The article was last updated by Ethan Clarke on February 8, 2024.

Have you ever wondered how you can ride a bike or play an instrument without consciously thinking about it? This phenomenon is known as non declarative memory, a type of memory that doesn’t require conscious recall.

In this article, we will delve into the various types of non declarative memory, such as procedural memory, priming, classical conditioning, and non-associative learning. We will also explore key concepts like implicit learning, automaticity, habituation, and sensitization, as well as provide examples of non declarative memory in action, such as riding a bike, playing an instrument, and Pavlov’s famous experiment with dogs.

Join us as we uncover the fascinating world of non declarative memory in psychology.

Key Takeaways:

  • Non declarative memory is a type of unconscious memory that includes procedural memory, priming, classical conditioning, and non-associative learning.
  • Key concepts of non declarative memory include implicit learning, automaticity, habituation, and sensitization.
  • Examples of non declarative memory include riding a bike, playing an instrument, Pavlov’s dogs, phobias, muscle memory, and emotional conditioning.
  • Contents

    What Is Non Declarative Memory?

    Non-declarative memory refers to the unconscious memory of skills and procedures that are acquired without conscious effort.

    This type of memory is often known as implicit memory, as it involves automatic responses and actions that can be performed without explicit recall of when or how they were learned. One of the classic examples of non-declarative memory is procedural memory, which allows individuals to perform tasks such as riding a bike or typing on a keyboard without having to consciously think about each step involved.

    Types of Non Declarative Memory

    Non-declarative memory encompasses several types, including procedural memory, priming, classical conditioning, and non-associative learning.

    Procedural Memory

    Procedural memory involves the retention of motor skills and the formation of habits through practice and repetition.

    This type of memory is responsible for a wide range of activities, from playing a musical instrument to riding a bike. When an individual repeatedly performs a specific task, such as typing on a keyboard or swinging a golf club, the pathways in the brain associated with that activity become more efficient, leading to improved performance over time. Essentially, muscle memory is what allows us to perform tasks automatically without consciously thinking about each step.


    Priming is a non-conscious form of memory that influences perception and subsequent behavior without conscious awareness.

    It involves the subconscious activation of specific associations in the mind due to prior exposure to certain stimuli. These stimuli can be anything from words, images, or even smells that trigger related thoughts and feelings.

    This process can significantly impact decision-making and social behavior, as individuals may unknowingly react based on these primed concepts. Studies show that priming can influence how people interpret and respond to information, leading to altered behaviors without them realizing it.

    Classical Conditioning

    Classical conditioning involves learning through associations, as famously demonstrated by Pavlov’s Dogs in creating emotional responses.

    First proposed by Ivan Pavlov, this psychological theory explains how an autonomic response is elicited from a neutral stimulus, which has been paired with a stimulus that naturally elicits the response.

    For instance, when a dog hears a bell (neutral stimulus) before receiving food (stimulus that naturally elicits salivation), it starts associating the bell with food and eventually salivates at the sound of the bell alone. This process of stimulus-response association plays a crucial role in memory formation and can be seen in various everyday situations.

    Non-associative Learning

    Non-associative learning includes habituation, where repeated exposure decreases response, and sensitization, where sensitivity to stimuli increases.

    In habituation, individuals become accustomed to a particular stimulus over time, leading to a reduced response.

    Contrastingly, sensitization involves heightened responsiveness to certain stimuli, making individuals more alert or reactive.

    These processes play a crucial role in shaping behavioral responses by influencing how individuals perceive and react to their environments.

    Experiences can significantly impact the effectiveness of habituation and sensitization, as past encounters with stimuli can influence future reactions.

    Key Concepts of Non Declarative Memory

    Key concepts in non-declarative memory include implicit learning, automaticity, habituation, and sensitization, shaping our behavior and responses.

    Implicit Learning

    Implicit learning involves acquiring knowledge and skills without conscious awareness, relying on neural networks and automatic processes.

    Episodic and semantic memory play crucial roles in implicit learning. Episodic memory helps store specific events and personal experiences, contributing to the formation of implicit knowledge. Meanwhile, semantic memory aids in understanding and categorizing abstract concepts and general knowledge without conscious effort.

    Neural networks involved in implicit learning include the basal ganglia and cerebellum, which regulate procedural skills and habits, respectively. These brain regions facilitate the retention and execution of learned behaviors without explicit recall.


    Automaticity refers to the ability to perform tasks with little conscious effort, showcasing cognitive abilities and neural plasticity.

    Procedural memory, a type of non-declarative memory, plays a crucial role in the development of automaticity. When a task is repeated consistently, neural connections strengthen through a process known as consolidation.

    This process involves the stabilization of memory traces, leading to the formation of long-lasting memories. As automaticity increases, cognitive processes become more efficient, freeing up mental resources for complex tasks.


    Habituation is the process of gradually reducing response to repeated stimuli, involving brain areas associated with conditional reflexes.

    Stress plays a significant role in habituation, as prolonged exposure to stressful situations can lead to altered neurotransmitter levels. This can impact the functionality of the prefrontal cortex, a key brain region involved in cognitive control and decision-making. The process of habituation essentially fine-tunes the brain’s response mechanisms, helping individuals adapt to their environments efficiently. Neurochemistry, the study of how chemicals in the brain influence behavior, is closely linked to habituation and plays a crucial role in determining how quickly an individual can habituate to a stimulus.


    Sensitization leads to increased response to stimuli over time, affecting instrumental reflexes and synaptic connections in the neural systems.

