From sensory to long-term memory: Evidence from auditory memory reactivation studies

István Winkler, Nelson Cowan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

69 Citations (Scopus)


Everyday experience tells us that some types of auditory sensory information are retained for long periods of time. For example, we are able to recognize friends by their voice alone or identify the source of familiar noises even years after we last heard the sounds. It is thus somewhat surprising that the results of most studies of auditory sensory memory show that acoustic details, such as the pitch of a tone, fade from memory in ca. 10-15 s. One should, therefore, ask (1) what types of acoustic information can be retained for a longer term, (2) what circumstances allow or help the formation of durable memory records for acoustic details, and (3) how such memory records can be accessed. The present review discusses the results of experiments that used a model of auditory recognition, the auditory memory reactivation paradigm. Results obtained with this paradigm suggest that the brain stores features of individual sounds embedded within representations of acoustic regularities that have been detected for the sound patterns and sequences in which the sounds appeared. Thus, sounds closely linked with their auditory context are more likely to be remembered. The representations of acoustic regularities are automatically activated by matching sounds, enabling object recognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-20
Number of pages18
JournalExperimental Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 15 2005



  • Auditory sensory memory
  • Event-related brain potentials
  • Long-term sensory memory
  • Memory
  • Mismatch negativity MMN
  • Reactivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)

Cite this