Ever wondered why you remember the things you do?
Neuroscientist Karim Nader told the Smithsonian: “The very act of remembering can change our memories.” So, the more you analyse your memories or tell people about them, the more the actual events change in your mind. Basically, a memory can turn into a game of Chinese whispers in your head.
One would think the memory is just a little cupboard in our brains with every event of our life stored inside – it is not. It is more like a cupboard with a bunch of little filing cabinets. There are different sections of our memory that remembers who, what, when, why and where.
According to studies by Richard C. Mohs, PhD the memory is actually “a group of systems that each play a different role in creating, storing, and recalling your memories.”
Let us begin with how memories are actually made. The connection of nerve cells known as synapses allows information to be carried through nerve impulses. The human brain contains trillions of synapses that form a complex and flexible network that allow us to feel, behave and think. The synaptic connections within the cerebral cortex and hippocampus are associated with the learning and retention of new information.
Lead researcher Wen-Biao Gan explained in an interview with the science website WhyFiles.org, “Our idea was that you actually don’t need to make many new synapses and get rid of old ones when you learn [and] memorise. You just need to modify the strength of the preexisting synapses for short-term learning and memory. However, it’s likely that few synapses are made or eliminated to achieve long-term memory.”
Now that we kind of-sort of-understand the complex vortex that is the process of learning and remembering, let us move on to the different types/stages of memory.
First we have the Short-term memory, which doesn’t last very long (Ha-ha #lamejokeWednesday). Information stored in the short-term memory can last only seconds before you forget. You can extend these seconds into minutes with repetition and actively trying to remember. Various theorists and psychologist argue how many items of information people are actually capable of storing, most recently psychologist George Miller suggested that people can store between five and nine items.
The Working memory is where the brain is able to process and manipulate information. For example if a person was reading a step-by-step recipe they’re then able to transform the recipe into a physical dish. Studies show that up to seven items can be stored in this section of the memory for 18 seconds.
Finally, the Long-term memory is the continuing storage of information and can be broken up into two sectors, declarative and procedural. The declarative sector stores all the memories available in our conscious. The procedural sector is how we remember basic, day-to-day processes like body movement, how to use objects or how to drive a car.
In brief, our memory is one huge web and the less we think about it, the less confusing for everyone. – Bianca Mureddu
Top Photo from Prathima’s Flickr photostream.