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Long-Term Memory

This is an excerpt from Motor Learning and Control for Dance eBook by Donna Krasnow & Mary Virginia Wilmerding.

The long-term memory is responsible for permanently accumulating or storing information. In particular, it stores what can be recalled about how to do activities including motor skills, personal past events, and universal or general knowledge. Long-term memory houses three systems; they are procedural, semantic, and episodic memory. They are defined by the method of obtaining the information, the type of information, the representation and expression of the information, and the type of awareness needed in order to use the information. The structures of both the working memory and the long-term memory are illustrated in figure 15.2.


Figure 15.2 The subsystems of the working memory (phonological loop, visuospatial sketchpad, and central executive) interact with the subsystems of the long-term memory (procedural memory, semantic memory, and episodic memory).
The subsystems of the working memory (phonological loop, visuospatial sketchpad, and central executive) interact with the subsystems of the long-term memory (procedural memory, semantic memory, and episodic memory).

Adapted from Magill and Anderson 2014.


Procedural memory is the memory system that facilitates understanding how to do an action rather than what is needed in order to do the action. Sometimes, such as when putting on pointe shoes or driving a car, people can execute a skill (the how) but cannot describe it (the what). Procedural memories are accessed and used even if people cannot consciously describe what they are doing. This system is extremely important for motor skills, because it is essential that they can be executed, whether or not they can be verbalized. Procedural skills require enough practice to reach the habitual stage.


Semantic memory is the memory system that stores general information about the world, particularly understanding ideas or facts that are not present at that moment. Examples include the names of all the oceans on the planet, when the Titanic sank, the names of the famous Alvin Ailey dancers who have danced Cry, concepts such as excellence and love, or the generic representation of objects such as horse and bridge. It is not known at this time whether information in semantic memory includes personal experiences representing these ideas or only the abstractions and schemas (generic representations).


Episodic memory is the memory system storing personal experiences and the time period with which they are associated. It is considered the only memory system that allows humans to reexperience their past consciously. Examples include the first birthday party, being bullied in grammar school, the first dance recital, graduating from high school, and auditioning for an important dance company. Episodic memories are susceptible to breaking down and are the most vulnerable. This system is important for motor skill execution in dance, because it lets dancers compare a previous skillful execution with a current problem they are having with a skill or performance.


The image of a ballerina dancing can be stored in episodic memory if a dancer has personally seen a performance of this work.
The image of a ballerina dancing Giselle can be stored in episodic memory if a dancer has personally seen a performance of this work.


Declarative knowledge is knowledge that can be described or stated verbally (the what), and it is the type of knowledge in the episodic and semantic memory systems. Procedural knowledge is knowledge that cannot be stated verbally but rather facilitates the performance of the skill (the how), and it is the type of knowledge in the procedural memory system.


The other major difference between working memory and long-term memory relates to duration and capacity. Unlike the 20- to 30-second duration for the working memory, information in the long-term memory is permanent. When information is forgotten, it is probably because the person cannot locate and retrieve it, even though it is still there. And unlike the capacity in working memory (seven, give or take two items), no known limits exist in the long-term memory capacity. The demand of unlimited capacity is that it must be well organized.