Memory

Memory is the process of storing and retrieving information in the brain. It is this process of memory that is central to learning and thinking. Human beings are continually learning throughout their lifetime. Only some of this massive volume of information is selected and stored and thus becomes available for recalling later when required. Learning is the acquisition of new knowledge, and memory is the retention of this knowledge. The combination of learning and memory, therefore, is the basis of all our knowledge and abilities and is what enables us to consider the past, exist in the present and plan for the future.

Four different types of remembering are distinguished by psychologists: recollection, recall, recognition and relearning.

It is established that there are two main categories of memory: declarative memory, and procedural memory. Declarative memory is all we have experienced in the form of information gained from childhood onwards and is the memory for facts and events, such as remembering, for example, birthdays, telephone numbers and historical facts.

Procedural memory is the memory for procedures and abilities and it stores information which enables us, for example, to drive a car, tie our shoe laces or play a musical instrument.

The memory for historical and other events, our declarative memory, may be easier to build up, but is easily lost or forgotten, whereas our memory for skills learning might require a repetitive practice (relearning), in fact, is likely to considerably improve with practice and experience - practice makes perfect.

While little is known about the physiology of memory storage in the brain, what is known is that memory is not situated in only one part of the brain, but involves the association of several brain systems working together.

The temporal lobe, which is located under the temporal bone above the ears is thought to be particularly important for the storage of past events and includes the temporal neocortex which is thought to be potentially the region involved in long-term memory. This region also contains a group of interconnected structures that appear to perform the declarative memory function. Studies suggest that one of these circuits through the hippocampus and thalamus may be involved in spatial memories, whereas another circuit through the amygdala and thalmus, may be responsible for our emotional memories.

Memory can be broadly divided into three types: sensory (immediate) memory, working (short-term) memory and long-term memory.

Sensory, or immediate memory, is of all present occurrences such as noises and events that are seen as pictures in your mind. A sensory memory exists for different types of stimuli received through the senses. These are iconic memory for visual stimuli, echoic memory for aural stimuli and haptic memory for touch. The sensory memory filters all the different stimuli received at a given instant in time and only passes to short-term memory what is of interest.

Working, or short-term, memory enables the brain to evaluate the mass of incoming stimuli, or information and select what is to be retained and memorized and what is to be rejected. It is this part of the memory which enables us to temporarily recall any information currently under process, for example, if someone is speaking to you, it is only possible to understand them if you can recall what they said when they started speaking.

Because working memory decays rapidly, it only has a limited capacity. There are ways in which short-term memory can be improved. One of these techniques is known as chunking, for example, this is why a hyphenated telephone number is easier to memorize than a single long number, and this technique can lead to an increase, albeit temporarily, in short-term memory capacity.

A hindrance to short-term memory, which all of us will have experienced many times, is interference. This is when your train of thought is interrupted, thus causing a disturbance in short-term memory retention. It is, therefore, desirable to complete tasks involving short-term memory as quickly as possible and without interruption.

Long-term memory is intended for the storage of information over a long period and involves things like telephone numbers, holiday plans, names and addresses, and memories evoked from the past. Information from the working memory is transferred to long-term memory after a few seconds and, unlike working memory, there is little decay.

Long-term memory is split into two sub-divisions: episodic memory and semantic memory. Episodic memory is our memory of events and experiences from which we can recall and reconstruct actual events that took place at a given point in our lifetime. Semantic memory, on the other hand, is the structured record of facts and skills which we have acquired during our lifetime.

The three main functions of long-term memory are storage, deletion and retrieval. Once a piece of information has been passed to long-term memory from working memory it is stored until it needs to be retrieved. Deletion is mainly caused by decay and interference, although it is argued that, once stored, a piece of information is in our long-term memory forever, however, it may become increasingly difficult to access certain items, and this is why much information may be recalled only with prompting.

There are certain techniques by which we are all able to improve our memory. While very little is yet known about the mechanics of memory, it is accepted that the more you use it the better it becomes. It is also accepted that while it is impossible to improve on past memories, it is possible to improve one's memory for the present and future by practising active recall during learning, by periodic reviews of the material, and by overlearning the material beyond the point of mastery. In addition, there is the technique of mnemonics, which involves the use of association, imagination and location to remember particular facts.

It is, therefore, important to stimulate the memory by using it to the utmost, continually accepting different challenges and learning new skills. In addition to the enriching of our lives this could also stimulate our brain's neural circuits to grow and strengthen.

The tests which follow are not only designed to test your powers of memory but to assist you in improving your memory by developing your powers of concentration and to discipline yourself to fix your mind on the subject being studied.

Memory tests

Study the above letters for 60 seconds then turn to page 89.

2 Study the grid below for 2 minutes then turn to pages 89 and 90.

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3 This exercise tests your ability to remember pairs of words as they are shown in the pairing below.

CAMERA

SNOWMAN

HAND

RAFT

CLOCK

ELEPHANT

CHAIN

WHEEL

TRAMPOLINE

MOUSE

HAYSTACK

RICKSHAW

CHURCH

TOWEL

TELEPHONE

BEACH

WALLPAPER

ALSATIAN

ZIPPER

CHIMNEY

BRUSH

YACHT

HOTEL

RIVER

Study the 12 pairs of words for 15 minutes and then link each pair.

Now turn to pages 90 and 91.

4 Study the following pairs of letters for 30 seconds then turn to page 91.

ED CA BE Tl NE

5 Here is a further exercise similar to exercise 3. AQUARIUM SWAMP DRAGON STETHOSCOPE TANDEM UNIVERSITY

JACKET ROOF LION

BICYCLE KNOT PROJECT

MUSHROOM TRUMPET

SPAIN RUGBY

DIAMOND NEPTUNE

LETTUCE BADGE

WALK TANK

TRANSMIT REPUBLIC

As in exercise 3, this exercise tests your ability to remember pairs of words and form associations. Study the 12 pairs of words for 15 minutes and link each pair of words in your memory.

Now turn to page 92.

6 Study the word grid below for 3 minutes then turn to pages 93 and 94.

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8 Study the following number grid for 60 seconds.

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9 Study these number plates for 60 seconds then turn to page 95.

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