What Is Memory?
Memory is the faculty by which the brain encodes, stores, and retrieves information. It is a record of experience for guiding future action.
Humans process stimuli first with their sensory memory; that information is typically held in the brain for less than a second, which may explain why most people report that when shown an object quickly, they feel like they take in more details than they're able to recall later. Next, the information is transferred to short-term memory or working memory, which allows someone to mull things over and hold key information in their mind. Finally, people store past events and patterns in their long-term memory, also known as episodic or semantic memory.
There are many different types of memory. There's the type of memory that you can dredge up without any effort at all; and there's the category where you must sweat to imprint facts and knowledge. Here is an overview, from various kinds of long-term memory, where you can recall events forever, as well as short-term, procedural, sensory, among others.
What is long-term memory?
This is how you store life-time memories, your first kiss, your wedding day, and the birth of your baby. The more weight you put on the event, the more likely it will be coded into your memory stores. The two types of memory stored in long-term are implicit and explicit.
What is implicit memory?
This type of memory is trouble-free and unintentional. How do you, after hearing a melody once, recall that melody without any effort on your part? Implicit memory is unconscious and involuntary in nature.
What is explicit memory?
This is a type of long-term memory, and is the opposite of implicit memory. Trying to study and remember hard facts for an exam requires intentional and conscious thinking. Semantic and episodic memory are two types of explicit memory, also called declarative memory.
What is semantic memory?
If you are great at trivia games and can dredge up, for example, the names of obscure ancient capitals, then you have good semantic memory. This type of recall is used for everyday information such as the meaning of a word, facts, and general knowledge.
What is episodic memory?
When you recollect and recapture particular events from your past, it won’t be the same memory that a friend might have of that same event. This memory is unique to you. Episodic memory relies on semantic memory. An example might be the very first movie you ever saw.
What is procedural memory?
Once you learn how to ride a bike or play the piano or drive a car, your procedural memory takes over. It’s the instant recall of skills and actions that you acquire. This general mastery becomes ingrained and automatic. Procedural memory, also called motor memory, is a type of implicit memory.
What is sensory memory?
This short-term memory is related to your ability to retain impressions from the sensations you experience. What you smell, touch, hear, taste, and see is processed by the brain into sensory memories.
What is short-term memory?
The brain stores short-term memories for about 20 to 30 seconds. This is why you forget where you put your keys or whether you turned the stove off. Research suggests that we can only store between five and nine events in short-term memory.
What is working memory?
You need working memory to retain and use information. This type of memory is needed in learning. A child with good working memory does well in math and reading, for example. Working memory may have a short duration, but practice and reusing the memory can encode information in long-term storage.
Is Alzheimer's genetic?
Research is being done on the genetics of memory—and particularly a possible genetic root for Alzheimer's disease. While the science is still preliminary, it is unclear why some people remember things much more efficiently than others. Or why a person can suffer from complete memory loss in middle age.
How Memory Works
Memory is malleable, and many researchers believe that it can be improved. But it also tends to decline naturally as people age and it can be corrupted by dementia as well as brain injury, trauma, or repeated stress. Even without impairment, human memory is notoriously untrustworthy. Different areas of the brain affect memory including the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex.
What is the role of the hippocampus in memory?
The hippocampus, located in the temporal lobe and part of the limbic system, is related to normal recognition and gives memories meaning and connects them to other memories. The hippocampus is also involved with spatial memory, which helps the brain map the surrounding world and find its way around a known place, for example.
What is the amygdala?
Located near the hippocampus, the amygdala is linked to emotional memory, it also helps you discern emotions in others. Also part of the limbic system, the amygdala activates your flight-or-fight response when you are fearful, stressed, or threatened.
What is a false memory?
Studies have shown that people can be easily persuaded to conjure false memories—even “remembering” that they committed a crime that never actually occurred—while events that did occur can’t be recalled with perfect accuracy. Eyewitness memory is critical in criminal cases—but some experts wonder if the human brain should be fully trusted in a court of law.
What is severe memory loss a sign of?
Losing one’s memory may be a sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Alzheimer’s is a diminishment of a person’s memory, and it can be slow and evident over time. Mostly the elderly suffer, though some people as young as age 50 may develop Alzheimer's. People with such memory loss cannot manage familiar tasks, and are often confused about where they are. They do not know what day it is, and whether they had just eaten, for example.
How to Improve Memory
Memory naturally declines with age, but some people are able to stay mentally sharp. How do they do it? Genetics plays a role, but lifestyle choices—like regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, not smoking, and watching blood pressure and cholesterol levels—can have a huge impact. It’s also crucial to keep the brain active and challenged with new activities, such as learning a language, puzzles, hobbies, volunteering, and other activities.
How can I sharpen my memory?
What foods improve memory?
There are foods that can improve cognitive function. Fatty fish, for example, contains docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, which reduces inflammation and improves the brain. Other foods that protect against memory loss are blueberries, turmeric, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, nuts, and seeds.
Is there a simple way to remember things?
Your brain is a machine that has limited attention and energy. A task that takes up such energy is visual sight. When you close your eyes, you free up the brain. It’s like having numerous programs running in the background of your computer, which makes it slow. If you close those programs--or your eyes--and free up your processor.