What Is Sensory Memory in Cognitive Psychology?


Diego Sanchez

Sensory memory is an essential component of cognitive psychology that plays a critical role in how we perceive and process information. It is the ability of our brain to retain sensory information for a short period, usually just a few seconds, after it has been received by our senses. Sensory memory is the first stage in the process of memory formation and provides us with an initial impression of the world around us.

The Three Types Of Sensory Memory:

There are three types of sensory memory – iconic, echoic, and haptic. Iconic memory refers to the visual sensory memory, echoic to auditory sensory memory, and haptic to touch or tactile sensory memory.

  • Iconic Memory: Iconic memory is responsible for retaining visual information such as colors, shapes, and patterns. When we look at something, our eyes receive the information which is then stored in iconic memory for a brief moment before it fades away.
  • Echoic Memory: Echoic memory retains auditory information such as sounds and words.

    When we hear something, our ears receive the sound waves which are then processed by our brain and stored in echoic memory for a short period.

  • Haptic Memory: Haptic memory deals with touch or tactile sensations. This type of sensory memory allows us to remember how things feel when touched or held.

The Role Of Sensory Memory In Perception:

Sensory memory plays a crucial role in perception by allowing us to process information quickly and efficiently. When we see or hear something new, our brain compares it with previous experiences stored in sensory memory. This comparison helps us recognize familiar patterns and distinguish new ones.

The Duration Of Sensory Memory:

The duration of sensory memory varies depending on the type of sensory information being processed. Iconic memory lasts for approximately 0.5 seconds, while echoic memory lasts for around 3-4 seconds. Haptic memory can last for several seconds or even minutes.

The Importance Of Sensory Memory:

Sensory memory is critical because it allows us to process and remember important information that we encounter in our daily lives. Without sensory memory, we would not be able to recognize familiar faces, sounds, or objects.


In conclusion, sensory memory is an essential component of cognitive psychology that helps us process and retain sensory information. It plays a crucial role in perception and allows us to recognize familiar patterns and distinguish new ones. Understanding the different types of sensory memory and their duration can help us improve our cognitive abilities and enhance our memories.