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What Is the Difference Between Declarative and Nondeclarative Memory?

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  • Last Modified Date: 17 July 2014
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Declarative and nondeclarative memory differ in that declarative memory refers to the recollection of facts and events while nondeclarative memory, also called procedural memory, refers to the ability to perform learned skills or activities. Declarative memory can be expressed or "declared" in terms of information while nondeclarative memory cannot. Declarative and nondeclarative memory are both very important parts of one's long-term memory, as one tends to need to make use of a variety of different facts and skills during any given day. A deficiency or disorder in either form of memory can severely inhibit one's ability to perform one's job or to function normally in day-to-day life.

There are two primary types of declarative memory, referred to as "episodic memory" and "semantic memory." Episodic memory is concerned with the events in one's life and is, accordingly, closely linked to time. One's episodic memory tends to include at least a rough timeline of the events in one's personal history. Semantic memory, on the other hand, refers to the recollection of particular facts and pieces of information and does not tend to involve any particular timeline. A fact tends not to be affected by when it is learned, and most people forget where they learned most of the things that they know about the world.

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In contrast to declarative memory, nondeclarative memory is based in the recollection of how to conduct certain actions. While both declarative and nondeclarative memory do involve a form of recollection, the "memories" associated with the procedures contained in nondeclarative memory cannot be expressed in words. Nondeclarative memory involves training oneself in a particular action until it is completely or nearly automatic. In general, one needs to put little or no thought into conducting an action completely committed to procedural memory. Actions such as walking, riding a bike, or typing on a keyboard, which seem completely automatic to many people, are based in one's nondeclarative memory.

Another of the major differences between declarative and nondeclarative memory lies in the ability to refine and improve skills over time. Procedural memory does not stop with learning how to do a particular action. Practice over time can make one more skilled and more effective at conducting that action. Facts and information, on the other hand, cannot be improved through regular use. One can add more information or correct faulty information, but there is no way to make the facts and information in one's declarative memory somehow "better" or more effective.

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umbra21
Post 3

This is one of the things that makes anterograde amnesia so strange. That's the kind of amnesia that they showed on the film "50 First Dates" where the person can remember their life up to a certain point in time and cannot make new memories after that. Their declarative memory isn't capable of forming any new memories.

The person can, however, still learn with their nondeclarative memory. So, in theory, a person with this kind of amnesia could wake up one morning, knowing how to play the flute, but have no idea how they learned how to play it, because they can't remember ever learning.

browncoat
Post 2

@Mor - It's a shame there isn't really a trick to get the nondeclarative memory to work better. Mostly you just have to repeat an action over and over until your body remembers it.

We've been learning about this in my education classes actually. The best information we have at the moment about how people learn is that they need to encounter the concept three times, in different ways (for example, read it, discuss it, see it on TV) and they need to get the complete information for understand each of those times. Finally, the three times should come no more than two days apart.

No matter how "bad" the student was, if they had those conditions, the concept they were learning would move into their long term memory. Unfortunately, most teachers tend to either give incomplete information, or they just repeat things the same way without changing them.

Mor
Post 1

There's actually a trick you can use to make your declarative memory better. Almost every time you see a memory trick on TV or whatever, this is the trick they are using.

Basically, you take a place that you're very familiar with, like the main street of your town and you associate whatever you have to memorize with that street. So, if you're memorizing the names of the planets, you link each planet with a storefront. If you can visually place it there, it's even better, so you actually see Neptune wearing a hat in the hat store and Jupiter eating pie at the cafe.

Even people who think they have no memory for facts will remember things if they do this and you can use the same street for a lot of different kinds of facts. It's because the area that remembers where things are is quite keen and developed, so it will grab onto the facts quicker than other parts of the brain.

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