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Study into how the Human Memory works

Memory is the act of recalling or remembering past events. Psychologists define memory as the ability to store, retain and recall information. Or memory can also be defined as the process of acquiring information through encoding by changing it to a usable form, storage for later use and retrieval by bringing stored memories into conscious awareness state.

In order to understand the human memory and how it works then we have to understand its functions. How memory is formed, how they are stored and how they are retrieved.

Memory is formed through the process of encoding; here the memory is formed through the selective process where key materials are been selected and put into memory. Questions regarding these process is at what point are distractive materials been screen out from the encoding? Shiffrin (1988), suggested that

Memory storage is carried out at our unconscious state except when we intend to retrieve it. Atkinson et al (1968), classified memory storage into three different stages, which are sensory storage, short-term storage and long-term storage.

Sensory storage is the first and earliest stage of memory which retains a brief impression of sensory stimulus after the stimulus has ended. It is sub divided into iconic memory which stores the visual information and lasts for not longer than half a second. The other type of sensory memory is echoic memory which stores auditory information for 3 or 4 seconds. Sensory memory allows us to retain only certain aspect of information which is passed on to the short-term memory.

Short-term memory, also known as working memory, is the information we are currently aware of or thinking about. In Freudian psychology, this memory would be referred to as the conscious mind. Paying attention to sensory memories generates the information in short-term memory. Most of the information stored in working memory will be stored for approximately 20 to 30 seconds. While many of our short-term memories are quickly forgotten, attending to this information allows it to continue on the next stage - long-term memory.

Long-term memory is the last stage of memory which storage, here it can store memory for a few days or as long as decades. It is a type of memory a person retain consciously or unconsciously. This is possible because an individual attach personal meaning that comes with the memory. That is either memory of family, friends or the need to recall the memory for either a test or exams or during an emotional connection, either through the lost of a loved one or shedding tears of joy.

If an individual should concentrate well enough to encode new information into the brain, the hippocampus sends a signal to store the information as long-term memory. This happens more easily if it’s related to something already known, or if it stimulates an emotional response.

Due to the complex nature of the long-term memory and the process it undergoes, it is divided into two subunits to make storage and retaining of memory effective and efficient. These are explicit and implicit memory. Explicit memory happens in our conscious state which either the memory of a specific event in a day or appointments or the knowledge of our external being such as the function of pencil. Implicit memory on the other hand occurs in our unconscious state which is the memory of how we walk, eat, cycle, dance or write. Explicit memory is encoded in the hippocampus, entorhinal cortex and perirhinal cortex and stored in the temporal cortex of the brain. The implicit memory is encoded and stored in the cerebellum and the striatum.

Memory retrieval is not a random process, mood and cues help in the retrieval where mood helps in memory retrieval when the same state of emotion is set when the memory was been stored. Bartlett (1932) states that memories are reconstructions .When you need to recall information; your brain has to activate the same pattern of nerve cells it used to store it. The more frequently you need the information, the easier it is to retrieve it along healthy nerve cell connections.

Remembering is possible due to:

Memories are constructions made in accordance with present needs, desire, influences.

Memories are often accompanied by feelings and emotions.

Memory usually involves awareness of the memory. (Schacter, 1996).

When remembering any information such as a best friends number, the brain just does not remember the number only, it remembers the number, the face of that person and a conversation that transpired between the two of you. The human memories are tangled together and information complex.

Memories we forget are usually stored in our short-term memories. We forget memory so we can create new once and if every memory was stored in our long-term memory, then storing and retrieving of memory will be very slow and inefficient. Our memory disc will eventually become full and new memories will not be made. For memory to be remembered, we need to go through the hippocampus part of our brain first. This is very difficult when a person is under stress, pain or at an old age and it also leads to a person forgetting.

The human memory can be improved by different ways such as

Brain exercise through trying things in different ways or learning and acquiring new skills.

Healthy habits such as good sleeping habit, not smoking, drinking lots of water or managing stress.

Eating nutritious foods that contain fruits, vegetables, grains and healthy fats.

In conclusion, memory involves communication among the brain’s network of neurons through activations of millions of cells activated by brain chemicals called neurotransmitters New information enters the brain along pathways between neurons. The key to encoding information into the memory is concentration; unless an individual focus on information intently, it goes “in one ear and out the other.” This is why teachers are always nagging students to pay attention!

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