How memory works (and how you can make it work for you)

Ever lost your car keys? I can hardly remember the words that seem to be on the tip of my tongue? Forget why you entered the room? Memory may seem as simple as a video cassette to your head that either turns on or it doesn't. You either remember or you don't, right? Not so much. In reality, memory is a wildly complex process that experts are still figuring out. But diving into how memory works and what current research is discovering can help you better understand how to do the job for you. So how does memory work?

How Memory Works: The Basics

neurons and synapses

At the most basic level, the memory of neurons and synapses. Neurons are nerve cells in the brain, and synapses are connections between neurons. Synapses carry signals from neuron to neuron. These are the ways that memories can form. ((Matlin, V. M. (2005). Knowledge. Crawfordsville: John Wylie & Suns, Inc.)) Neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow neurons to send their signals across synapses. Thus, chemicals in the trigger zone of the brain neurons signal other neurons through synaptic connections.((Stierwalt, S. (2016, November 19). How memory works and 6 tips to improve it. Retrieved September 23, 2019,)) ((Texas A&M University. (2016, May 17). How does memory work? ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 23, 2019,)) Neural connections are not eternal. The brain is constantly changing because your neural connections are constantly being formed and blurred, weakening and strengthening. ((Sternberg, R. J. (1999). Cognitive Psychology (2nd ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.)) If you want to increase your chances of remembering something, good start and build up these paths. In short, use neural pathways so as not to lose them. ((Miller, A. G. (1956). The magic number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our ability to process information. Psychological Commentary, 63 (2): 81-97.))

3 stages of memory ((McLeod, S. (2013). Memory stages: encoding, storage and retrieval. Retrieved September 23, 2019,))

1. Encoding

Before the shape memory, we must first feel something. Let's say we see a table or the smell of a flower. This is called touch input. Encoding is the process of changing what is touch input so that it can potentially be stored later as memory. There are three different ways encoding occurs: visual, acoustic and semantic. Visual coding is when touch input is on a photo or visual representation. Acoustic auditory and semantic includes words. For example, when you study an image, you use visual coding. When you say a name over and over again to try and remember, you are using auditory coding to try and store that name in your memory. And when you write down ideas in your own words, you activate semantic coding.

2. Storage

After the impulse becomes encoded, the brain has two main ways of storing encoded information in memory. The first one is short term memory. Short-term memory occurs predominantly in the prefrontal cortex, which is located behind your forehead. The brain can only hold a limited amount of information in short-term memory before it is either turned into long-term memory or forgotten. Other large categories of storage memory long-term memory. Long-term memory requires short-term memory to consolidate. This happens when neural connections are reinforced by an increase in signals, especially in an area of ​​the brain called the hippocampus. There are many types of long-term memory, including procedural, declarative, implicit, and explicit. Procedural memory does not require that we consciously recall information. Thinking about riding a bike, procedural memory is a type of implicit memory, which means we don't have to consciously remember anything. On the other hand, declarative memory is when you can consciously recall facts or figures. Declarative memory is a kind of explicit memory, which means that we do consciously recall information.

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3. Extraction

The final stage in the formation of memory search. Retrieval is when you recall information through those neural pathways that previously encoded and stored information. The interesting part of extraction is that it is never exactly the same as when the input is encoded or stored. Search is like restoring what has been encoded and stored. It's not like a videotape that can be played and replayed and stays the same every time. The act of extracting is actually a creative act. The brain is there to sift through all kinds of neural noise in order to recreate or recall memories. Thus, much of our memorization accuracy really depends on what is competing, neuro-connection and signaling. Scientists have recently discovered that retrieval also largely depends on what the brain has forgotten.

The Importance of Forgetting

Recently, scientists have discovered that neurons in the hypothalamus clear old memories during sleep. clean up the less important information in order to better extract the important ones. Dopamine is essential for learning and forgetting in Drosophila. Neuron, 74 (3): 530-542.)) Scientists discovered a group of neurons in the brains of mice that were active during REM and sleep. ((Izawa, C. Chodhury, S., Miyazaki, T. Mukai, E., Ono, Dr., Inoue, R., Ohmura, Y., Mizoguchi, H. Kimura, K., Yoshioka, M., Terao, A., Kilduff, T., & Yamanaka, A. (2019, September 20). sleep-active neurons involved in forgetting hippocampal-dependent memory. Science, 365 (6459): 1308-1313.)) These neurons have been suppressing other neurons in the hippocampus, essentially clearing up some kind of memory during the sleep stage of sleep. They think this might be why people struggle to remember their dreams. There is an active forgetting process going on at the time to clear some of the neural pathways, thereby clearing out some of the neural noise in the brain to make it easier to find important memories. Now that we have answered “how memory works”, you can start to make your memory work better for you.

How can you make your work memorable?

1. Practice Various Coding Strategies

Because the brain encodes input in three different ways, experiment with all three (visual, auditory, and semantic) to see which is more effective for you personally. Everyone's brain is different, there are many different types of memory, and there are billions of neurons in every brain, so it makes sense that coding isn't going to be the same for every person and every situation. So, mix it up. Draw a picture, repeat something out loud, and put it in your own words. Many people think auditory coding is critical to long-term memory, so try to turn information into a song or repeat something out loud several times to solidify the information into long-term memory.

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2. Don't Just Remember Your Brain

Some memory takes place in the body. I think it's procedural memory. So don't forget your whole body to try and remember better. Get out of your chair. Walk around. Dance by reciting the information you want to remember.

3. Pay Closer Attention to Sensory Inputs

Memory starts with sensory inputs, so the more you tune in to your environment and the people around you, the more you will remember. Make things important. Note. Be aware of what is happening around you. Memory starts with perception, so hang up and give your brain some concentrated input.

4. Write Things Down

Memory is imperfect and requires coding, so another way to make memory work for you is to write things down. Writing is a kind of semantic coding, but it is also an active, embodied experience that will get you more parts of your brain on board.

5. Get your 8 hours of sleep

Since some scientists now think clearing old pathways is essential to getting different memories, you should give your brain a chance to clear the noise. Get a good night's rest so you can have some solid circles from REM sleep. This gives your brain a chance to clean up unimportant pathways and increase recovery.

6. Use it or lose it

Memory is an active process, so practice this process regularly. Strengthen your paths to have a better chance of remembering the things you want to remember.

7. Get Some Exercise

Move your body and get some oxygen going to your brain. Some research shows that exercise helps improve your memory.((Harvard Health: Physical exercise can improve your memory and thinking skills)) it relieves inflammation in the brain, which increases your neurons' ability to create their own pathways.

8. I know that memory is a creative process

Now that you know that memory isn't just a perfect record, use that to your advantage. Practice your search, but be open to other people's interpretations of the past. Memory is inaccurate. It will be fine with errors.

Final Thoughts

How does memory work? Memory starts with sensory inputs, then encoding, storage, and retrieval. The very act of remembering something depends on the strength of our central nervous system and the amount of competition between other pathways. The good news is that the brain is plastic, meaning it changes. It changes the most when we are young, but it is reassuring to know that throughout our lives, it will never stop changing. We are constantly shaping, reforming and blurring the paths in the brain. Which paths you consider important and which you focus on will determine how your brain remembers in the future. So, be conscious and deliberate about your path. Be mindful of your sensory inputs and then intentionally how and what to encode and what to consolidate into long-term memory. And use it or lose it. Memory is active and complex, and the more we practice and learn it, the stronger and healthier our paths will be in the future.

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