Take a deeper look into human memory (2023)

Memory refers to the psychological processes of acquisition, storage, preservation and subsequent retrieval of information. There are three main processes involved in memory: encoding, storage, and retrieval.

Human memory includes the ability to store and retrieve information. However, this is not a perfect process. Sometimes people forget things or remember the wrong things. In other cases, the information is not correctly encoded in memory.

Memory problems are usually relatively minor annoyances, like forgetting birthdays. However, they can also be a sign of serious diseases such asAlzheimer diseaseand other kinds ofcraziness🇧🇷 These conditions affect the quality of life and the ability to function.

This article describes how memories are formed and why they are sometimes forgotten. It also covers the different types of memory and steps you can take to improve and protect your memory.

how memories are made

To create a new memory, the information must be converted into a usable form, which is done through a process calledcoding🇧🇷 Once the information has been successfully encoded, it must be stored in memory for later use.

Researchers have long believed that memories are formed due to changes in the brain.neurons(neurons). Our current understanding is that memories are created by the connections that exist between these neurons, either by strengthening those connections or by developing new ones.

Changes in the connections between nerve cells (so-calledsynapse) are associated with learning and storing new information. Strengthening these connections helps retain information in memory.

Because of this, reviewing and practicing the information improves your ability to remember it. Exercise strengthens the connections between the synapses that store this memory.

Much of our stored memory is outside of our awareness most of the time, except when we really need it. The memory retrieval process allows us to consciously perceive stored memories.

How does long-term memory retrieval work?

How long do the memories last?

You can't discuss what memory is without also discussing how long memories last. Some memories are very brief, just a few seconds, and allow people to take in sensory information about the world.

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Short-term memory is a bit longer, lasting about 20-30 seconds. These memories consist primarily of the information that people are focusing on and thinking about at the time.

Some memories can last much longer: days, weeks, months, or even decades. Most of these long-term memories are out of immediate awareness, but can be drawnknowledgeIf required.

Why do we remember painful memories?

Have you often noticedpainful memoriestend to stay for a long time? Research suggests this is due to increased biological arousal during the negative experience, increasing the longevity of that memory.

use memory

To use information encoded in memory, it must first be retrieved. There are many factors that can affect this process, including the type of information used and any indications of recovery present.

Of course, this process is not always perfect. For example, have you ever felt like the answer to a question was just out of reach? This is an example of a confusing memory retrieval problem known asletologicalor the phenomenon of the tip of the tongue.

Letologica or phenomenon of the tip of the tongue

organize memory

The ability to access and retrieve information from long-term memory allows us to use those memories to make decisions, interact with others, andsolve problems🇧🇷 But in order to be recoverable, memories must be organized in some way.

One way to think about the organization of memory is the semantic network model. This model proposes that certain triggers activate associated memories.Seeing or remembering a specific place can trigger memories that occurred in that place.

For example, when you think of a specific building on campus, it can bring up memories of attending classes, learning, and connecting with your peers.

Sometimes certain stimuli can also act as powerful triggers, drawing memories into awareness.Fragranceis an example. Smelling a specific odor, such as perfume or freshly baked cookies, can evoke a surge of vivid memories associated with people and events from a person's past.

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To identify an odor, a person must remember when they smelled it before, and then associate it with visual information that occurred at the same time. Therefore, when brain areas associated with memory are damaged, the ability to recognize odors is impaired.

At the same time, the researchers discovered that scents can help trigger autobiographical memories in people with Alzheimer's.This underlines how powerful memories can be.

memory types

Although several different memory models have been proposed, thememory scenario modelit is often used to explain the basic structure and function of memory. Originally proposed by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin in 1968, this theory describes three separate phases omemory types: sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory.

sensory memory

sensory memory It is the initial stage of memory. During this phase, sensory information from the environment is retained for a very short period of time, usually no more than half a second.visual informationand three or four seconds for auditory information.

Humans only pay attention to certain aspects of this sensory memory. Attention to sensory memory allows some of that information to move to the next level: short-term memory.

Types of sensory memory and experiments.

short term memory

Short-term memory, also known as working memory, is the information that we currently perceive or think about. In Freudian psychology, this memory would be calledknowledge🇧🇷 Attention to sensory memories creates information in short-term memory.

While many of our short-term memories are quickly forgotten, paying attention to this information allows us to move to the next level: long-term memory. Most of the information stored in active memory is retained for about 20-30 seconds.

This ability can be expanded a bit by usingStorage strategies such as fragmentation, where related information is grouped into smaller chunks.

