Mindfulness Skills workbook for clinicians and clients: What is implicit memory?


What is implicit memory?



•  Encoded throughout our lives.

•  Probably the only type of memory infants have.

•  Allows us to remember how to do something without being conscious of how to do it, such as riding a bicycle, walking—anything procedural.

•  Gets stored without our conscious awareness.

•  Gets retrieved without our awareness—“I don’t know I’m having a memory.”

•  Past memories come flooding in without knowing they’re from the past; it feels like it is all coming from the present.

•  Drives behavior without our awareness—often negatively.

•  Primes us to respond in a certain fashion.

•  Readies us for the future.

•  Designed to protect us.

•  Can create here and now perceptions and beliefs that are actually from the past.

•  Can show up as a physical feeling in our body, an emotional reaction, a behavioral pattern, or a bias.

•  The amygdala is responsible for implicit memory as it scans earlier memories of danger.

•  Procedural memory is a subset (how to do things).

Why do we care?

•  Implicit memories can emotionally hijack our prefrontal cortex and drive behavior without our awareness.

•  Can often create a total misinterpretation of a current situation.

•  Implicit memory is like the child that lives within us.


•  Implicit memories may show up in body sensations.

•  Mindfulness allows us to integrate implicit with explicit memory to improve emotional response and behavioral patterns. Examples of implicit memory in action:

•  Riding a bicycle, walking, speaking, driving a car.

•  Your parents yelled at you when you didn’t understand your math homework and now you hate math but don’t realize why.


•  No one picked you for their team in elementary school to play basketball and after that you never really enjoyed sports.

•  Your father was always putting you down and now you never feel you are good enough but you don’t know why.

•  A beloved boyfriend cheated on you when you were a teenager and now you distrust all men.

•  You fell off your bicycle the first time you tried to learn to ride and broke your arm. Now you are afraid you will fail if you try something new.


•  You had a car crash and dealt with it calmly and without emotion. A few months later your car hits a curb and you burst out crying without knowing why. When you explore it, you realize the car made the same sound when it hit the curb as it did during the car crash. You could consciously remember the details of the car crash (explicit memory) but not the emotion triggered by the crash sound (implicit memory).

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