elaborate. Any damage to the ear and how it performs can have an effect on echoic memory.

So, what exactly is echoic memory and what does it even do? Essentially, it’s the way that the brain replicates a sound as its received—someone coughing nearby, a word said during conversation, a car backfiring—and retains it for a very short period, usually only 2-4 seconds. The easiest way to understand how it works is this: If you're talking to someone and you miss what they’ve just said and are about to ask them to repeat it, but suddenly you recall it. This happens because you're able to access your brain’s interpretation of it.



Basically, it gives you time to think! The brain takes these copies unbidden, and the most amazing part is that it sorts all of the sounds we pick up, during every moment of the day, and automatically filters them into what is of importance and should be retained in the short-term memory, and what can simply be discarded.



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