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Human memory: How we make, remember, and forget memories

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/health-and-human-body/human-body/human-memory/

nationalgeographic.com

Human memory: How we make, remember, and forget memories
Human memory happens in many parts of the brain at once, and some types of memories stick around longer than others.

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The different kinds of memories

The different kinds of memories

We hold on to different kinds of memories.

  • Short-term memories last seconds to hours and long-term memories last for years.
  • We also have a working memory, which allows us to keep something in mind for a limited time by repeating it.
  • Declarative memories are memories you experience consciously, like facts or "common knowledge."
  • Nondeclaritive memory unconsciously builds up. These include procedural memories, such as riding a bicycle or playing the piano.

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Where your brain keeps memories

By studying people with amnesia, it seems that short-term and long-term memories don't form in precisely the same way, nor do declarative and procedural memories.

  • Emotional responses such as fear occur in a brain region called the amygdala.
  • Memories of learned skills are associated with the region called the striatum.
  • The hippocampus is essential for forming, retaining, and recalling declarative memories.
  • The temporal lobes play a critical role in forming and recalling memories.

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How we experience memories

Memories are held within groups of neurons called cell assemblies. They fire as a group in response to a specific stimulus, such as recognising your friend's face.

The more neurons fire together, the more the interconnection of the cells strengthen. We experience the nerves' collective activity as a memory.

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Memory consolidation

For a short-term memory to become a long-term memory, it must be strengthened for long-term storage. The process is called memory consolidation and occurs using several processes.

Long-term potentiation consists of individual nerves changing themselves to grow and talk to their neighboring nerves differently. The remodeling modifies the nerve's connections, which makes the memory stable.

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Recalling a memory

When we recall a memory, many parts of the brain share information, including regions that do high-level information processing, regions that deal with our senses' new inputs, and the region that help coordinate the process, the medial temporal lobe.

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Types Of Memory

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  • Episodic Memory stores our life events, for us to be able to relive our past, complete with all the atmospheric details.
  • Procedural Memory is the memory of skills, in which the brain records the sensory input from the various body parts and muscles during a particular activity, and is able to replicate the muscle application and movement.

The Primary Motor Cortex

It is the area of the brain responsible for learning new skills.

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How we perceive time

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The feeling of a long life

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Hunting for time codes

  • In the 1950s, a standard treatment for epilepsy focused on removing parts of patient's brains, which also left them unable to form new long-term memories. It suggested that memory formation and time perception are tied to the medial temporal lobe.
  • Another study found that the brain doesn't waste time memorizing moments that are dull or non-essential, but memories are created when someone engages in actions that are free, engaging, or varied.
  • Time feels forever when it is spent in a boring environment, but in retrospect, it will not be remembered in detail. However, fascinating events that flew by will be full of memories and feel longer in retrospect.

Childhood amnesia

Childhood amnesia

On average, people’s memories stretch back no farther than the age of three and a half.

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Our earliest memories are forgotten

  • In the early 1900s, Sigmund Freud gave childhood amnesia its name. The most commonly accepted explanation for childhood amnesia was that children couldn't form stable memories until age 7 - even though evidence for this idea was lacking.
  • In the late 1980s, experiments revealed that children three and younger keep their memories, although it is limited. At 6 months of age, infants' memories last for a day, and by age 2, for a year. At around age 6, children begin to forget many of their earliest memories.

The early childhood brain

From birth to our early teens, we have far more links between brain cells. The excess brain mass is very adaptable and allows children to learn very quickly.

But the adaptability comes with a price. The large and complex network in the brain is still busy growing and not as capable of forming memories efficiently as in adulthood. Consequently, long-term memories created in our first three years of life are the least stable and prone to be forgotten as we age.