How Human Memory Works
Human memory is associative, meaning that our brain links different pieces of information together, which form a complex knowledge structure. Our human brain works like a huge information network where the associations can change very quickly. We 've all been in a situation where it was very important for us to remember something, but the harder we tried to remember, the harder it became to access the memory, the stored information.
Perhaps the reason for this may have been the loss of a link to a specific piece of information, or maybe our mental lapse was caused by the stress of the moment. The problem wasn't that we forgot or lost the information. It was still stored in our filing cabinet, or brain, or else we never could have recovered it. The problem was that we misfiled it. We hadn't forgotten the data, we'd merely misplaced it.
The human memory also has different stages: ultra-shortterm memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. The first time you hear a name, you may hardly pay attention to it, and if you are asked to repeat it even a few seconds later, it just won't be there. Because you paid it so little attention initially, it was stored in the ultra-short-term memory. But once you were caught forgetting it and perhaps were a little embarrassed as a result, the second time you hear the name it will probably stick … for at least a little while. Now it's filed in the short-term section of your memory file. If you meet that person again and again, the name gets recalled over and over a few times, and it will go into the long-term memory file. Each time it gets "up graded," it becomes easier and easier to recall. "Practice makes perfect!" The trouble with us older folks is that we don't like to practice. We've become unfocused, and we don't pay as much attention to detail as we did when we were young and everything was new and exciting.
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Forgetting has its useful function, too. Since there is no need for everything to be stored in our brains, the different stages of human memory help to filter out what isn't too important. Since important things get used or thought about more, those are the things that get upgraded to longer-term memories. This helps to protect us from the flood of information coming our way every day, every hour, every minute!
Short-term memory is mediated by a chemical synapse via a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. It is short-lived if it is not reinforced rather soon after the initial triggering event has occurred. Long-term memory develops when repetition or emotional importance bring about a structural change that actually "cements" the neural pathway chemically, solders the chemical "flux'' through repetition. Protein is actually laid down to create a permanent "bridge" to the memory. Thus, repeating a thought or a recall changes the chemical synapse to an actual structural "encoding bridge." If you frequently repeat what you want to remember, you will remember!
Rhymes and mnemonics help to encode memories by association. Writing also helps you to encode. Often, just the act of writing a list helps you to remember the items on it. Have you ever made a grocery list that you accidentally left at home, had no choice but to go shopping anyway, and when you got home to check the list you discovered that you had managed to buy nearly everything you'd originally listed … and usually more?
Retrieval of information becomes easier if attention was paid and either repetition or emotional impact enhanced the initial experience, enabling the brain to encode the new information properly. Then it becomes a matter of finding it in its proper file. Did you ever panic, thinking you had lost a day's work in your computer and then happily find that it had just been misfiled and was actually stored in the wrong place but was still totally intact? That's what usually happens in your brain when you think you’ve forgotten something. It's almost always there if you can just find it. Try to retrace your steps. Think about what you were doing when you had the experience you were trying to remember.
If you were carrying in groceries the last time you had your keys, look in the kitchen to find them! Learn to relax when seeking a memory; adrenaline tend to wipes out memory. Reconstruct situations or scenes. Tie it to other memories and picture what you are trying to remember.
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