The 3 Types of Sensory Memory

Sensory memory allows us to add a sense to our experiences. This way, they become more significant and memorable. Discover the types and how we use them every day here!
The 3 Types of Sensory Memory

Last update: 21 October, 2021

Memory uses a group of cerebral processes that are dedicated to interpreting, storing, and recovering information. For that reason, it’s essential for our memories and learning process. It also is fundamental for the development of our intelligence. However, it doesn’t always work in the same way or part with the same information. This is why we have three types of sensory memory.

This will be what causes us to specifically remember in the tips of our fingers the pain from that time hot water fell on us. Sensory memory ties processes of perception with that of cognition.

Types of sensory memory

We have three types of sensory memory: iconic, haptic, and echoic.

Let’s take a look at each one of them to explain them better. You won’t want to miss it!

1. Iconic sensory memory

This is also known as visual memory. Through this type, we’re able to remember many objects and details of a scene or situation in a few seconds.

It’s very useful because later we have processes that allow us to analyze and interpret what happened. For those details to stay locked in our memory for the long term, it depends on how much significance we give them.

As an example, although it may seem obvious, think of the many different types of memory training games. In fact, there’s the one where you have cards with patterns or pictures on them in sets of two. They start face down, and then you turn them over and try to guess where the other one is to form a pair.

Here, we’re employing nothing more than our iconic memory!

man with head in his hands and artist representation of his mind going
For iconic memory to become long-term, it must be associated with emotions. Otherwise, many aspects are forgotten.

You may also be interested in: Memory Loss and Forgetfulness: Are They Normal?

2. Haptic sensory memory

This is also known as tactile memory. As its name suggests, it’s the kind that touch activates through those stimuli that reach the skin.

Although it’s also what we experience through the muscles, joints, and tendons. By that, we mean that we use both proprioception and interception in tactile sensory memory.

This type of memory manages to work with around four or five items simultaneously, with which we can interact at the same time as touching, moving, lifting, and sliding, among others. It allows us to examine objects through touching and interacting with them.

3. Echoic sensory memory

This is also known as auditory memory. This is the type that’s in charge of mediating between the auditory stimulus and the memory.

Although it’s the type of sensory memory that lasts for the shortest amount of time, when it comes to visual memory (which can retain five to seven fragments of information up to four seconds), we can also create auditory sensory images that we can store for longer.

Of course, how long this auditory stimulus remains in our mind also depends on its intensity and the impact that it has on us.

The functions and benefits of stimulating this kind of memory

According to the modal model Bruning details, memory is a group of retention systems. When it comes to the sensory kind, it’s in charge of retaining stimulus in the sensory registries before we lose the information. By that, we mean we store it temporarily.

Perception works by paying attention to the stimuli received. Later, it follows a pattern recognition process, through which we associate new information with an existing pattern. Lastly, we give significance to the stimulus. This is what determines whether we store the information temporarily or on a longer basis.

Then, the importance of sensory memory and the different kinds of it are what add sense to the experience. In fact, it makes the experience more complete by allowing us to perceive different stimuli. This makes it more significant for us. The stimulus may disappear, but the memory will remain and we can remember how good or bad it felt.

Additionally, sensory memory has a fundamental impact when it comes to learning, because this process usually involves other cognitive processes. It also involves the senses and our processes of perceptions.

Another way we can understand the importance of sensory memory is by thinking of its importance with short-term and long-term memory. In general, the stimuli only last for a brief moment. So, before we’ve even had enough time to understand what they mean, we’ve already forgotten them!

That’s where sensory registers come in.

woman piecing together a jigsaw puzzle
Games and exercises that stimulate the memory help to improve our retention capacity. For sensory memory, playing the game where you group pairs together is a good idea.

Enjoy the senses

Now you know that sensory memory works so that we can heave a more complete memory of experiences. On one hand, it makes us more conscious of our lived experiences and helps us to enjoy all our senses, in a way that we can store an enriched record of the moment.

On the other hand, we can apply it in other ways, too. For example, we can use it in teaching and learning processes.

At the crossroads of the different types of information, we can find significant learning. This is important when it comes to choosing well which resources to use, because we can only handle a limited amount of stimuli at once.

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  • Ballesteros, Soledad (1999). Memoria humana: investigación y teoría. Psicothema, 11(4),705-723. ISSN: 0214-9915. Disponible en: https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=72711401
  • Bruning, R. H., Schraw, G. J., y Ronning, R. (2002). Psicología Cognitiva e Instrucción. Madrid: Alianzal.
  • Ruiz-Vargas, J.M. (2010). Manual de Psicología de la memoria. Madrid: Síntesis.