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Sensory Memory

Sensory memory is the first stage after information gets to a sense organ. It is large, accurate, but very brief, lasting about a second. It is a temporary storage buffer between sensory input and the next stage, short term memory.

Each sense has its own sensory memory. Each sensory memory briefly holds the information coming in through its sense organ (e.g., eye, ear, etc.). Visual sensory memory, or iconic memory, lasts about 1/2 to 1 second; auditory sensory memory, or echoic memory, lasts up to 2-3 seconds.

You can get a sense of iconic memory by closing your eyes quickly, while looking at a brightly lit scene. Most people notice that the image of what they were looking at doesn't disappear immediately. You can get a sense of echoic memory from the times that someone speaks to you while you are concentrating on something else. You respond, "Huh?", because you weren't listening. Then right away you can almost hear the last few words the person said. (See exercise E10_27c for more information.)