Get to know your brain and enhance your memory!
Memory is a fundamental part of human nature. It allows us to keep a record of our life experiences and the knowledge we learn. By forming a continuous movie-like sequence from now to the moment of our birth we maintain the concept of our identity. In this way, our memories can be seen as the foundation of our identity – so it’s always good to consider how we can improve memory.
Like other mental faculties, memory is a skill, that gets better with practice and declines with old age and lack of practice. Moreover, the way our brain encodes, processes and retrieves information is unreliable and could be easily corrupted by adding new information.
In this article, we look at some key topics related to enhancing memory and answering some common queries to help you understand your brain better. Let’s get started!
What is memory?
The word “memory” which has it’s origins in Latin language memor or memoria (meaning mindful or remembering), describes our ability to store information in our brain and recall information from our brain when we need it. Memory is measured in different ways because we use this capacity of our brain to perform different functions.
What is the difference between long-term and short-term memory?
Short-term memory also known as working memory, refers to the ability to hold a specific amount of information in the brain for a short amount of time. So, short-term memory is limited in two ways: capacity and longevity. It cannot hold large amounts of information and it cannot hold information for long amounts of time.
George Miller, a scientist experimenting on working memory, published his research in 1956 showing that short term memory can store around 7 (plus or minus 2) bits of information. However modern research suggest that the actual number is lower, around 4-5 bits of data. Is this decrease due to different research methods or a general decrease in short-term memory (related to modern lifestyle and technology dependency)? We don’t know definitively, but we do know that we can improve the capacity of our working memory by chunking information.
By chunking we mean, breaking down information and then uniting the pieces together in a meaningful way. This is a useful tip if you want to remember a large ten digit number, for example: (777)- the are code; (333) – three digit chunk; (4444) – four digit chunk. In most countries were phone numbers have many digits, this method is used to make the phone numbers more memorable.
Long-term memory refers to the capacity to store larger amounts of information in the brain over longer time, sometimes for an unlimited duration. We are not conscious of all the information existing in our long-term memory at any given time, but we do have the ability to retrieve information from our long-term memory when we need to use it.
One of the most influential early studies conducted on long-term memory by Tulving in 1972, suggested to categorize it in 3 types: episodic, procedural and semantic memory.
Episodic memory stores information that were part of our experiences, like the moment of your first kiss. You would remember that it happened(i.e. declarative) but also you should remember how it felt, what time of the day it was, where it happened and so on.
Procedural memory is responsible for unconscious, automatic motor skills, such as how to swim or how to drive a car or a bicycle.
Semantic memory is used for storing general information that we have accumulated during our lifetime. This knowledge is usually memorized via conscious thought, for example: when you jump gravity will pull you back down; 1 Kilometer is 1000 meters; or Washington is the capital of the USA.
What is sensory memory?
Sensory memory stores information received through the senses: sight, smell, sound, touch and taste. Because there is a large amount of information flowing through our senses all the time, our brain will generally retain sensory information for only about three seconds, but if the stimulus is strong enough it could be stored in the long-term memory for an extended amount of time.
Sensory memory is not involved in cognitive functions and is more automatic than other types of data storage our brain is capable of. A person usually hasn’t control over what sensory information is stored or for how long but what matters is the circumstances in which this sensory data is received and how relevant these memories are to ourselves.
How does the brain stores, processes and remembers memories?
The human brain re-organizes and re-shapes itself all the time, by forming new neural pathways and connections, this process is called neuro plasticity. When we have new experiences, or learn new information, neurons in the brain fire together in patterns, forming clusters of neurons. These clusters are the basis of our memories, and they are stored in many different parts of the brain.
When we remember something, we essentially re-create our past experiences when the neurons that were involved in the original experience fire together. So remembering is more like putting a puzzle together rather than a video clip, because of the way neurons involved in storing memories are stored in different brain areas.
Why do we forget things?
Forgetting is actually an important – and even helpful – feature of the human brain. Our brains need to purge outdated, irrelevant and incorrect information, to allow for better decision making. “Forgetting” is how this is achieved. Imagine all the brain power that would be taken up by useless information if we could remember all the different meals we’d eaten in our lives! “Forgetting” helps us avoid problems like this.
However, forgetfulness can turn into memory impairment other time, if we are predisposed genetically, leading an unhealthy lifestyle for a prolonged period or because of having high stress levels. Recent memory research suggests that the stress hormone, cortisol, that is released by our adrenal glands in our blood stream(in cases of continuous sleep disturbance, fatigue, long working hours etc.) can affect negatively our long and short term memory.
Benefits of having a good memory
There are countless benefits to having a good memory. Firstly, if we are able to recall facts and details with ease, we will perform better in a wide variety of academic and professional settings. We will perform better in tests and exams. We will have the skills to succeed in a wide range of professions that require practitioners to store large amounts of information in their brains and retrieve it quickly, to solve complex problems (medicine, law and engineering are just a few examples of such professions).
However, recent research suggests that due to our increasing reliance on technology our memory might become weaker if we continue to delegate the tasks we use to do mentally 20 years ago, to our machines and smart devices.
Secondly, if we have a good memory, we will perform better in social situations. We will be able to impress people and win them over if we can remember their names and key details about them with ease. We will be more equipped to drop interesting observations and factoids into conversation when we meet people. We will also be able to hold our own when discussing a wide range of topics with others.
We cannot possibly list all the benefits of having a good memory here, but if you’d like to know more, scroll down to the bottom of this post to find out about our online course – there is much more to learn!
How can we improve our memory?
You can improve your memory in many different ways. There are lifestyle measures you can adopt, like eating the right foods, getting enough sleep and keeping a regular exercise regime. But there are also a number of strategies and exercises you can use to assist and improve your memory.
You have probably heard of anagrams, for instance. This memorization strategy can help you remember a number of words by taking the first initial of each word, and organizing those initials into one single word. But that’s just the beginning! There are a number of different techniques for remembering words, sentences, number sequences, lists of items, names and faces of people – and much more! Enroll in our Free Memory Course and start learning now.
So, would you like to learn more about memory? Would you like to learn some tips, exercises and lifestyle hacks to improve your long and short-term memory?
Perhaps you want to avoid forgetting essential items on your grocery list? Perhaps you want to perform better at pub quizzes or trivia nights? Or perhaps you want to remember key details about new people – making it easier to make connections and appear confident in social situations? If any of these apply to you, our online course could be just what you’re looking for!
Our course is inspired by the latest science and research on memory, but it also draws from centuries of wisdom on the topic, dating back to the age of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. But, more importantly, our course also provides practical tips, strategies and exercises that you can use to support and enhance your memory. We will make sure your knowledge translates to real-world results and insights – and don’t worry, you don’t need to have any scientific background to benefit from the course.
The course consists of 10 easy-to-read lessons, each taking 5 – 10 minutes to complete(although students may choose to spend longer on some exercises).
We can’t wait to share our knowledge and insights with you.
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