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Definition of Short-term memory

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Short-term memory: A system for temporarily storing and managing information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Short-term memory is involved in the selection, initiation, and termination of information-processing functions such as encoding, storing, and retrieving data.

One test of short-term memory is memory span, the number of items, usually words or numbers, that a person can hold onto and recall. In a typical test of memory span, an examiner reads a list of random numbers aloud at about the rate of one number per second. At the end of a sequence, the person being tested is asked to recall the items in order. The average memory span for normal adults is 7.

Short-term memory is also termed recent or working memory.

Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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