309 Implicit & Explicit Memories

Based on research done by Voss, Joel. L., & Paller, Ken. A. (2009), written by Bethany Wellman, M.S.

Much of what we know may be outside our awareness, in “implicit memory.” Our brain “sees or continually monitors and learns sensory information” without our awareness. Does storing these implicit memories occur in the same part of the brain as the purposefully recalled or explicit memories?

Northwestern neuropsychologists recruited participants to view a series of kaleidoscope images while monitoring their brains. For half of the images they asked participants to actively try to memorize the image. While participants focused on memorizing half the images, the researchers greatly distracted them from memorizing them. Later, participants viewed pairs of similar kaleidoscope images in a recognition test and answered a series of yes/no questions regarding the memory and confidence recalling the material.

The outcome? Participants were more accurate in selecting the correct image when they were in the distraction group versus when they purposely tried to remember. Additionally, participants made more accurate decisions when guessing than when memorizing. The evidence suggests that unconscious learning is going on in a different part of the brain than our conscious learning.

Our brains are complex. Our history is to survive effectively in varied environments. You may know more than you think you know!


Voss, J. L., & Paller, K. A. (2009, March). An Electrophysiological Signature of Unconscious Recognition Memory. Nature Neuroscience12(3), 349-355.

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