Implicit Memory and Explicit Memory

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Implicit memory also referred to as unconscious memory refers to the unintentional retrieval of information that got obtained during a certain learning episode on tests that do not need conscious recollection of the previous learning episode (Garrett, 1975). Explicit memory, on the other hand, is the memory performance in which it can retrieve a previous learning episode consciously. Implicit memory requires very little effort to recall, whereas explicit memory requires significant and more concentrated effort to bring memories to the surface. Systematic investigation of implicit memory is a representation of the relatively new research direction in cognitive psychology as well as neuropsychology. A significant difference between explicit memory and implicit memory in the form of recognition memory is that recognition memory is much worse after a week than after an hour, whereas fragment-completion performance does not change significantly over time. The analysis of brain-damaged patients suffering from amnesia can show the useful distinction between explicit and implicit memory as these kinds of patients have severe problems relating to long-term memory. The problems, in this case, are major with explicit memory instead of implicit memory. Among both explicit and implicit memory it is easy to determine whether participants are or are not making use of conscious recollection which a critical defining feature of explicit memory.

Another difference is that implicit memory relies on the procedural knowledge system whereas the explicit memory relies wholly on the declarative knowledge system. Declarative knowledge corresponds to knowing that while procedural knowledge corresponds to knowing how and can undertake skilled actions such as bicycle riding without the involvement of conscious recollection. The difference implies that the retrieval from declarative knowledge system involves explicit memory, while the retrieval from the procedural knowledge system involves implicit memory and amnesia patients normally perform or very nearly so.

Another distinction between implicit memory and explicit memory is that implicit memory does not decline with age, whereas explicit memory declines with age. In infants and children, implicit knowledge remains relatively constant whereas explicit knowledge increases with age (Moskowitz, 2013). In older individuals, most of the memory that gets used is the implicit memory that is why older individuals in the society feel more comfortable and capable when they are in a familiar location. Also, implicit memory is highly robust in the face of physiological insult such as amnesia when compared to explicit memory. Implicit memory can function more effectively in places where explicit memory does not function well. Schacter, Alpert, Savage, Rauch & Albert (1996) undertook a study to determine the different parts where explicit and implicit memory occur using positron emission tomography (PET) scans. The study found out that when participants performed an explicit memory task, there was significant activation of the hippocampus whereas when an implicit memory task took place, there was reduced blood circulation in the bilateral occipital cortex although the task had no influence on hippocampal activation.

Examples of implicit memory

A typical example of implicit memory is the word fragment completion task in which prior exposure to a word such as Assassin facilitates its production as the solution to a word puzzle such as _s_s_n even though the appearance of that word in the original earning may have got forgotten. When learners learn a list of rare words (such as toboggan), then subjected to a test one or a week later in which they fill blanks in word fragments to make words (such as _O_O_GA_). The solutions of half the fragments would be the words from the list even if the participants did not get informed. The participants would complete more of the fragments when the solutions matched list words yet they did not get informed, hence proving to implicit memory (Eysenck, 2000).

Another example of implicit memory is the experience that arises from the experience of typing. If an individual acquires the typing skill, it implies that they know the particular letters on the keyboard. However, many of the typists cannot correctly label blank keys in a drawing representing a keyboard.  The implicit memories get placed outside the boundaries of awareness, implying that they are not aware of the memory of a give experience exists.

Examples of Explicit Memory

An example of explicit memory is when a person recalls their last vacation that explicitly refer to a particular period (say last summer) and the specific events or series of events that took place. The recalling of the incidents is something they are aware of and may even be something that is deliberate.

Another example of an explicit memory is recalling an individual’s phone number. The task requires that the person recalling be conscious of the memory or experience in which the memorized the phone number. The type of memory involved in this entails consciously remembering and explaining the required information hence declarative memory.


Implicit memory is significant in older adults in the society since it assists them accomplish or work in areas and business in which they worked before. In these instances, they do not need to be conscious while remembering the functions or operations they undertook. On the other hand, implicit knowledge in children and infants remains constant.


Eysenck, M. W. (2000): Psychology: A student’s handbook. Taylor & Francis.

Garrett, M. F. (1975): The psychology of learning and motivation. Psychology of learning and motivation, 9.

Moskowitz, G. B. (Ed.). (2013): Cognitive, social psychology: The Princeton symposium on the legacy and future of social cognition. Psychology Press.

Schacter, D. L., Alpert, N. M., Savage, C. R., Rauch, S. L., & Albert, M. S. (1996): Conscious recollection and the human hippocampal formation: evidence from positron emission tomography. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 93(1), 321-325.

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