by James McLean Bowie
Human memory is quite an intricate subject, although memory is not fully understood by modern science we can go a long way in defining how our memory works. We know that our memory is controlled in the Cerebral Cortex and memory and personality is found to be controlled in the Hippocampus. Loss of memory, quite often seen as the onset of Alzheimer's disease, is usually caused by a build up of an abnormal protein called beta-amyloid, this deposits plaques outside of neurons, the neurons which are most affected are found in the cerebral cortex.
On defining our memory we find that it is the preservation of information over a period of time through storage, encoding, and retrieval. To have something that is to be considered memory, you must be able to take it in, store it, and then retrieve it when it is needed. Our memory is extremely complex and it can at times let you down, especially when you are trying to remember something, often this is during a stressful time in your life. Our memory can also cause confusion, most often when two people experience different events. An example of this would be, if two friends went out together and were witness to some event, on recalling the event one friend gave his or her version and the other friend gave a completely different version, then it could lead to a lot of confusion.
It would be fair to say that most people have been frustrated when they are unable to recall someone's name or a place they once visited. It should be noted that memory is not installed like data is in a computer; the human memory is a little more solid. We call the initial stage of memory encoding; this is when the information is processed for storage. When you listen to music, or watch television you are encoding that information into memory. We can install some data into our memory quite effortlessly, while some other data takes quite a long time to get in there. How the information gets stored into data is quite interesting to psychologists, this is because it tends to vary from individual to individual.
When we begin to encode we use something called selective attention, which means we are focusing on a specific situation while we ignore everything else. It is like giving our undivided attention to one specific factor. The human brain may well be magnificent, and it is much more powerful than any super computer, it does have its limits, and it cannot pay attention to everything at once.
Divided attention also has a large impact on memory; this means that we try to concentrate on too many different things at once. When psychological researchers try to measure divided attention they ask people to try to remember a list of materials, they are however also asked to perform an additional task at the same time. Participants, who focus their attention on just one single event as opposed to trying to remember numerous things simultaneously, perform much better. However simply paying attention to something will not guarantee any success when trying to remembering it. Encoding is processed on three different levels. Levels of processing is encoding, and this is where we encode information from shallow to deep, the deeper processing always produces better results than the shallow.
Shallow level: This includes the sensory or the physical characteristics of stimuli which are analyzed. An example is, we may detect some shapes of printed characters, or detect the pitch of a particular sound. Intermediate level: This stimulus is recognized and we give it a distinct label. For example, we would identify an object which drives on the road as a car. Deepest Level: This includes information which is processed semantically which means in terms of its meaning. When we reach the deepest level we will make certain associations with things, this means that we will be more likely to remember it in the future.
Time after time it appears that our memories improve when we make associations to stimuli which are used in deep processing, as opposed to tuning into just the physical characteristics. For example, it is much more likely that you would remember someone's face, if you were to make some form of association with it as opposed to remembering how that person looks. You could perhaps attach some meaning to it or compare the individual to a famous person. Also you could even associate a famous person with a friend of yours who is not a celebrity by any means.
Next, cognitive psychologists or the psychologists who study the thinking process realize that there is more to memory than just deep processing. How we perceive things can have a direct impact on our memory. There are many layers of memory so to speak. While we are still on the subject of deep processing, the more extensive our processing is, the better we can remember something. We define elaboration as the extensiveness of processing at any level. Rather than just remembering a definition, we must come up with a deeper concept of a word; this is done by thinking of examples which relate to the word, this is a strategy which is often used with Kaplan's Sat flashcards. On the front of the card we find the word, and on the back there is the definition, which is followed by a sentence that uses the definition properly.
The main reason that elaboration is so successful is because it helps to make something distinct in your mind. Just think of a memorable event in your life. One which I think has a huge effect on people today is the World Trade Center event. Most people are likely to remember where they were and how they first heard the news on that day. Those people who were actually in the event and survived, will most likely have a very hard time forgetting about the event and can most likely remember the sounds and images very clearly. On the subject of seeing things clearly, imagery is an extremely important aspect of memory. To make your memories very powerful it is important that you use mental imagery. One example of using mental imagery is remembering where you placed your spectacles once you have finished reading the newspaper. Some psychologists are of the belief that the use of mental imagery is very powerful, because people often have a tendency to remember images more then words.
It has been established that images can help people learn languages. However, how intricate storage is, it will not determine how well it will get encoded.
Storage refers to the way information will stay in storage for long periods of time. We are able to remember some information for a number of years, and then we forget some information within a minute or less. Sensory memory is the type of memory which retains information in a sensory form for only an instant. It is of course very high in detail but this information is quickly lost. Try to think of sounds you hear when you are getting out of your car, or perhaps the sound of a bird singing. These are some of the more common examples of sensory memory.
We will now look at short term memory, which is the information that is usually kept in storage for around 30 seconds, or less, there are some other strategies we use to keep it in storage longer periods. Some ways that you can improve your short term memory is by chunking and reversal. We have all probably experienced rehearsal; this is the repetition of something, this is usually a number. If we try to remember a telephone number, the easiest way would be to keep repeating the number. Also you can try to remember long numbers by chunking them. For example, take a look at this number and then turn away and try to repeat it. The number is 98521488239. How did you do? Don't feel too bad if you did not do very well. However, you would possibly have done better if you had chunked or grouped the numbers together. For example, rather than trying to remember this big blob of 98521488239, you can chunk in into 985-214-882-39. You see the difference; it now looks similar to a phone number. This is just one example of how chunking can be useful in helping people to remember content.
James McLean Bowie is an author and book dealer who resides in East Yorkshire England. He owns a number of web sites, two of which are http://jamesbowiebooks.com and http://bowiebooks.com . On these sites you will find a number of useful resources for writers, collectors, hobby enthusiasts and webmasters.