Difference between Long-term, Short-term and Working memory

While memory is often referred to as a broad and singular concept in the human brain, there are different kinds of memory that exist. This article will help explain the difference between long-term, short-term, and working memory.


Long-term memory refers to the type of memory in the brain that holds information for a long period of time. Long-term memory remains in the brain for an indefinite period, and there does not appear to be a limit on one’s long-term memory, though some diseases and disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can negatively impact long-term memory. Long-term memory is further split into five additional categories:

  • Autobiographical memory
  • Episodic memory
  • Explicit memory
  • Implicit memory
  • Semantic memory

Autobiographical memory is memory that relates to the individual’s life. Episodic memory is memory that relates to a specific event or point in time. Explicit memory is all memory that is consciously available. Implicit memory is memory that deals with body movements. One good example is remembering how to ride a bike. Semantic memory is memory of facts.

Long-term vs Short-term vs Working memory

Short-term memory is memory that used for short-term retention (usually less than twenty seconds) of information. An example of short-term memory being used is reading this article right now. When beginning to read the article, the topic heading is held in short-term memory while the content is read. When reading the content, the beginning of the paragraph is held in short-term memory until one reaches the end of the paragraph. The contents of the paragraph are then held in short-term memory while one reads the succeeding paragraph, and so on.

Working memory is similar to short-term memory in that both forms of memory do not hold on to attention for very long, but the two are distinct. Short-term memory simply retains information for a short period of time, but working memory utilizes the information in a framework to temporarily store and manipulate the information. In other words, working memory retains and uses, while short-term simply retains. Short-term memory is part of working memory, but is not the same thing as working memory. An example of working memory is playing a video game, for example. Video games often require players to learn new information, retain that information, and then utilize the information in order to play the game properly. For example, if a video game had the instructions “press A to jump,” short-term memory would retain that the game had instructed the player, while working memory would understand that pressing A will cause the player’s character to jump.

Long-term vs Short-term vs Working memory

What are the differences between long-term memory, short-term memory, and working memory? They are:

  • How long memory is retained
  • Utilization of memory

Long-term memory, as the name suggest, is memory that is retained over a long period of time, such as life experiences, knowledge of how to do tasks, and how to properly speak in a specific language. Short-term memory and working memory, on the other hand, are both only retained over a short period of time, usually less than twenty seconds.

Long-term memory is utilized more or less at all times. Past experiences and knowledge will affect the way a person does tasks, which involves short-term and working memory. Short-term memory is utilized to retain information, and working memory is utilized to complete tasks. Short-term memory is part of working memory, but the two are not the same thing.


The below animation helps explain some of the differences between the different kinds of memory: