All information that reaches long-term memory without conscious effort is referred to as automatic processing. Encoding information with conscious attention and effort is referred to as effortful processing. Studying for an exam takes a significant amount of work. You can study in a focused way during this time if you want, but otherwise it's automatic processing.
In addition to studying for exams, people use the term "automatic processing" to describe other situations where they perform tasks without paying attention to them, such as while sleeping or when doing things like driving or cooking. These activities are called "unconscious" because they occur without our awareness. As we will see below, unconscious processes play a major role in learning and memory.
People who suffer from disorders of consciousness (such as Alzheimer's disease or brain injuries) may be able to communicate through other channels than conscious thought. For example, someone with locked-in syndrome can appear to be awake but unable to move even their eyes, yet they can still respond to questions by making facial expressions or using hand gestures. This type of response comes from unconscious processes because the person cannot control them consciously. People with these conditions often report having vivid dreams that seem real at first but later turn out to be illusions. This phenomenon is also caused by unconscious processes since people cannot control what they dream about.
So does learning a new language. And even reading this sentence required such processing at some point.
Effortful processing is needed to organize our experience into patterns that allow us to make predictions about what will happen next. It allows us to link events that occur in succession (such as the sound of a bell followed by the sight of an animal) or that are found simultaneously (such as the sound of music while listening to it). This process helps us understand cause and effect and makes possible such uses of memory as remembering where we put our keys or why we behaved in a certain way. It also allows us to detect danger or opportunity when there is not much time to think about it.
Without this processing, we would not be able to learn from past experiences and move on to the next moment. We could not predict future events because we would have no way of linking them together in our minds. And we would not be able to act upon opportunities that present themselves because we could not remember what was done last time something similar happened.
This is referred to as automatic processing, or the encoding of information such as time, place, frequency, and word meaning. Automatic processing is typically performed without conscious awareness. Recalling the last time you studied for a test is another example of automatic processing. This is referred to as "effortful processing." When performing an activity such as studying for a test or working on a project at home, different parts of your brain are used. These areas of the brain control different aspects of behavior, so they need to be given time to rest between uses. It is important not to force yourself to study every minute of every hour of every day. Set aside specific times during the day when you can study; for example, if you know you will not have enough time before an exam then leave some time in your schedule after school each day to study.
There are three main stages to automatic memory formation: acquisition, storage, and retrieval. During acquisition, which takes place immediately following exposure to a stimulus, a connection is made between the presented information and long-term memory. This connection is strengthened over time through a process called "encoding specificity," which means that the memory cell that stores one aspect of the experience becomes more sensitive to related stimuli in future experiences. For example, if I show you the word "red" 10 times in a row, you will eventually recognize it even when it isn't the only thing present in the room.