The term "short-term memory" is often used interchangeably with "working memory," which refers to the processes used to temporarily store, organize, and manipulate information.

In a famous 1956 article, psychologist George Miller suggested that the short-term memory capacity for storing a list of items is five to nine. Some memory researchers now believe that the true short-term memory capacity is probably closer to four.

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What is short term memory?

long term memory

Long-term memory refers to the continuous storage of information. in thefreudian psychology, long-term memory would be called preconscious andunconsciously.

This information is mostly outside of our awareness, but can be pulled from working memory for use when needed. Some memories are fairly easy to retrieve, while others are much more difficult to access.


One model suggests that there are three main types of memory: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Sensory memory is very short, short-term memory is slightly longer, and long-term memory can last a lifetime.

What is long-term memory?

why did we forget

Forgetting is a surprisingly common occurrence. Think about how easy it is to forget someone's name or miss an important date. Why do people so often forget information they learned in the past?

There are four basic explanations forbecause forgetfulness happens:

  • Failed to save a reminder
  • interference
  • motivated forgetting
  • recovery error

Research has shown that time is one of the critical factors affecting memory failure. Information is often quickly forgotten, especially if it is not actively reviewed and rehearsed.

Sometimes the information is simply lost from memory and other times it was never properly memorized. Some memories compete with each other, making it difficult to remember specific information. In other cases, active peopletry to forget thingsThey just don't want to remember.

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What causes memory loss?

how to improve memory

No matter how good your memory is, there are probably some things you can do to improve it even more. Helpful strategies for dealing with mild memory loss include:

  • write it down: Writing with pencil and paper helps implant memory in your brain, and can also serve as a reminder or reference later.
  • give a meaning: You can remember something more easily if you give it meaning. For example, if you associate someone you just met with someone you already know, you may be able to remember that person's name better.
  • repeat: Replay helps encrypt memory in addition to short-term memory.
  • Group: Categorized information is easier to remember and remember.
  • test yourself: While it may seem like studying and practicing information is the best way to ensure you remember it, researchers have found that testing information is actually one of the best waysimprove memory.
  • get a mental picture: Trying to systematically remember things you tend to forget (like where you left your car keys) can help you remember things better.
  • get enough rest: Investigation also found thissleepplays a crucial role in learning and forming new memories.
  • Use memorization techniques.: Rehearsing information, using mnemonics, and other memorization strategies can help combat minor memory problems.


The use of strategies to improve memory can be helpful in remembering and retaining. By learning to use these strategies effectively, you can bypass faulty areas of your memory and train your brain to work in new ways.

How to protect your memory

Although Alzheimer's disease and other age-related memory problems affect many older adults,memory lossit may not be inevitable in later adulthood.Certain abilities decline with age, but researchers have found that people in their 70s often do as well as 20-year-olds on many cognitive tests.

When people reach the age of 80, it is common to experience some decline in cognitive function. But some types of memory actually increase with age.

Try some of these lifestyle strategies to protect your brain as you age:

  • avoid stress: Research has found that stress can have deleterious effects on memory-related areas of the brain, including the hippocampus.
  • Avoid drugs, alcohol and other neurotoxins.:consumption of drugsmiexcessive alcohol consumptionhave been linked to deterioration of synapses (the connections between neurons).Exposure to dangerous chemicals like heavy metals and pesticides can also have damaging effects on the brain.
  • move enough:regular physical activityhelps improve oxygenation of the brain, which is vital for the formation and growth of synapses.
  • stimulate your brain: When it comes to memory, there's a lot of truth to the old adage "use it or lose it." The researchers found that people who have morementally stimulating jobsless likely to develop dementia.
  • Maintain a sense of self-efficacy.: With a strong sense ofself-efficacyit has been linked to maintaining good memory skills into old age.Self-efficacy refers to the sense of control that people have over their own lives and destinies. A strong sense of self-efficacy has also been linked to reduced stress levels.


While there's no quick fix to ensure your memory remains intact as you age, researchers believe that avoiding stress, maintaining an active lifestyle, and staying mentally engaged are important ways to reduce your risk of memory loss.

A word from Verywell

Human memory is a complex process that researchers are still trying to better understand. Our memories make us who we are, but the process is not perfect. While we are capable of retaining an incredible amount of information, we are also prone to memory-related errors and fallacies.

Natural ways to improve memory.

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What is deep processing in memory? ›

cognitive processing of a stimulus that focuses on its meaningful properties rather than its perceptual characteristics. It is considered that processing at this semantic level, which usually involves a degree of elaboration, produces stronger, longer-lasting memories than shallow processing.

