7.3 Implicit versus Explicit Memory: Definitions & Differences

Jan 14, 2020 | Cognitive Psychology, Courses, ch7 Memory Models & Disorders

In this lesson, we will explore what implicit and explicit memories are, as well as each of their sub-components. Furthermore, we will discuss how age influences each of these sub-components.


I want you to try and remember two things. First, I want you to try and remember learning how to ride a bike. Maybe you have a scar you received when you flipped over the handlebars. The next thing I want you to remember is how to ride a bike.

The reason I asked you to recall both of these memories is that they belong to two different designated realms of memory. Memory is a fluid and dynamic system that is exceedingly complicated. To this end, psychologists have attempted to divide memory up to make it easier to study.

There are two main categories. Explicit memory is a memory that can be intentionally and consciously recalled. This is your memory of riding a bike, of falling over the handlebars and skinning your knee. The other is implicit memory, which is an experiential or functional form of memory that cannot be consciously recalled. This is your memory of how to ride a bike or how to balance. These are often not tied to a visual memory but are more like muscle memory.

Let’s look at explicit and implicit memory in a little more detail and see how age influences these.

Explicit Memory

Again, an explicit memory is a memory that can be intentionally and consciously recalled. It has been typically divided up into two main categories itself:

  • Episodic memory: Personal events that can be recalled
  • Semantic memory: Facts and figures which can be recalled

Episodic memories are like episodes of a TV series that is all about you. You can recall the episode of the first time you asked someone out, the first broken bone you had and what you ate for breakfast. As we age, these memories become more difficult to create and maintain. This means elderly people are less likely to form new episodic memories as they age but will likely keep the ones from their youth. That’s why your great-grandfather is always prattling on about his time on the farm as a youth – it’s all he remembers.

Semantic memories are the facts and figures that you can recall. When did Columbus sail the ocean blue? When is your birthday? These are recallable facts even if you can’t remember when or how you learned them. Semantic memories are the most stable type of memory. While we might forget something occasionally and feel like we’re losing our minds, these memories tend to stick around (they may just get a little harder to bring back up).

Implicit Memory

Implicit memory is an experiential or functional form of memory that cannot be consciously recalled. Unlike explicit memories that can be recalled, implicit memories are more under the radar. They have been linked to subconscious or unconscious mechanisms. There are three types of implicit memories:

  • Priming: Prior exposure influences later testing
  • Procedural: Repetition-induced motor memories
  • Conditioning: The linking of unrelated stimuli and responses

Priming is where something occurs that makes a person more sensitive or more likely to do something a certain way. If I walked you through a bakery where they were making fresh chocolate cake and gave you $10 to spend, you would probably buy some chocolate. Or if I had you study a list of words, and then had you write a story about anything, the words you had studied would filter into what you had wrote. With priming, there appears to be slight decreases as we age.

Procedural memories are your muscle memories. These are the things you know how to do just based on the number of times you’ve done them. Think about driving a car. You don’t have to think about the angle of the pedal or braking; you just do it. It is especially true if you drive stick shift, with all the various things you have to do automatically. So far, no study has conclusively indicated changes in procedural memory due to age.

Everyone in psychology knows about Pavlov’s dogs. You ring a bell, you give them food. You ring the bell, they start to salivate. You have it too in your own house if you own dogs. Say ‘Walk,’ and what does your dog do? Conditioning is taking something that should not have a reaction, like a bell ring or the word ‘walk,’ and having it linked to something else. There appears to be some age-related decline when conditioning. I guess the connections aren’t as easy to make when your brain is older.

Lesson Summary

Explicit memory is memory that can be intentionally and consciously recalled. It consists of episodic memory, which is personal events that can be recalled, and semantic memory, which are facts and figures that can be recalled.

Implicit memory is an experiential or functional form of memory that cannot be consciously recalled. It consists of priming, which is when prior exposure influences later testing; procedural, which is repetition-induced motor memories; and conditioning, which is defined as the linking of unrelated stimuli and responses.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completing this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Differentiate between explicit and implicit memory
  • Summarize the changes that occur in memory as we age
  • Describe each of the subtypes of both explicit and implicit memory
7.4 The Brain's Role in Implicit & Explicit Memory
7.2 Basic Memory Tasks: Recognition, Recall & Relearning