Memories: Introduction and Improvement

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the brain

There is always a walking-talking Wikipedia in every friend group. The one who knows all the facts and keeps firing his arrows of factoids. How the heck do they remember all the stuff? Memories are one of the most important features of our brain. Memories are no physical stuff which you can draw-out from your head and put it into some magical potion to see for yourself or make others watch the way Albus Dumbledore used to do.

Memories make us. But, with age, memories slowly start to deplete. In this article, first we’ll see how humans form memories, then their working, and then the science behind the retrieval of memories. Having the basic knowledge of memories is very important in order to improve it. On the later part, we’ll learn how to improve upon our memory skills.

How do we form memories?

The formation of memories is far more complex than people used to think for a long time. Take the example of some chocolate you ate a few hours ago. The colour of the chocolate is stored in some part of the brain, while the smell is stored in some other part. How you felt after eating the chocolate is in a different region. The signals from each of these regions come and pass through a common route, the hippocampus region of the brain, and you get that overall chocolaty feel of the chocolate.

neuronic connections

New memories are formed as a connection between the brain cells called neurons. Each of the neurons are connected with hundreds and thousands of other neurons. All in all, we get a complex convoluted network of trillions of neurons. New memories slightly modify the connections between some neurons. Now, depending upon what was your level of expression or alertness when you were perceiving a particular information, the connections will be stronger or weaker.

And here comes the first memory tip.

Practice. Repetition makes those connections more strong and hence the information is easy to retrieve.

Retrieving Memories and Forgetting

Information are encoded before they could be stored in the form of memories. When you can’t exactly remember where you kept your bike keys, maybe that information was not encoded at all! There is another theory called the decay theory. It says that with time, if a learned thing is not practice or rehearsed, the connection between those specific neurons become weaker and weaker and eventually they vanish. Then, you can’t retrieve that memory ever.

Sometimes interference could also create problems in memorizing stuff. For example, you perceive something new which in many manners is similar to something old you had known, then it may be possible that these two memories interfere with each other and whichever is weaker, gets transformed and distorted.

 Retrieval cues play an important role in retrieving the memory. Think of the retrieval cue as a connecting link between a stimulus and something in the long term memory. The presence of these cues makes the retrieval easy. For example, the smell of pineapples may remind you of the pineapple sheera your mom used to make when you were a kid. These retrieval cues could be used as a tool to build up a strong memory.

Like other skills, building up a good memory also needs practice, a lot of practice! Below are some well-known methods of improving memory:

  1. Chunking. Method to commit those things to memory which are otherwise very tedious. We’ll take an example here. You have bought a new mobile number and you need to remember it. Say it is 9827314250. An average human brain can remember only up to 6 or 7 digits at a time. How would you do that? The answer is chunking. Break the number into smaller chunks, and look for some patterns. We can make the chunks as 9827-314-250. The first four letters are easy to remember as they represent the area-service provider code. 314 could be taken as pi, while 250 can be taken as the quarter of 1000. The chunked pieces will be quite easier to remember than the big 10 digit number.
  2. How to remember the names of the people?

Now, this has been a difficult issue even for Sherlock Holmes. Alas, he should have paid a little attention to the connections too! When a person tells your name for the first time, draw the meaning of the name. There is a very good property of the human brain. It associates images to most of the words it learns. So, listen to the name and attach that picture which came to your brain when you heard the name first time in your life. Now, look at the person very carefully. What did you notice first? The eyes? The nose? Or the face cut? Attach that image to the first-noticed thing. Next time, when you’ll meet the person, you’ll again observe the same first-noticed thing in the face of the person which’ll remind you of the associated picture from where you can retrieve the name! Say hello!

  1. Repeated Revision. Nothing improves the memory better than revision. Practice makes a man perfect. By repeating what you studied after proper intervals, you can commit anything to the long term memory. Start by learning a certain number of facts. Revise them after an hour. Now, schedule 3 tests, first after 4 hours, second after 16 hours and the third after a week. For the facts you got wrong, revise and keep testing them after 12 hours till you get them right. For most of the people, this schedule works the best.

That was all for this part, see you in the next part!

another muggle :|