Implicit Memory vs. Explicit Memory

Implicit memory and explicit memory are both types of long-term memory. Information that you remember unconsciously and effortlessly is known as implicit memory, while information that you have to consciously work to remember is known as explicit memory. Doing something like remembering how to ride a bike or read a book relies on implicit memory, while consciously recalling items on your to-do list involves the use of explicit memory.

Explicit and implicit memory play important roles in shaping your ability to recall information and interact in your environment. Knowing some of the major differences between the two is important for understanding how memory works. People often focus more on the topic of explicit memory, but researchers are becoming increasingly interested in how implicit memory works and how it influences knowledge and behavior.

This article discusses what implicit and explicit memory are and how they work. It also covers the differences between the two types of memory and the various factors that can affect your implicit and explicit memory.

explicit and implicit memory
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What is Implicit Memory?

Information that people don't purposely try to remember is stored in implicit memory, which is also sometimes referred to as unconscious memory or automatic memory. This kind of memory is both unconscious and unintentional.

Implicit memory is also sometimes referred to as nondeclarative memory since you are not able to consciously bring it into awareness.

Where explicit memories are conscious and can be verbally explained, implicit memories are usually non-conscious and not verbally articulated. Implicit memories are often procedural and focused on the step-by-step processes that must be performed in order to complete a task. 

Procedural memories, such as how to perform a specific task like swinging a baseball bat or making toast, are one type of implicit memory since you don't have to consciously recall how to perform these tasks. While implicit memories are not consciously recalled, they still influence how you behave as well as your knowledge of different tasks.

Examples of Implicit Memory

Some examples of implicit memory include singing a familiar song, typing on your computer keyboard, and brushing your teeth. Riding a bike is another example. Even after going years without riding one, most people are able to hop on a bike and ride it effortlessly.

Other examples of implicit memory may include:

  • Knowing how to use utensils and dress yourself each day
  • Navigating a familiar area such as your house or neighborhood
  • Recalling how to boil water to fix dinner, or drive a car
  • Remembering the words to a popular song after hearing the first few notes

As you can see, these are skills that you learn and then don't have to relearn again in order to perform them. These memories are largely unconscious and occur automatically; you don't need to think about all of the exact steps you need to follow in order to complete each task.

Recap

Implicit memories are unconscious and automatic. This includes memories of how to perform tasks that you do every day. Rather than consciously recalling how to ride a bike, you are able to perform the task without really thinking about it.

What is Explicit Memory?

When you're trying to intentionally remember something (like a formula for your statistics class or a list of dates for your history class), this information is stored in your explicit memory. People use these memories every day, from remembering information for a test to recalling the date and time of a doctor's appointment.

Explicit memory is also known as declarative memory since you can consciously recall and explain the information.

Types of Explicit Memory

  • Episodic memory: These are your long-term memories of specific events, such as what you did yesterday or your high school graduation.
  • Semantic memory: These are memories of facts, concepts, names, and other general knowledge.

Examples of Explicit Memory

Some tasks that require the use of explicit memory include remembering what you learned in your psychology class, recalling your phone number, identifying who the current president is, writing a research paper, and remembering what time you're meeting a friend to go to a movie.

Other examples of things that are remembered through explicit memory include:

  • All of the items on your shopping list
  • Birth dates of friends and family members
  • Important events from your life such as your school graduation, wedding, or another notable milestone
  • Names and locations of different countries on a map

Many examples of explicit memory involve textbook learning or experiential memories. These are things that you consciously need to bring into awareness.

Recap

Explicit memories are those that are consciously recalled. This includes memories of events from your life as well as the memory of facts and other learned information.

Differences Between Explicit and Implicit Memory

In order to understand some of the key differences between these two types of memory, it can be helpful to compare the two:

Explicit Memory
  • Encoded to memory and later retrieved

  • Often formed deliberately through rehearsal

  • Often encoded unconsciously and tied to emotions

  • May be drawn into awareness through associations

Implicit Memory
  • Becomes automatic over time with repetition

  • Begins with learning skills and mastering a task

  • Can result in priming, or responding the same way to similar stimuli

  • Often dependent upon context and cues

Here's a quick demonstration that you can try to show how implicit and explicit memory work. Type the following sentence without looking down at your hands: "Every red pepper is tantalizing." Now, without looking, try naming the ten letters that appear in the top row of your keyboard.

You probably found it quite easy to type the above sentence without having to consciously think about where each letter appears on the keyboard. That task requires implicit memory. Having to recall which letters appear in the top row of your keyboard, however, is something that would require explicit memory.

Since you have probably never sat down and intentionally committed the order of those keys to memory, it's not something that you are able to easily recall.

Influences on Explicit and Implicit Memory

Research suggests that there are a number of factors that can influence the formation of both explicit and implicit memory, including stress levels and emotional states.

One older study found that high-stress levels had an effect on working memory, a part of short-term memory that acts as a temporary holding space for information people are focusing on at the moment. This part of memory is important in the formation of explicit memories.

The research also suggested that stress may actually facilitate the formation of implicit memories for negative emotional information. A more recent study, however, found that normal everyday variations in stress levels don't appear to have a detrimental impact on working memory.

Research has also suggested that mood can also play an important role in the formation and recall of explicit and implicit memories. In one study, people who were experiencing depressed mood were more likely to show implicit recall of negative information. Those who were not depressed, however, were more likely to implicitly recall positive information. 

Age can also have an impact on explicit memory. While explicit memory tends to decline with age, implicit memories tend to be preserved.

Recap

Implicit memory and explicit memory both play an important part in your memory. While explicit memory involves the conscious recall of information, implicit memory occurs automatically outside of awareness. Both types are important for learning and functioning normally in your daily life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is classical conditioning considered a form of implicit memory?

    Classical conditioning involves using implicit, automatic memories to create an association with a previously neutral stimulus. Once this association is formed, people will engage in a conditioned response when the stimulus is presented. This occurs automatically and without conscious awareness of that association.

  • Where is implicit memory stored in the brain?

    Implicit memory involves two key areas of the brain: the cerebellum and the basal ganglia. The cerebellum sends and receives information from the spinal cord and is essential for the formation of procedural memories. The basal ganglia are important for the coordination of motor activities. Explicit memory relies on the hippocampus, the neo-cortex, and the amygdala.

  • Why is implicit memory difficult to study?

    Implicit memory is difficult to study because it occurs unconsciously. It is challenging for researchers to investigate this type of automatic knowledge that occurs outside of conscious awareness.

  • When do you use explicit memory?

    You use explicit memory when you are consciously recalling information. Examples include recalling your memories of events from your life, remembering information you have learned when taking a test, and recollecting upcoming appointments.

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6 Sources
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