Echoic Memory (A Comprehensive Guide)

Sensory memory is the function of the brain that allows the individual to keep the sensory information or the feeling for a little time even after the original stimulus has stopped.

This helps an individual to remember and feel the sensory details related to a complex stimulus right after the stimulation was present.

Sensory memory cannot be controlled and is considered to be an automatic response and it is outside the domain of cognitive control.

Sensory information puts forward the raw data which is basically the snapshot of the overall experience of that individual during the stimulation.

The time of retention of this information from the sensory memory is the shortest ranging from milliseconds to seconds.

This memory or sensation is retained for such a time in which it can be transferred to the short term memory of the individual.

In this article, we will discuss Echoic Memory. 

No manipulation of the incoming information can be done in sensory memory, as the transfer of the information from sensory memory to working memory is done quickly.

As the capacity of working memory is not much to cope with all the information coming in from sense organs, so the amount of information that is being transferred to the short term memory is greatly reduced.

One might experience source monitoring error, causing an incorrect set of certain memories.

Types of Sensory Memory

It is generally assumed that sensory memory has a subtype for each type of five major senses, i.e. sight, touch, hearing, touch, smell.

However, out of these five only three of them have been studied extensively which are: iconic memory, echoic memory, and haptic memory.

Iconic Memory

The sensory input that comes in through the visual system goes into our iconic memory, this is named as such because of the mental representation of the visual stimulus to be generally referred to as icons.

The duration of iconic memory is usually around the time frame of 100 ms.

This iconic memory is more noticeable during the time when we see light trails.

This is generally referred to as the phenomenon when a bright light is traveling at a rapid pace through night and we can see it leaving a trail being it which is basically the image represented in the iconic memory.

Echoic Memory

Another branch of sensory memory that deals with the auditory system is the echoic memory.

The echoic memory is able to hold a large amount of auditory information but the time period for holding this information is also quite small around 3-4 seconds.

This auditory information helps up in the echoic memory that is played immediately in mind for some time after the auditory stimulus presentation.

Haptic Memory

Another main branch of sensory memory is that of haptic memory which basically covers the sense of touch.

There are sensory receptors all over the body of an individual that detects different sensations with time like itching, pressure, and pain which are generally kept in haptic memory before being transferred to the working memory or being vanished.

This kind of memory is generally used when there are forces involved like gripping or when being in interaction with familiar objects.

Not much information is known about the haptic memory as compared to the iconic one and has been recently identified, the general time frame for the information in haptic memory is around two seconds. 

There is one more type of memory, called the Eidectic memory.

Echoic memory definition

Auditory sensory memory or echoic memory is the specific type of sensory memory that stores the information related to audio signals or sound.

It is a further subcategory of a human brain memory, which is basically divided into three main categories:

  • Short Term memory — retains the recently received information, which can last from a few seconds to almost a minute.
  • Long Term memory — retains facts, skills, and events, it can last from some hours to even decades.
  • Sensory memory — holds information from the senses, this lasts from milliseconds to a few seconds.

Echoic memory is part of the sensory memory of an individual and the main purpose of this memory is to store or retain the audio information while the brain is processing it.

This memory also might hold the main bits of the audio information which are essential to the meaning of the overall sound. 

How echoic sensory memory works

When a sound is first heard by an individual, that signal is sent over to the brain in its raw form by using electrical signals.

This raw form of audio is the unprocessed audio signal that is heard by the individual.

Echoic memory comes into place as soon as the information is received by the brain and it retains this information for further processing.

To be more specific, this information is stored in the primary auditory cortex (PAC) of the brain, which can be found on both sides of the brain that are the hemispheres.

The information is stored in the PAC on the opposite hemisphere to the ear that information is heard from, for example, if the sound is heard from the left ear then the right hemisphere will store the information and vice versa, but if the sound is heard from both ears then both left and right hemisphere will save up the information.

In a few seconds, this information from echoic memory is passed onto the working memory where the brain starts processing this information and extracting meaning from the sound signal. 

Echoic memory examples

The process of entering information in your echoic memory is automatic whether you want it or not, you are unable to control the whole process and you can not intentionally disturb it.

