What Part of the Human Brain Is Responsible for Memory?

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Memory involves the process of encoding, storing and then retrieving information. Different areas of the brain are involved in the memory process, depending on the type of memory and type of information it contains.

Sensory Decoding, Encoding and Storage

  • Information that constitutes memories is gathered from sensory input and then interpreted, or“decoded," prepared for memory, or "encoded" and eventually stored. Information is processed by, and stored in specific areas of the cerebral cortex that are dedicated to each of the five senses. Hence, there are specific areas of the cortex dedicated to processing and storing visual, auditory, olfactory (sense of smell), taste and tactile/motor information.

Short-term Memory

  • Short-term memory involves the storage and retrieval of information that will be needed within the next several seconds to several minutes. This information is stored on a temporary basis. The pre-frontal cortex is involved in the processing and temporary storage of information.

Long-term Memory

  • Information in short-term memory is transferred to long-term memory through the hippocampus. The hippocampus orchestrates the processes that are involved in constructing, integrating and storing most kinds of information into long-term memory.

Declarative Memory

  • Declarative memory is the memory of facts and events. The hippocampus, cortical structures around it and neural pathways connecting these structures to the cortex are all involved in declarative memory.

Semantic Memory

  • The hippocampus is not involved in semantic memory, which involves retrieval of facts and events that have been in long-term memory for an extended time. Rather, the temporal lobe of the cortex accesses the memory and the frontal cortex brings this memory into consciousness.

Emotional Memory and Procedural Memory

  • The hippocampus, amygdala and other areas in the limbic system are involved in encoding, storage and retrieval of information that includes intense emotional and personal memories. Procedural memory--the encoding and retrieval of sequential motor behaviors--does not involve the hippocampus. Rather, the cerebellum, basal ganglia and motor cortex are involved in procedural memory.


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