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July 24, 2009 at 6:20 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

What Is Habit Memory?

By Smarty More Blogs by This Author

What Is Habit Memory?

Habit memory is the type of memory formed when information is stored unconsciously. It is achieved through repetition and trial-and-error learning. Associations between certain stimuli and responses are formed very slowly over the course of several repetitions. Habit memory is very organized and rigid. Generally, very similar circumstances have to be recreated in order for a person to be able to access information stored in habit memory. Unlike other types of memory, habit memory happens automatically without deliberate effort. This is because habit memory involves very specific areas of the brain, namely, the striatum and the basal ganglia. These structures are not the ones used by other memory systems.

How Does Declarative Memory Differ from Habit Memory?

Declarative memory, unlike habit memory, is a very deliberate process. Learning and memorizing are active processes, and require an act of volition. Information stored in declarative memory can easily be recalled at any time, making it considerably more useful than habit memory. Declarative memory depends on a structure in the brain called the hippocampus. If the hippocampus is damaged, an individual is unable to recall factual information or recent events.

What Is the Role of Habit Memory in Learning?

Habit memory has a defined role in learning. Many animals rely almost entirely on habit memory. In humans, the flexibility and usefulness of declarative memory often eclipse habit memory. However, habit memory is, in many ways, the default memory mode. People with cognitive impairments will often have an intact habit memory, even though their declarative memory may be mostly or entirely missing. For this reason, habit memory may be a powerful tool for helping people in this situation. Habit memory may provide an avenue to assist those with traditional memory impairments. Learning things by habit could allow people with mild cognitive impairments to maintain their independence for a little longer. Patients typically also have problems with declarative memory, and relying more on habit memory may help carry them through the worst of their illness. Not surprisingly, quite a bit of research is being done on the role of habit memory and how to make use of it in these disorders.

Multitasking and Habit Memory

Habit memory may be a great tool for those with impaired declarative memories, but it could also get in the way of learning for unimpaired individuals. While declarative memory is a much more powerful form of memory, it also requires far more focus and concentration than habit memory. This means that when attention is lacking or is split into different areas, habit memory takes over. This is especially relevant when discussing multitasking. Today's world is a hectic, fast-paced place, where people rarely have time to give all their attention to any one thing at any particular time. Rather, people are doing two or even three things at once, a practice known as multitasking. Research indicates though, that while this practice may be a way to save some time, it's terrible for learning. Multitasking, by splitting attention in several different directions, automatically activates habit memory. Habit memory takes longer to encode than declarative memory, so the memory trace won't be as powerful. Furthermore, since habit memory is much more route and rigid than declarative memory, this can make the learned information very difficult to access out of context. So think a moment before you switch on the TV or stereo while sitting down to study. You won't learn as much, and it'll likely take you longer. Instead, finish your studying, and then reward yourself with some time in front of the set or listening to your favorite tunes. You'll get more out of the experience, and probably enjoy yourself more too.

Sources: http://www.boston.com/news/science/articles/2006/07/25/study_distractions_impede_learning/

http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1457096

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