An Overview of How the Human Memory Works
The concept of memory is something that scientists are still trying to wrap their heads around. At its core, memory is the process the mind acquires information, stores it, and then can recall it at a later point in time. There is a three-step process at which a memory forms: encoding, storage, and retrieval. Encoding refers to changing information into a useable form. After the mind encodes information, it stores it away for later use. When the time comes to use that information, the brain then retrieves the memory.
ScienceDaily shares research from Texas A&M University where cellular neuroscientist William Griffith, Ph.D., gives a brief overview of how memory works. In short, Griffith explains, “As the synapses and pathways between neurons are used, they gain the ability to become strengthened or permanently enhanced. This is the building block of how memory works.” In other words, think of the brain as a muscle. You either use it, or you lose it.
So how is it that you can remember multiple passwords, but have trouble recalling a person’s name that just introduced themselves? The following video from the BBC explains more.
There are three separate stages of memory, as defined by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin. In 1968, the two theorized that the basic structure of memory consists of sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. The Association of Psychological Science explains more. “The model assumed that memory traces in both short- and long-term stores are functionally separate, with retrieval of ‘permanent’ long-term memories based on their similarity to cues. It asserts that long-term forgetting is due to retrieval failure, not true loss of the memory.” Even with these three stages of memory, it is almost impossible to remember everything that happens in the day. Your best bet at maintaining a good structured memory is to pay attention to information that is the most important.
When a person does forget to remember something, it could be one of four things: retrieval failure, interference, failure to store, and motivated forgetting. This is why “exercising” the brain is so important! Read out loud, stay organized, relate new information to things you already know, and review things consistently. You still may not remember everything, but it will help out more than you think. As the mind ages, it becomes at risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s. Many people can delay cognitive decline issues by stimulating the mind with puzzles, books, and games.
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