What are the three types of human memory? ›

The three major classifications of memory that the scientific community deals with today are as follows: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Information from the world around us begins to be stored by sensory memory, making it possible for this information to be accessible in the future.

How can I deepen my memory? ›

  1. Be physically active every day. Physical activity raises blood flow to the whole body, including the brain. ...
  2. Stay mentally active. ...
  3. Spend time with others. ...
  4. Stay organized. ...
  5. Sleep well. ...
  6. Eat a healthy diet. ...
  7. Manage chronic health problems.

What are the 3 processes of memory retrieval? ›

As such, memory plays a crucial role in teaching and learning. There are three main processes that characterize how memory works. These processes are encoding, storage, and retrieval (or recall).

How do you process information deeply? ›

Deep Processing
  1. In class: focused attention, listening for something new, notes support understanding of material.
  2. Interpreting information – making it meaningful for you.
  3. Relating to prior knowledge.
  4. Creating a mental image.
  5. Preread assignments so that material in class makes sense, look for connections.

What are examples of deeper processing? ›

Other examples of deep processing include: organizing your notes around common themes, generating questions for review, creating a concept map of ideas studied, and paying attention to key distinctions.

What is the strongest type of memory? ›

Eidetic memory—total recall memory—refers to the ability of an individual who can accurately recall a large number of images, sounds and objects in a seemingly unlimited volume. Eidetic has a meaning of "related extraordinarily detailed and vivid recall of visual images" in Greek.

What are the key aspects of human memory? ›

In essence, human memory has three facets: sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory. The designer is most concerned with the first two types and strategically designs to appeal to short-term and sensory memory.

What is the most important type of memory? ›

Your most treasured and important memories are held in your long-term memory. Your long-term memory facilitates how to walk, talk, ride a bike, and engage in daily activities. It also allows you to recall important dates and facts.

Can human memory be improved? ›

Our memory is a skill, and just like other skills, it can be improved with practice and healthy overall habits. You can start small. For example, pick a new challenging activity to learn, incorporate a few minutes of exercise into your day, maintain a sleep schedule, and eat a few more green vegetables, fish, and nuts.

What are the 4 memory strategies? ›

Rehearsal is found to be the most frequently used strategy, followed by mental imagery, elaboration, mnemonics, and organization. Previous study also found that rehearsal is the memory strategy taught most often by teachers to their students (Moely et al., 1992).

What are the 5 memory strategies? ›

Study tips: Top 5 memorization techniques
  • Assign meaningfulness to things. ...
  • Learn general and specific later. ...
  • Recite out loud in your own words until you don't need to refer to your notes.
  • Teach someone else. ...
  • Use memory devices.
Nov 20, 2013

Can you recover lost memories? ›

Many researchers and mental health professionals do agree it may be possible to repress and later recover memories, but many also generally agree this is most likely quite rare. Some experts believe memories may be repressed, but that once these memories are lost, they can't be recovered.

What part of the brain controls memory? ›

A curved seahorse-shaped organ on the underside of each temporal lobe, the hippocampus is part of a larger structure called the hippocampal formation. It supports memory, learning, navigation and perception of space. It receives information from the cerebral cortex and may play a role in Alzheimer's disease.

Where are memories stored? ›

For explicit memories – which are about events that happened to you (episodic), as well as general facts and information (semantic) – there are three important areas of the brain: the hippocampus, the neocortex and the amygdala. Implicit memories, such as motor memories, rely on the basal ganglia and cerebellum.

Which is better for your memory shallow or deep? ›

The levels of processing effect predicts that when information is encoded on a deep level, it is easier to remember than when it is encoded on a shallow level. That is because if it is processed on a deep level, it is more meaningful to us.

What is the deepest level of information processing? ›

Semantic processing is the deepest level of processing according to this model. In semantic processing, additional meaning and related information is encoded at the same time. This leads to a very strong memory trace because of deep processing.

What is the ability to retain information? ›

Memory can be defined as the ability to remember previous experiences. Memory is essential for learning new information, as it functions as a site for storage and retrieval of learned knowledge. Two categories of long-term memory are used when engaging in learning.

What are the 4 parts of deep processing? ›

Four basic principles of achieving deep processing.
  • Elaboration.
  • Distinctiveness.
  • Personal.
  • Appropriate to Retrieval and Application.

How does deep processing affect memory? ›

Shallow processing (e.g., processing based on phonemic and orthographic components) leads to a fragile memory trace that is susceptible to rapid decay. Conversely, deep processing (e.g., semantic processing) results in a more durable memory trace.