    One significant aspect of sensitization is its ability to amplify the sensitivity of neural pathways,

    resulting in a heightened reaction to certain triggers or events. This heightened state of responsiveness plays a crucial role in the brain’s plasticity,

    facilitating the formation of new neural connections and pathways. These changes are fundamental in cognitive functions and emotional responses,

    contributing to our overall adaptability and resilience.

    Examples of Non Declarative Memory

    Non-declarative memory manifests in various examples such as riding a bike, playing an instrument, Pavlov’s Dogs, phobias, muscle memory, and emotional conditioning, reflecting diverse memory forms.

    Riding a Bike

    Riding a bike showcases procedural memory, as the skill is acquired through practice and repetition, demonstrating the memory formation of motor skills.

    When learning how to ride a bike, the brain’s cognition is actively engaged in processing and storing the sequential steps involved in balancing, pedaling, and steering. As the individual repeatedly practices these movements, neural plasticity comes into play, strengthening the connections between neurons associated with these actions. This process enhances motor skill acquisition and retention, illustrating the intricate interplay between memory, learning, and physical performance.

    Playing an Instrument

    Playing an instrument involves implicit learning, cognitive abilities, and neural plasticity, showcasing the acquisition of musical skills without explicit memory recall.

    When an individual learns to play an instrument, they engage their brain in a complex process that taps into various cognitive functions. The brain stores this knowledge not just in the short-term memory, but also in forms that can develop into long-lasting memories. This transformation occurs due to the brain’s remarkable ability to restructure itself, known as neural plasticity. Through continuous practice and repetition, the neural connections associated with playing the instrument strengthen, leading to improved skill retention.

    Pavlov’s Dogs

    Pavlov’s Dogs exemplify classical conditioning, where associations between stimuli and responses are established, influencing subsequent behavior through amygdala activation.

    During the experiments in the early 20th century, Ivan Pavlov demonstrated that pairing a neutral stimulus, like a bell, with a primary stimulus, such as food, could lead to the dogs associating the bell with food, causing them to salivate even without the presence of food. This process led to the conditioning of the dogs’ responses, showing how learning occurs through repeated exposure and reinforcement. The amygdala, a crucial part of the brain responsible for emotional processing, played a role in enhancing the dogs’ emotional responses to the conditioned stimuli, illustrating how emotional experiences contribute to memory consolidation and structural transitions.


    Phobias are formed through emotional conditioning, where fear responses are linked to specific stimuli, showcasing the influence of neurobiology on memory formation.

    Non-declarative memories such as phobias are stored in the brain without the need for conscious recall or awareness, making them different from declarative memories that require explicit retrieval. The neural mechanisms underlying phobias involve the amygdala, a key structure in processing emotions and threat detection. The hippocampus plays a role in connecting context to fear responses, influencing how phobias are triggered by environmental cues. Understanding the interplay between these brain regions provides insight into how phobias manifest and persist over time.

    Muscle Memory

    Muscle memory represents procedural memory, where repetitive actions lead to automatic recall, highlighting the role of memory consolidation in skill retention.

    In procedural memory, the brain forms connections between motor actions and the corresponding neural pathways, making certain tasks feel effortless even after extended periods of non-use. This phenomenon plays a crucial role in various cognitive abilities, particularly in executing learned motor skills like playing a musical instrument or riding a bike without conscious effort.

    Memory consolidation occurs during the stage where newly acquired information is processed, solidified, and integrated into long-term memory storage, reinforcing the neural circuits responsible for the specific activity. The impact of repetitive actions on automatic recall is profound, as it enhances the speed and accuracy of skilled performance, showcasing the efficiency of non-declarative memory systems.

    Emotional Conditioning

    Emotional conditioning involves implicit memories tied to emotional responses, influencing memory retrieval processes and behavioral reactions.

    Implicit memories associated with emotional conditioning are stored in the brain in a way that doesn’t require conscious awareness, often linked to the amygdala’s role in processing emotions rather than the hippocampus involved in conscious memories.

    This type of memory retrieval is automatic, shaping our behavioral responses without us even realizing it, as emotions trigger certain reactions based on past experiences.

    Our brain’s ability to form and utilize implicit memories plays a crucial role in how we navigate various situations and interactions, heavily influenced by emotional conditioning and its lasting effects on our behavior.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is non declarative memory in psychology?

    Non declarative memory, also known as implicit memory, is a type of long-term memory that involves unconscious or automatic processes. It refers to memories that are not easily put into words or consciously recalled, but can influence our behavior and thoughts in various ways.

    What are the key concepts of non declarative memory?

    The key concepts of non declarative memory include the idea that it is an unconscious process, it is often acquired through repetition and practice, and it can influence our behavior and thoughts without us being aware of it. It is also often associated with skills, habits, and emotional responses.

    What are some examples of non declarative memory?

    Some examples of non declarative memory include riding a bike, tying shoelaces, playing an instrument, and driving a car. These are all tasks that we can do without actively thinking about the steps involved, as they are stored in our non declarative memory through repeated practice and experience.

    How is non declarative memory different from declarative memory?

    Non declarative memory is different from declarative memory in that it involves unconscious processes and is not easily put into words or consciously recalled. Declarative memory, on the other hand, involves conscious recollection of facts and events.

    Why is exploring non declarative memory important in psychology?

    Exploring non declarative memory is important in psychology because it helps us understand how our unconscious processes influence our behavior and thoughts. It also allows us to better understand how we acquire and store different types of memories, and how they can impact our daily lives.

    Can non declarative memory be improved or enhanced?

    Yes, non declarative memory can be improved or enhanced through repetition and practice. This is why tasks such as playing an instrument or sports can become more automatic and effortless with time and practice. Additionally, certain techniques such as visualization and mnemonics can also be used to improve non declarative memory skills.

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