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Making Memories Within The Brain

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

Memory creation and management is a complex process where the human brain will collect, store, and recall information. Now with that said, there are various types of memory and each holds certain functions.

Sensory memory

This is the first stage after information gets to a sense organ. It is very brief, typically lasting about a second. It is a temporary storage buffer between sensory input and the next stage, short term memory.

Each sense has its own sensory memory (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste). Visual sensory memory, or iconic memory, lasts about 1/2 to 1 second; auditory sensory memory, or echoic memory, lasts up to 2-3 seconds. Sensory memory isn’t typically the kind of memory you try to improve, but for instance, chefs or people who love cooking, can over time develop a more powerful sensory memory for different tastes.

Short-Term Memory or Working Memory

Short-term and working memory are terms that are often used interchangeably by many people, although they are generally researched to be two complex concepts that are distinct.

In basic terms, working memory is generally thought to be the theoretical framework that involves a pattern or a process that you are consciously trying to remember in real-time or trying to analyze something or perform an action.

Meanwhile, short-term memory is thought to be the actual short-term storage of information. It is thought to last less than 1 minute and generally between 15-30 seconds. Short-term memory is by its nature very fragile and easily disrupted by distraction or the passing of time. One way to understand short-term memory is to think of it as the brain’s ‘scratch-pad’ or ‘post-it note.’ It serves as a temporary data bank that your brain uses to process.

Long-Term Memory

Explicit memory

Explicit Memory (or Declarative Memory) is the memory of facts and events and refers to those memories that can be consciously recalled (or “declared”). Some tasks that require the use of explicit memory include remembering what you learned in your history class, recalling your phone number, identifying who the current president is, writing a research paper, and remembering your home address.

  • Episodic memory is one type of explicit memory. It is everything involved in remembering your life and what has happened to you. It generally has to do with the what, when, and where aspects of life. It is the memory of autobiographical events (times, places, associated emotions, and other contextual knowledge) that can be explicitly stated.

  • Semantic memory is another type of explicit memory. It covers areas like factual knowledge, words, numbers, and concepts. For instance, this could include things that are common knowledge, such as the names of colors, the sounds of letters, the difference between a hairbrush and toothbrush, and other basic facts acquired over a lifetime.

Implicit memory

Implicit Memory is usually non-conscious and not verbally articulated. Implicit memories are often procedural and focused on the step-by-step processes that must be performed in order to complete a task. Some tasks that require the use of implicit memory include riding a bike, singing your favorite song, typing on your computer keyboard, and brushing your teeth.

  • Procedural memory is a type of implicit memory that describes a specific kind of implicit memory that includes all the abilities you've developed. For example, this could be how to walk, talk, eat, and play. These memories become so ingrained that they are almost automatic. You do not need to consciously think about how to perform these motor skills; you simply do them without much, if any, thought.

What are some ways someone can improve their memory? Here are 5 ways…..

Loci training (or memory palace): Think of a familiar place (like your house, apartment, office, etc.) and imagine a mental pathway through it. To store your images, simply imagine or “stick” each image on a location along the path in your mind. The idea is that later on when you want to retrieve the information, all you have to do is think of your memory palace, walk back through it in your mind and pick up the images you left there.

Mental Representations: Our brains encode visual memories differently than words, making it easier and quicker to remember visuals. In daily life, try to associate words with pictures to help remember them. To build strong mental connections to the new information, the images must be very memorable, because ordinary things are too forgettable. The silly, the impossible, and the outrageous are easy to remember.

Streamline Your Focus (At Least Briefly): Your ability to learn information is dependent on your ability to concentrate and focus. If you are trying to learn important cognitively-demanding work but are routinely distracted by your cell phone, internet, outside interruptions (like background conversations, tv, music, etc.), or internal interruptions (like running thoughts) then you are less likely to recall that information later on. Try streamlining your focus for at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted work so you can truly focus then, if needed, you can give yourself a mini-break. Although this mini-break would be better suited for deep breathing exercises, taking a short walk, or getting a healthy snack rather than surfing the internet or checking emails or social media.

Don't Be Complacent with What You Just Heard or Read — Test Yourself: In order to truly remember something in the long-run you must work at retrieving that information. Try to implement the concept of retrieval practice which is basically just testing yourself. Don't just reread your notes, close your book and see how much you can recall without any aid. That's not just a way to verify what has been remembered, it's also an extremely powerful way to learn. You can read and reread tons of books or sitting through lectures, but very little of what you've read or heard will stick in your brain if you don't make an effort to actively process and recall the information.

Sleep: A good night's sleep benefits mood, alertness, concentration, and judgment. In addition, neuroscience has established that sleep plays a vital role in memory retention. Acquisition and recall of information occur when a person is awake but consolidation is typically done while asleep. When the person is awake, the brain reacts to external stimuli and encodes new memories. When the brain is sleeping, it is generally not exposed to vast amounts of external stimuli, therefore giving it the opportunity to engage in memory consolidation, which strengthens and integrates new memory into existing knowledge networks. Therefore, improving your sleep quality can have the added benefit of improving memory.

If you are concerned about your memory, thinking skills, or dementia (like Alzheimer's disease, FTD, Vascular, etc.), talk to your doctor to see if you should undergo a neuropsychological assessment. If you live in the New Jersey or New York area and would like to schedule a neuropsychological evaluation for yourself or a family member in order to determine if there have been any potential cognitive changes that would be atypical or unexpected for your age please contact Dr. Corey Burchette at 201-577-8286 to inquire about scheduling an appointment at the New Jersey Memory Center which is located in Verona, New Jersey. Easily accessible from many points in North Jersey (including Montclair, Upper Montclair, Cedar Grove, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Caldwell, West Caldwell, North Caldwell, Totowa, Wayne, Little Falls, West Orange, Maplewood, Livingston, and many more).

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