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What is Semantic Memory? Definition, Characteristics and How to Improve It

Memory is a psychological construct that some people understand as something unique. In other words, we say that we have a “good memory” when we remember things with some ease. However, there are several types of memory and each has a particular function. What is semantic memory?

It is said that it allows us to make sense of the world around us. Furthermore, together with episodic memory it forms the so-called « declarative memory ». To learn more about it, we invite you to continue reading.

What is Semantic Memory?

Semantic memory is one that gives meaning to our environment. It is basically a pyramid of concepts that are at our disposal. For example, when we are going to answer a question, we do it using the concepts that we handle.

As people get older, they acquire new knowledge. It is this acquired information that makes up the pyramid of semantic concepts. That is, this memory is responsible for evoking the names of objects that we use frequently.

However, it is not responsible for storing deep knowledge regarding concepts. Rather, it helps to identify and differentiate some things from others. Such is the case with some exam answers; many times, we know the correct answers, but we do not know why they are correct.

As it is a memory dedicated to concepts, it does not follow a structured order. This means that memories come through associations. This differentiates it from episodic memory, which operates following the narrative thread of our life.

Characteristics of Semantic Memory

What characterizes semantic memory is its ambiguity. This means that the concepts that are stored can refer to multiple aspects of life. The essence or meaning we attribute to something can span a depth beyond our comprehension.

Another quality is that it is an associative memory. In this sense, when we find relationships in the world with concepts that we already know, we establish an association. An example would be when we are going to drive a different car than ours; we use semantic memory to establish relationships between both cars.

In this way, it is understood that experience plays an important role. When people learn to carry out an activity, they acquire semantic concepts. Later, this learning can be extrapolated to other circumstances.

Tips to Improve Semantic Memory

Now we will see a list with some practical recommendations to enhance semantic memory. To obtain good results, it is convenient to put them into practice on a constant basis.

1. Classify the concepts

As it is a type of pyramidal memory, we can enhance the classification of information. In other words, we assign different categories to the concepts we learn. By implementing this method it will be easier to evoke the concepts when we need them.

2. Name the categories

Once we have classified the concepts we want to remember, it is important to establish which category they belong to. In other words, it is about specifying the categories. In this way, we will reduce the spectrum of each concept. For example, the driving category encompasses automatic and synchronous cars.

3. Make a list of concepts

One way to facilitate categorization is to list the concepts that we are incorporating. Writing helps to order the information pyramid. Listings are also useful for establishing ways of applying knowledge.

4. Practice chess

Chess is a sport that is also considered a science. Learning and practicing it helps stimulate all cognitive processes. In particular, semantic memory benefits.

To play it you need to learn some concepts in a structured way. Then, you have to develop them creatively during the games. Therefore, to improve understanding of the game, its concepts should be studied separately.

5. Learn a new language

Language is a process that involves mastering different concepts in a structured way. When we incorporate the meanings and rules of a new language, our semantic memory is exercised.

Semantic Memory Disturbances

The aphasia are disturbances that impair semantic memory. There are three types of semantic aphasias. First, there is semantic Wernicke’s aphasia, then we have transcortical sensory aphasia, and finally, dynamic Luria aphasia.

These disorders interfere with the semantic system by causing distortions in the word production phase. That is, patients are not able to express the concepts they know through language.

Alzheimer’s disease also produces conditions at the level of semantic memories. It is logical to think that a patient with chronic cognitive impairment cannot make semantic associations correctly.

How to prevent memory damage?

To prevent damage to semantic memory, it is important to maintain good lifestyle habits. For example, it is beneficial to give our brain a good rest at night. In this way, healthy routines are protective factors against cognitive diseases.

Other healthy habits that we can incorporate to take care of these processes are a balanced diet, physical exercise and leading a life away from stress.

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