In our life, the role of memory is indispensable. Because of it, we can remember treasured moments in our past. It helps us to memorize and perform the skills that we gained by endless hours of training. Simply speaking, we can recall and use the information that was obtained in school or in college.
In the past, people possessed outstanding memory that enabled them to remember and reminisce historical events, laws, speeches and stories. However, with an invention of a pen, people started to write things down, instead of memorizing them.
In today’s world, thanks to internet, almost all the information can be found within seconds. Thus, memorizing things like the list of top scorers of NBA, the team that won the most games in Champions League, the deepest lake in the world, or the highest buildings in USA seems to be irrelevant. If we do not know the things or simply do not remember them, we can always find them with the help of search engines.
Eve Marder, elected counselor of NAS(US National Academy of Sciences), believes that “just looking things up” reduces the creativity of people. According to Mrs. Marder, every time we forget an information, we are missing an opportunity to make connections between discoveries of the past and the things that can be studied at the moment.
How Does Memory Work? Three Stages of Memory.
People used to think of it as a filing cabinet that consists of individual memory files that were generated when we obtained new information or when we experienced different events. However, modern medical and psychological surveys show that the way that memory storage in our brain is much more complex and dynamic than simple filing cabinet.
Memories in our brain go through three stages of data processing: encoding, storing and retrieving.
When we obtain a new information, our brain reforms information into a form that can be handled by brain itself. For instance, a word that is seen in a billboard can be stored in our memory. While remembering, the word is encoded either into a sound, a picture or a meaning. With that being said, the three types of encoding the information needs to be listed:
- Acoustic – with the help of sound;
- Visual – with the help of an image;
- Semantic – with the help of meaningful conversion;
Let’s take an encoding of a password of a newly created account online as an example. If you can see an image of the password in the form of text after typing it out, then the brain is storing the password using visual encoding. If you are trying to remember the password by repeating it for several times, then you are trying to store it using acoustic encoding. Finally, if you set your password, so that it means something, for instance your date of birth, then to store that information, your brain is using semantic encoding.
Information can be stored in short-term or long-term memories.
Short term memory can store information like phone number or list of items for around 25-30 seconds. There are few strategies to increase the live of short-term memories. For instance, one can repeat a phone number several times. Another way is divide the long number into several chunks so that it is easier to remember.
Short term memory is good for recalling information in recent past. There is only a certain amount of information that short-term memory can hold.
If the information that we obtained and stored in short-time memory is important, then it can be slowly transported to long-term memory.
The amount of time that information has been used or repeated in head can indicate whether it is stored in long-term memory or not. The more the information is repeated, the more chances that it will be stored in long term memory. However, repeating the information again and again is not the only option to keep memories for a long time.
Things can be stored in our long term memory based on impressions and excitements that we get from certain events in our life. When we remember our experiences from the past, our brain uses information from our long term memory.
Long term memory can store unlimited amount of information.
Retrieving the information means remembering the stored memories. If we cannot recall certain information, the reason could be that we are not able to retrieve it. The difference between short term and long term memories become evident, when we have to recall the information from our memory.
According to Saul McLeod, “short term memory is stored and retrieved sequentially”. Mr. McLeod states that if a group of students is given a list of items and asked to recall the fifth item from the list, all the students will go through the list to find out the required item. The information about list of items would be stored in short term memory, in this case. Thus, students cannot give initial answer to question about the fifth item.
However, if the students observed the information carefully, and looked through it several times, it can be stored in a long term memory. In that case, students know exactly which items are there and in which order.
Can I Improve my Memory?
The short answer is – yes, memory can be improved. There are several ways that can help to enhance your ability to remember things.
Some of the recognized methods include maintaining a healthy lifestyle and doing regular brain exercises.
Here is a great article that may help : How to improve memory and concentration?
Additionally, to keep our memory healthy, we need to be mentally active. Brain is just like a muscle. As regular exercises help muscles to grow, consistent mental challenges help our brain to be on shape.
As mentioned above, there are several methods that can help memory to be improved. Some of them are more effective than the others. However, any type of these methods and exercises are better than doing nothing.
Learning how to play on a new musical instrument, new language or how to cook can be a good mental exercise for our brain, and help keeping and improving our memory.
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