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Procedural Memory

Procedural memory or non declarative memoryis a part of long term memory that is not available to consciousness. (An older term for a very similar idea was implicit memory.) It is involved in learning skills, in simple conditioning (learning associations), and in priming (better responding to target material based on previous exposure to related material).

Because procedural memory is not available to consciousness, you cannot use tasks that use conscious recall to test it. Tasks you can use include skill learning, simple conditioning, and priming.

Priming refers to improvement in responding to a target stimulus when it has been preceded by some closely related stimulus. There are many forms of priming. One is called semantic priming: Observers are asked to report as fast as possible whether a string of letters flashed on a screen form a word or not. The observers respond faster to a word if they saw a word closely related in meaning ( semantics) just before they see the test word.

Tests of procedural memory often use a different kind of priming. Observers see parts of words or drawings and guess what word or object the parts come from. For example, the observer may see RA--I-, PL--B--, S-F-T-, etc., and must come up with RAISIN, PLUMBER, SAFETY, etc.

Patients suffering from anterograde amnesia show the normal improvement in guessing words from a few of their letters if they had recently seen the words in a list. Clearly the information from the list is available in these patients' procedural memories. But the information is not available to explicit (conscious) memory. If you ask these patients to recall consciously words from that same list, they can recall about half the number of words that normal people can recall.

For more information, see exercise asgn3l <(asgn3l) asgn3v,4a>