Memory, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is the power or process of recalling what had been previously learned and retained (“Memory”). This concept, taken for granted by some, is constantly in effect as individuals recall information they had learned earlier, like a fact about Abraham Lincoln or where they left their car keys. However, memory is somewhat of a mysterious enigma. Even with the technology available today, there are still some unanswered questions surrounding this topic. But scientists do know some things; the different ways it can work, why memory loss occurs, and some fun ways to improve everyday memory.
- How Memory Works -
First of all, scientists know mostly how memory works. The brain, through sensory receptors of the five senses like taste, smell, and sight, receives thousands of pieces of information, which it filters through to decide what is important and what to discard. For a memory to be formed from these many pieces of information, it has to go through conscious perception. This is where one is consciously attentive to the information, like if an individual were to realize they smelt something bad. After acknowledging the piece of information, the memory is encoded into either short-term memory or “working” memory (“The Memory Process”). Short-term memory can only hold about 7 pieces of information for about 20 to 30 seconds, hence the name “short” (Mohs). Working memory, on the other hand, can retain 5 to 9 items between 10 and 20 minutes, but only if the individual is actively thinking or working with the item (“The Memory Process”). Memories stored in these two places, after a certain amount of time, will either be forgotten or stored into long-term memory, which can hold an infinite amount of information. Gradually, important information is moved from short-term memory to long-term memory by consolidation. Consolidation is where a piece of information is repeated and repeated over a period of time so much that that piece of information slowly becomes resistant from interference from competing stimuli, or other interfering factors like disease or injury. Because of this, the information cannot be forgotten and is “moved” into long-term memory where the individual can recall on it. On top of that, molecular and cellular changes take place within the brain when information is newly learned, which leads to changes in a set or a single neuron, so chemical reactions are also a part of memory. Overall, a piece of information can become permanent in memory, and, so, an individual can later recall on that information (Preston).
- Synaptic Connections -
However, forming a memory also relies on neurons and their synaptic connections—which are messanger structures that pass signals from one neuron to another—and neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow communication of messages from neuron to neuron. The more neurons interact with one another by sending neurotransmitters, the more that communication line between those two neurons strengthens. Meanwhile, if the activity of a communication line between two neurons decreases, the strength also decreases, much like the strength of a relationship when two individuals that stop talking to each other. This active and on-going strengthening of these communication lines is called long-term potentiation. This cellular mechanism strengthens the bonds between brain cells, and, if maintained, these communication lines can help form a memory.
- The Unknown -
On the other hand, memory and its process isn’t yet fully understood by scientists. Memory is a very complex concept; different types of memories travel through different parts of the brain, interacting with different structures to become an actual memory (Texas A&M University). Scientists do know that memories are absorbed through the senses, and some specific occurrences in the brain are needed for a memory to maintain itself or be moved into long-term memory. They also know the differences between short-term, working, and long-term memory. But scientists don’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle. New discoveries are still being made. For instance, both psychology and neuroscience scientists have discovered agreeable evidence that long-term memory is separated into two entirely independent systems. One is a system for events and facts while the other is a system for the learning of habits and motor skills. More suggests that short-term memory is also divided into independent areas (Desimone). Scientists didn’t know this before; they are still learning what there is to know about memory.
- Memory Loss -
As a matter of fact, memory loss is now a growing problem. Dementia is the severe loss of memory that impacts the ability of a person to do everyday tasks, like Alzheimer’s, which is the cause of 60% to 80% of dementia cases. Memory loss is the result of damage to brain cells, which interferes with the ability of these cells to communicate and maintain their long-term potentiation, which helps to form memories, as mentioned before. For example, high levels of beta-amyloids outside of brain cells affect the cells’ ability to communicate with others and their overall cell health (“Alzheimer’s Disease and…”). These beta-amyloid proteins that block neuron communication lines are the cause of Alzheimer’s disease (“What is Dementia?”). Brain cells can also be damaged by many other things, like medications, the use of drugs or tobacco, alcohol, stress, depression, sleep deprivation, head injuries, or a lack of nutrients. Treatments vary depending on the reason why an individual is experiencing memory loss, but things such as medications and nutrient supplements can help improve memory (“Memory Loss”).
- Easy and Fun Tips to Improve Memory -
In addition, for non-severe memory loss problems like simply forgetting about something or having a “bad” memory, there are methods to be able to recall, and remember, more. One such method is visualizing the object or task that needs to be remembered. Since about 65% of the current population are visual learners, visualizing the task helps some individuals remember to do the task more than if they just thought about the task. Another is simply taking a nap, or just getting enough sleep overall. One study conducted by NASA researchers discovered that napping benefited working memory with significance, while another found that nappers have increased brain activity compared to those who don’t take a nap for the rest of that day. So getting enough sleep is an important part to improving memory. More so, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a memorization secret, which led him to being well-known for his good memory and that could work for others. His method was, when meeting a new individual for the first time, he would literally label them by imagining their name written across their forehead. By doing this, he could remember the name of an individual months after even if they had only met once. CNN even later claimed that this method works better if the name is printed in the memorizer’s favorite color. Lastly, even eating more foods with Omega-3 fatty acids can help improve memory. A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that eating more foods that contain this fatty acid—like salmon, brussel sprouts and walnuts—helped to improve the working memory of young and healthy individuals (Gregoire).
- A Complex Subject -
In the end, memory is a complex subject of the human mind. The five senses help form memories, which can be stored in short-, working, or long-term memory. Different memories are stored and processed through different areas of the brain, so scientists don’t yet have the big picture of how this works while they do have some pieces of the puzzle. Meanwhile, some individuals are faced with memory loss, which can be caused many different ways. Thankfully, there are ways to regain severe memory loss, or just some simple tips to help remember other things. With memory, people have the power to retain, process, and recall.
- Works Cited -
"Alzheimer's Disease and the Brain." Alz/Braintour, Alzheimer's Association, Accessed 25 October 2017.
Gregoire, Carolyn. "How to Remember Literally Everything." Huffington Post, published 30 September 2013, Accessed 21 October 2017.
"Memory Loss." WebMD,. Accessed 18 October 2017.
"Memory." Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 October 2017.
Miller, Earl K., Desimone, Robert. "Parallel neuronal mechanisms for short-term memory."
Science, vol. 263, no. 5146, 1994, p. 520+. Student Resources in Context, Accessed 16 Oct. 2017
Mohs, Richard C. "How Human Memory Works." How Stuff Works, published 8 May 2007,Accessed 18 October 2017.
Oregon State University. "The Memory Process." Oregonstate.edu,
Accessed 12 October 2017.
Texas A&M University. "How does memory work?" ScienceDaily, published 17 May 2016,
Accessed 14 October 2017.
Preston, Alison. "How does short-term memory work in relation to long-term memory? Are
short-term daily memories somehow transferred to long-term storage while we sleep?" Scientific American, Accessed 18 October 2017.
"What is Dementia?" Alzheimer's Association,
Accessed 15 October 2017.