What is depth processing theory? ›

the theory that the strength of memory depends on the degree of cognitive processing the material receives. Depth has been defined variously as elaboration, the amount of cognitive effort expended, and the distinctiveness of the memory trace formed.

What is the rarest memory? ›

This rare condition also known as highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM) causes people to remember just about everything that has occurred in their life. This includes every conversation and emotion ever experienced as well as every person encountered, regardless of how insignificant or minute.

Who has superhuman memory? ›

Actress Marilu Henner has a highly superior autobiographical memory, a rare condition identified in only 100 people worldwide. This trait drives her to advocate for more funding for brain research. Give Marilu Henner a random date in the past and she can recall it with amazing clarity. Take April 30, 1980.

What is the secret of good memory? ›

The secret of a good memory is attention, and attention to a subject depends upon our interest in it. We rarely forget that which has made a deep impression on our minds.

What is the power of human memory? ›

As mentioned in an article in Scientific American, the memory capacity of a human brain was testified to have equal to 2.5 petabytes of memory capacity. A “petabyte” means 1024 terabytes or a million gigabytes so that the average adult human brain can accumulate the equivalent of 2.5 million gigabytes of memory.

What are 3 things that can impact memory? ›

Here are several common factors that can affect your memory:
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Stress and anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Thyroid problems.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency.
  • Alcohol abuse.
  • Medication.

What creates the strongest form of memory? ›

Scientists have found that highly demanding and rewarding experiences result in stronger memories. By studying navigation in rats, the researchers traced back the mechanism behind this selective memory enhancement to so-called replay processes in the hippocampus, the memory-processing center of the brain.

What is the most powerful method of improving memory? ›

Studies suggest that spaced repetition—spacing out learning over a longer period of time—is a more effective way to memorize information than trying to “cram” a lot of information into your brain over a short period of time.

What is the best memory to have? ›

For many users, 16GB is the current sweet spot.

So while heavy multitaskers and prosumers may need 32GB to avoid tapping into much slower disk-based virtual memory, 16GB is far more affordable and sufficient for gaming and mainstream productivity tasks.

Can the human brain run out of memory? ›

The simple answer to this question would be, “no, your brain cannot run out of memory”. However, there must be a physical limit to how many memories we can store. Despite our limitations, they are extremely large. So, you don't have to worry about running out of space in our lifetime.

How accurate is human memory? ›

Human memory is notoriously unreliable, especially when it comes to details. Scientists have found that prompting an eyewitness to remember more can generate details that are outright false but that feel just as correct to the witness as actual memories. In day-to-day life, this isn't a bug; it's a feature.

Is there a limit to human memory? ›

As a number, a “petabyte” means 1024 terabytes or a million gigabytes, so the average adult human brain has the ability to store the equivalent of 2.5 million gigabytes digital memory.

What are six strategies for strengthening your memory? ›

Now let's look at some of the ways research has shown we can keep memories around as long as possible:
  • Meditate to improve working memory. ...
  • Drink coffee to improve memory consolidation. ...
  • Eat berries for better long-term memory. ...
  • Exercise to improve memory recall. ...
  • Chew gum to make stronger memories.
Jul 1, 2014

What are 2 techniques used in memory? ›

Acronyms and mnemonics are also useful memory techniques for students. An acronym is an abbreviation formed from the first letter of a series of words. For example, PEMDAS is an acronym for remembering the order of operations in math: Parenthesis.

How can I improve my mind power? ›

Any mentally stimulating activity should help to build up your brain. Read, take courses, try "mental gymnastics," such as word puzzles or math problems Experiment with things that require manual dexterity as well as mental effort, such as drawing, painting, and other crafts.

What's the difference between shallow and deep processing? ›

Shallow processing (e.g., processing words based on their phonemic and orthographic components) leads to a fragile memory trace that is susceptible to rapid forgetting. On the other had, deep processing (e.g., semantic or meaning based processing) results in a more durable memory trace.

What are the 3 levels of processing? ›

The visceral level is fast: it makes rapid judgments of what is good or bad, safe or dangerous, and sends appropriate signals to the muscles (the motor system) and alerts the rest of the brain.

What is deep processing AP Psychology? ›

Deep processing is processing information with consideration to its meaning. Deep processing creates stronger memories because it involves elaborative rehearsal, creating a more meaningful analysis. 🤔 Shallow processing is not as involved as deep processing. It uses surface characteristics to process information.

What are the 3 types of processing? ›

There are three main data processing methods - manual, mechanical and electronic.


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