People have different methods of remembrance. One such way is called iconic memory, which focuses on the memory of visual stimuli.
Iconic refers to an icon, meaning a pictorial representation or image. In other words, iconic memory is how your brain recalls images it has seen in reality.
Iconic memory refers to the mental image you “see” when you close your eyes and think of an object in a room, for example.
It is part of the visual memory system, which also encompasses long-term memory and visual short-term memory.
This article discusses iconic memory in detail: what it is, how it works, how it was discovered, as well as important factors that affect its persistence.
What is iconic memory?
Iconic memory is the visual short-term memory of an image. When you look at something and then close your eyes, you can still see it in your mind’s eye for a brief period of time. This is called an afterimage.
The image fades quickly, usually within a few tenths of a second. But if you try to remember it, you can hold on to the image for a little longer. This is iconic memory.
Iconic memory is thought to be stored in the sensory buffer, which is part of the sensory processing system.
The sensory buffer is a temporary storage system that holds information from the senses before it is processed by working memory.
Iconic memory is believed to be located in the posterior parietal cortex, which is responsible for processing visual information. This region of the brain integrates information from different senses, such as sight and touch, to form a single image.
Iconic memory has been studied extensively by cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists.
Researchers have used a variety of methods to study this type of memory, including behavioral experiments, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
Read also: Implicit Memory vs. Explicit Memory
When was the iconic memory described?
Iconic memory was first described in 1968 by cognitive psychologist Ulric Neisser. He found that people could remember about four items from a list of random words if they were shown the list for just a fraction of a second (250 milliseconds).
This led him to conclude that there must be a brief period of time after an item is perceived during which it is stored in sensory memory before it is transferred to short-term or long-term memory.
Iconic memory is believed to be encoded primarily acoustically, though it may also be influenced by other sensory information such as visual or tactile cues.
Research on iconic memory has shown that it is limited in duration and capacity and that it can be disrupted by masking stimuli or changes in the environment.
However, iconic memory appears to be highly resistant to interference from other memories, which suggests that it may play a special role in perceptual processing.
Read also: What is Semantic Memory
How does iconic memory work?
The process of iconic memory is not fully understood. It is thought to involve both bottom-up and top-down processing.
Bottom-up processing happens when the sensory organs send information to the brain about what is happening in the environment.
The brain then uses this information to create a representation of the world. This happens automatically, without us having to think about it.
For example, when we see an object, our eyes send information to the brain about its size, shape, and color. The brain then uses this information to create a mental image of the object.
Bottom-up processing is important because it allows us to make sense of the world around us. Without it, we would be unable to understand what we see, hear, and feel.
Bottom-up processing is also known as data-driven processing because it is driven by the data that we receive from the environment.
Top-down processing happens when we use our prior knowledge to interpret the information that we receive from the environment.
For example, if you see a picture of a dog, you may already know that dogs are typically furry and have four legs. This prior knowledge will help you to understand what you are seeing.
Top-down processing is important because it allows us to make sense of the world around us. without it, we would be unable to understand what we see, hear, and feel.
Top-down processing is also known as conceptually driven processing because it is driven by our concepts or ideas.
Read also: What Is Procedural Memory
Iconic memory is a type of sensory memory that allows us to temporarily store visual information. It is often compared to taking a snapshot of what we see.
Iconic memory is very brief, lasting only a fraction of a second, but it can be very useful in certain situations.
For example, if we need to read a sign or phone number that we only glimpse for a moment, our iconic memory can help us remember it long enough to write it down.
Similarly, if we are looking for something that we’ve misplaced, our iconic memory can help us retrace our steps by recalling the last place we saw it.
While iconic memory is not as reliable as other forms of memory, it can be a helpful tool in everyday life.