One example of echoic memory is hearing a patient's name called out in a waiting room and being unable to remember it a few seconds later. Another common example occurs when someone listens to a story while engaging in another activity. Although the person heard the words, a lack of attentiveness may prevent her from recalling what the story was about when it is over.
Echoic memory is a form of sensory memory that allows the mind to temporarily perceive and store auditory information or sound. Sensory memories are so brief that they can last less than a second after being perceived. If a person makes an effort to retain a sensory memory, it may be coded into short-term memory, allowing the brain to store the information for roughly 20 to 30 seconds longer.
In the first example, echoic memory allowed the patient in the waiting room to perceive the unique properties of the attendant's voice, such as tone and volume. If the patient mentally or vocally repeats the name, it can be committed to short-term memory.
Since short-term memory has an extremely limited capacity, important information must be transferred to long-term memory through use or repetition. In the second example, the person listening to a story could convert echoic memory to short-term memory by stopping any distracting activity and focusing on each word the storyteller uses. Memory strategies, such as visually imagining the events of the story or relating the story concepts to existing knowledge, may help the person transfer the information to long-term memory.