Some of the examples where your brain is forming echoic memories in your daily lives are : 

Talking to another person

One of the common examples here is the spoken language, when someone is talking with you or you are in a conversation in a group, your echoic memory retains the syllable of each individual which helps the brain in recognizing words by connecting the syllable to the ones stored.

Similarly, words are stored in the echoic memory which further helps the brain informing and understanding the whole sentence. 

Listening to music

One of the other examples of your daily life is when we listen to music, the brain automatically uses the information from our echoic memory.

It recalls the previous notes briefly using the echoic memory and connects them automatically to the next one which helps our brain in identifying the notes as a complete song. 

Asking someone to repeat themselves

Usually when you are busy and someone is trying to talk with you, sometimes you are not able to hear them clearly and you ask them to repeat themselves.

While hearing it out again there might be some points where this will sound familiar, it is because of the reason that your echoic memory heard them the first time too. 

Echoic memory duration

The duration for echoic memory is very short and does not last for more than a few seconds, usually, the duration is taken in like 2-4 seconds, which also helps the brain in making multiple echoic memories within a day. 

Factors for echoic memory

As all of the humans process echoic memory, there are numerous factors that can have their influence on the proficiency or use of this echoic memory, some of the possible factors that can influence echoic memory are : 

  • age
  • psychiatric disorders
  • substance use
  • neurological disorders
  • Impairment of hearing loss
  • language disorders

There might also be some influence because of the different characteristics of the sound, including:

  • Intensity
  • duration
  • Volume
  • frequency
  • language (with the spoken word)

Iconic and echoic memory

Iconic memory or also known as the visual sensory memory is basically the one that holds the information that is received through the visual system.

This is just like that of the echoic memory but the duration for an iconic memory is much shorter than that of the echoic memory and lasts for less than a second or at most a second.

This might be due to the reason that both the sounds and images are usually processed in different ways and since the information regarding the visual presentation is still there and does not disappear at once you are still able to repeatedly see that same view as an image.

Also, the image is present as a piece of full visual information and you can process the whole information simultaneously whereas in the case of sound it cannot be processed at once but might take time as the information is coming in continuously 

As in comparison, the echoic memory is longer as compared with iconic memory because the information coming in is time-sensitive and the whole information cannot be understood or reviewed unless the full actual sound is repeated so the time duration is more in case of echoic memory.

Each bit in a sound gives meaning when combined together and is scattered and cannot have its meaning understood if not processed collectively.

As a result, the brain needs more time to store the information coming in from auditory sensors so it can understand the whole meaning of this information. 

Getting help with your memory

Forgetting something that you know of or have heard of is quite common between us, especially when the person is getting older but if there are some serious issues with your memory as you can not even remember the names of the people around you then you should visit a doctor first.

There might be different problems which can result in seeking medical help, some of them are listed below:

  • Forgetting how to speak common words
  • Asking questions repeatedly
  • Getting lost while wandering familiar spaces
  • Forgetting the names of family members and friends
  • Takes long to do a familiar activity

Certain tools or devices are used to retain information. One such device is the Mnemonic Device.


The echoic memory is triggered as soon as you hear a sound and might last for around 2-4 seconds which helps your brain in processing the information from the sound signal.

While the duration of the echoic memory is short this still helps to keep the information related to the sound so that the brain can process it efficiently even after the sound has ended.

Though different factors like age or some neurological disorder can also influence the proficiency of our echoic memory it is normal for this to decline with age.

In case you are experiencing memory problems without declining in age and serious ones too, it is best to consult a doctor straight away.

FAQ about Echoic Memory 

What type of memory is echoic memory?

Echoic memory is a type of sensory memory that stores the information that is received through or related to audio signals and sound. 

Is echoic memory common?

Echoic memory is common and is part of the brain that receives information and helps it to understand the meaning of the information by retaining the information.

How long does echoic memory last?

Echoic memory generally lasts between two and four seconds.

References “Types of Memory” “What Is Echoic Memory, and How Does It Work?” Echoic Memory And How It Works”