Short Term vs Long Term Memory: Difference and Comparison

Short-term memory is the temporary storage of information for immediate use, while long-term memory involves the retention of information over an extended period.

Key Takeaways

  1. Short-term memory is the temporary storage of information that lasts a few seconds to a minute. In contrast, long-term memory is the more permanent information storage that can last from minutes to a lifetime.
  2. Short-term memory has a limited capacity and holds 5 to 9 items, while long-term memory has a seemingly unlimited capacity.
  3. The process of encoding, storage, and retrieval differs between short-term and long-term memory, with rehearsal and meaningful associations playing a significant role in transferring information from short-term to long-term memory.

Short Term vs Long Term Memory

The difference between Short Term and Long Term Memory is that Short term memory is the ability to store small amounts of information in the brain that occurred in the recent past. Long-term memory is the long-lasting ability of the brain to accumulate data from the past.

Short Term vs Long Term Memory


Comparison Table

FeatureShort-Term Memory (STM)Long-Term Memory (LTM)
CapacityLimited (5-9 chunks)Virtually unlimited
DurationSeconds to minutesDays, years, or even a lifetime
PurposeTemporary storage for immediate usePermanent storage for knowledge and experiences
EncodingPrimarily sensorySemantic and contextual
RetrievalConscious effort requiredEffortless or automatic
OrganizationLimited or noneComplexly organized and interconnected
ExamplesRemembering a phone number, directions, or a grocery listRemembering your name, childhood memories, or acquired skills
VulnerabilityEasily disrupted by distraction or interferenceRelatively stable, less prone to forgetting


What is Short Term Memory?

Short-term memory (STM), also known as working memory, is a system in your brain that acts like a temporary holding chamber for information. It allows you to keep a small amount of data readily available for conscious processing and manipulation, for a short period of time, between seconds and minutes.

Here are some key characteristics of short-term memory:

  • Limited capacity: It can only hold around 5-9 “chunks” of information at a time. These chunks can be anything from words and numbers to images and sounds.
  • Short duration: Information decays quickly in STM if not actively rehearsed or used. After a few seconds to minutes, if not focused on, the information gets replaced or fades away.
  • Active processing: Unlike long-term memory which is more passive, STM requires active manipulation and rehearsal to maintain the information. This can involve repeating something silently, mentally visualizing it, or using it in calculations.
  • Importance for daily tasks: STM plays a crucial role in many everyday activities, such as following instructions, holding a conversation, making calculations, and completing tasks that require multi-step processes.
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Think of STM as a notepad you grab for quick, temporary use. You jot down a phone number you need to dial, a grocery list you’re following, or directions you’re trying to remember. But unlike a written list, the information in STM isn’t permanent and needs to be actively refreshed or used to avoid fading away.

Here are some examples of how STM functions:

  • Remembering a phone number long enough to dial it.
  • Keeping track of multiple steps in a recipe while cooking.
  • Holding a conversation and responding coherently.
  • Performing mental calculations, like adding numbers in your head.
short term memory

What is Long Term Memory?

Long-term memory (LTM) is the vast treasure trove of your mind, storing knowledge and experiences over extended periods, potentially even a lifetime. Unlike short-term memory’s fleeting grasp, LTM offers permanent residency for significant information, shaping who you are and how you navigate the world.

Here are some key features of long-term memory:

Spacious and boundless: Its capacity is practically limitless, allowing you to accumulate a lifetime’s worth of knowledge, facts, skills, and personal experiences.

Durable and persistent: Information in LTM isn’t readily forgotten. Once encoded, it can remain stable for years, decades, or even a lifetime, unless certain brain injuries or diseases intervene.

Complex and interconnected: LTM isn’t simply a pile of isolated facts. It’s a vast network, intricately woven together. Memories are linked through shared concepts, emotions, and contexts, allowing for flexible retrieval and association.

Effortless retrieval: Unlike accessing temporary information in short-term memory, most long-term memories are effortlessly retrieved when needed. Recalling your name, recognizing a childhood friend, or applying learned skills comes naturally.

Multi-faceted storage: LTM isn’t a single entity. It’s divided into two main categories:

  • Explicit memory: This involves conscious recollection of facts and events. You can consciously recall your childhood home, historical dates, or personal experiences.
  • Implicit memory: This encompasses unconscious skills and habits. You don’t consciously think about riding a bike, tying your shoes, or speaking your native language – you simply do it.

Think of LTM as a sprawling library filled with shelves of knowledge, meticulously categorized and interconnected. You can easily browse its vast collection, retrieve specific memories when needed, and even discover unexpected connections as you explore its depths.

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Here are some examples of how LTM functions:

  • Recalling childhood memories, both happy and sad.
  • Recognizing faces of people you met years ago.
  • Speaking your native language fluently and effortlessly.
  • Applying learned skills such as playing an instrument, riding a bike, or performing complex tasks.
  • Accumulating factual knowledge about history, science, or any other field of interest.
long term memory

Main Differences Between Short-Term and Long-Term Memory


  • Short-term: Holds around 5-9 “chunks” of information at a time (like juggling 3-5 balls).
  • Long-term: Virtually unlimited, like a never-ending warehouse.


  • Short-term: Seconds to minutes, like the juggling act ending after a short performance.
  • Long-term: Days, years, or even a lifetime, like treasures stored for generations.


  • Short-term: Temporary storage for immediate use, like remembering a phone number while dialing.
  • Long-term: Permanent storage for knowledge and experiences, like remembering your childhood home.


  • Short-term: Primarily sensory, like remembering the sound of a song you just heard.
  • Long-term: Semantic and contextual, like associating a song with a specific event or emotion.


  • Short-term: Conscious effort required, like actively recalling a phone number.
  • Long-term: Effortless or automatic, like recognizing your best friend’s face instantly.


  • Short-term: Limited or none, like juggling balls in no particular order.
  • Long-term: Complexly organized and interconnected, like items in a warehouse categorized on shelves.

Think of it this way:

  • Short-term memory is like your kitchen counter: You use it for temporary tasks like preparing a meal, but you wouldn’t store groceries there permanently.
  • Long-term memory is like your pantry: You stock it with essential items for future use and easily access them when needed.

Last Updated : 29 January, 2024

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24 thoughts on “Short Term vs Long Term Memory: Difference and Comparison”

  1. The article successfully bridges the gap between scientific rigor and reader accessibility, rendering complex concepts intelligible and engrossing. It’s a testament to effective science communication.

    • Absolutely. This article exemplifies the art of blending academic scholarship with universal understanding, making science engaging and relatable.

  2. The effortless read and profound insights of this article serve to edify both curious minds and those engaged in cognitive scholarship. A commendable fusion of erudition and eloquence.

    • I couldn’t agree more. The article’s intricate blend of intellectual rigor and accessible prose is truly a testament to scholarly finesse.

  3. The contrast between short-term and long-term memory is presented with exceptional clarity and supported by real-world examples. An engaging and edifying read.

    • I couldn’t agree more. The article’s structure and lucid explanations foster a deeper understanding of memory functions.

  4. This article provides a comprehensive and informative analysis of the differences between short-term and long-term memory and their significance in our daily lives. I appreciate the clear explanations and examples presented.

    • I completely agree! The comparison table and detailed descriptions of STM and LTM are extremely helpful for understanding these fundamental aspects of memory.

  5. I found the article to be quite enlightening, especially the elaboration on the retrieval process differences between STM and LTM. The explanation of ‘meaningful associations’ in transferring information to long-term memory was fascinating.

    • Absolutely, the article effectively breaks down complex cognitive processes into digestible concepts. This makes the material useful for both educational and practical purposes.

  6. The author’s use of analogies to compare short-term and long-term memory to a notepad and a library is an incredibly effective method to illustrate their distinct features. I found the article to be both informative and artistically crafted.

    • The seamless blend of scientific rigor and eloquent prose in this article is truly commendable. It’s refreshing to encounter scholarly work that is intellectually stimulating and engaging simultaneously.

    • Indeed, the analogical approach enhances the article’s accessibility and resonance. It enables readers to grasp the concepts in a relatable manner.

  7. I appreciate the explicit and implicit memory distinction provided in the article. It enriches the understanding of long-term memory and adds depth to the exploration of memory processes.

    • I couldn’t agree more. The encapsulation of explicit and implicit memory categories enriches the reader’s grasp of the multifaceted nature of LTM.

  8. The article lucidly explicates the nuanced features of short-term and long-term memory, providing a valuable foundation for those seeking to deepen their understanding of cognitive processes.

    • I share the sentiment. The article’s insightful breakdown contributes to a meaningful comprehension of the intricate workings of human memory.

  9. The article achieves a balanced blend of academic rigor and accessibility, making it a valuable resource for learners and enthusiasts alike. The discussion on the multi-faceted storage of long-term memory resonates deeply.

    • The seamless interchange between complex concepts and comprehensible explanations in this article fosters an enriching learning experience for readers.

    • That’s a very apt observation. The equitable integration of scholarly depth and reader-friendly language is indeed a noteworthy aspect of this article.

  10. The content is a bit too elementary for someone with a serious interest in cognitive science and memory studies. I was hoping for a more in-depth analysis and advanced insights.

    • Perhaps the surface-level discussion is intentional to make the topic accessible to a broader audience who may not have a background in psychology or neuroscience.

    • I get what you mean. It’s a good primer for beginners, but I also think they could have delved deeper into the neural mechanisms underlying STM and LTM.


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