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In our latest Live Science residency, researchers from Middlesex University are investigating different kinds of memory.

In our latest Live Science residency, researchers from Middlesex University are investigating different kinds of memory. The research, led by Dr Emma Ward, aims to further our understanding of how conscious and unconscious memory work, and how they change over the lifespan.

Visitors taking part in a Live Science event
Visitors taking part in a Live Science event

We are constantly bombarded with information, but how much of what we see do we remember? Is what we remember linked to what we actually look at and attend to, or do we also remember things that we were not directly looking at or trying to remember? Does the way in which we think about what we see affect how we remember it? Do we remember some things consciously and other things unconsciously? How does our conscious and unconscious memory for what we see change over our lifespan?

To answer these questions we are inviting people aged 12 years to 85 years upwards to take part in a short experiment that involves making some quick decisions about objects presented on a computer screen, as well as a test designed to assess conscious (explicit) and unconscious (implicit) memory. Explicit memory is the ability to consciously recall prior experiences and previously learned information, while implicit memory is involved in such things as playing a musical instrument and riding a bicycle – with practice we do not need to consciously recall the actions involved.

Visitors taking part in a Live Science event
Visitors taking part in a Live Science event

The computerised experiment, which will be performed individually and anonymously, will measure the speed and accuracy of participants’ responses. Friendly researchers will first explain more about what is involved and participants will receive further information to take away at the end.

Based on this research we hope to gain further knowledge about how explicit and implicit memory work and changes in these forms of memory with age. A large body of research suggests that our ability to consciously remember information declines with age, but it is unclear whether our ability to unconsciously benefit from information to which we have been exposed changes over the lifespan. Some researchers believe that implicit memory remains stable over the lifespan despite a reduction in explicit memory, and recently it has even been reported that older adults show greater implicit memory compared to younger adults.

Visitors taking part in a Live Science event
Visitors taking part in a Live Science event

This type of research is normally conduced in laboratories and involves the comparison of relatively small samples of young (18-30 years) and older (65+ years) participants, and moreover young participants tend to be university students in their 20s. Conducing this research at the Science Museum will help us get a large sample of participants that is not only more representative of the general population, but will also allow us to map explicit and implicit memory from 12 years to 85+ years rather than simply comparing two age groups.

In addition, the research comes with large potential implications for the development of strategies and techniques to improve and enhance memory, and it is our hope that the findings will be of use in the development of memory training strategies.


This Live Science event is taking place in the Who Am I? gallery on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 11:00-13:00, 14:00-17:30, 9 October – 17 November. Found out more and see how you can take part here.