Is there a single notion in the cognitive sciences for "unconscious memory"? For example a in a 2015 Northwestern University press release, we find that

  • Scientists retrieve unconscious memories
  • Could lead to new treatment for patients with repressed traumatic memories

So this is basically talking about repressed memories (in humans, as the motivation) and also state-dependent memory, as what they actually studied in mice.

On the other hand, in a different area of research we hear that

The brain’s unconscious memories of patterns are likely to be partly responsible for some children struggling to learn to talk.

Is this the same notion as any of the previous two? Looking briefly at the paper it seems like it's talking about procedural memory instead (correct me if I'm wrong).

So how many (sufficiently) different notions of "unconscious memory" are there in the (contemporary) science literature?

  • $\begingroup$ After watching the first 5 minutes of podcasts.ox.ac.uk/unconscious-concept-or-metaphor, there are many mechanisms which would qualify. I'll try to summarize something after I (have time to) watch the whole talk... if someone else doesn't post an answer by then, of course. $\endgroup$
    – Fizz
    Jan 8, 2018 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ There are many mechanisms that operate in the unconsious brain, just to name a few : emotions most part is unconsious, procedural memory like riding a bike, most part of language etc $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2018 at 6:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There are two traditions at work here. Unconscious is a concept central to Freud's work and is sometimes conflated with "subconscious". However, a more modern concept that describes those cognitive processes that are subject to lower degrees of awareness, wakefulness, or reportability, is "non-conscious" (a distinction suggested by William G. Farthing). While the Freudian concept implies suppression of thoughts, or relegation to dream access only, the contemporary concept refers simply to subtreshold processes, which are below the limit for conscious access. $\endgroup$
    – noumenal
    Jan 14, 2018 at 7:55

1 Answer 1


Although we usually refer to memory to describe our ability to consciously remember past experiences, in neuroscience this term is also used to incorporate unconscious influences of our past on our current perceptions and actions. In other words, sometimes/in some instances, we are not aware of the influences of our past on our way to remember things.

These unconscious influences on our current behaviour depend on what has been called implicit memory or nondeclarative memory that can exist in individuals with damage to the hippocampal memory system (centre of declarative or explicit / conscious memory).

This example is often made: if you try to describe how you learned to drive a stick-shift car,it is likely that you wouldn't do a good job of consciously reconstructing the chain of sequences that allowed you to learn how to drive a stick-shift car... Nevertheless, your behaviour would be a clear indication of you training.

Memory is not a single entity but consists of multiple processes or systems

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References: Emotional memory across the lifespan Elizabeth A. Kensinger


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