Your childhood best friend tries to help you recollect instances of the times when you used to push each other on the swing set or fight over those scented erasers. Then suddenly, a flashback takes you to simpler times, and both of you burst into peals of laughter.
The human mind never ceases to amaze, and memory is one such cognitive miracle that researchers are still trying to get to the core of! Human memory is a fascinating subject worldwide and has been categorized into different types. In the following paragraphs, we will better understand the types of memory, the major categories that tend to overlap, and ways to improve the process of storage and retrieval of information, or in other words, enhancing your memory power.
Our memories make us who we are, yet surprisingly we aren’t really conscious of how the whole process of memory encoding and retrieval works. Our past experiences and recollections associated with a particular smell, song, touch of a loved one, or food preparation can greatly trigger nostalgia.
The debate on different types of memory has researchers divided over its classification, with some choosing to categorize memory into implicit and explicit kinds while some prefer to refer to it as interconnected stages instead of separate categories. While theories abound regarding the types of memory in the human brain, most researchers believe in the following four standard types of memory ~ working memory, sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Experts also believe that these are memory stages instead of different kinds.
Any new information is processed by the sensory memory, sent to the short-term memory, and then may or may not be registered in the long-term memory. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and find the correct answer to how new memories are made and the process of recalling previous ones.
As the name suggests, sensory memory refers to the information gathered from the senses after the stimulation ends. Fleeting and ephemeral in nature (one second or less), these form the gateway to other stages of memory.
The information gathered from the senses through touch, smell, sight, or odor helps individuals collect data about their surroundings. Let’s imagine two different scenarios.
You are walking down the subway to catch your daily 9:30 am ride. A jamboree of hassled, busy-looking folks of sorts descends in a similar race to make ends meet. A gentleman screams into his mobile, trying to get a message across to his co-worker, and he hurriedly pushes past you. Thirty seconds later, you might not even recall the push on your shoulder.
In another scenario, an influx of sensory information from your surroundings brings a familiar scent of fried fritters that, in turn, triggers memories of you enjoying fritters with cups of hot ginger tea with your family, and you end up smiling to yourself.
In the first instance, there is no deeper reason or meaning to the sensory information received. Therefore there is no reason to remember the hustle-bustle of daily existence. However, in the second situation, the odor of freshly made fritters wafting through the vicinity brings back memories of happy moments shared with people that matter. Therefore you might end up looking for that shop or associate that street with monsoons and snacks (especially the hot, fried fritters!)
Let’s now have a look at the different kinds of sensory memories:
- Iconic Memory: As the name suggests, iconic memory represents the storage of visual memory that allows individuals to reproduce visuals after the stimuli are no longer present. This kind of sensory memory lasts just milliseconds before fading into oblivion.
- Echoic Memory: This refers to auditory stimuli that the temporal lobe processes once the sound enters the ear. Echoic memory plays an essential role in learning languages. Those who have issues speaking may store echoic memories for shorter periods.
- Haptic Memory: This refers to the memory associated with the sense of touch. For instance, typists know the exact location of keys on a keyboard, or a pianist can play tunes without glancing at the piano. Any touch-based sensation like pain, itching, pressure, pleasure, or disgust comes under the haptic memory.
- Olfactory Memory: It turns out Joey, from the insanely popular sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S was correct. “Half the taste is in the smell,” he said, famously referring to his meatball sub. Olfactory memory is associated with smells that travel to the brain and help trigger long-term memories. The smell of different foods helps decode different tastes, without which we will be able to savor only basic flavors like sweetness.
- Gustatory Memory: This refers to the memory associated with taste and functions in close relationship with smell or olfactory memory. The gustatory receptor cells help identify the following five basic tastes ~ salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. This is an evolutionary advantage because you tend to develop adverse nauseatic reactions to foods that triggered food poisoning earlier.
Short-term memory is neither as ephemeral as sensory nor as eternal as long-term memory. Also called active or primary memory, STM involves the storage of chunks of information, such as phone numbers, for usually less than thirty seconds.
For instance, if you are asked to remember an address or a phone number, you might keep repeating it to yourself until you get a pad to jot it down on. However, after some time, you might not be able to recall the exact sequence of digits in the number or the exact address.
While short-term memory, or STM, involves storing information for a short time, working memory manipulates the information stored in the STM by performing cognitive tasks on the stored data. Conceptually different, research has shown significant similarities between short-term and working memory.
Instances of working memory are as follows:
- Performing mathematical operations on a string of numbers mentally.
- In making a culinary dish as per the recipe as you need to remember the ingredients already added.
- Eristic endeavors where you need to make a note of arguments on each side before putting your point forward.
Much like a computer’s hard disk, an individual’s long-term memory serves as a more long-term, sometimes lifetime recall, worthy place to store information. Short-term memories may become long-term memories through a process known as consolidation. Any recollection of data that has crossed the threshold of thirty seconds comes under the purview of long-term memory. Suppose you can recall an instance of kindness from a random stranger at the mart who helped you with a dollar bill or unfailingly remembering your mother’s birthday over the years. In that case, such recollections are a part of your long-term memory.
This kind of memory is categorized into explicit and implicit memory. Let’s look at both of them in the following section.
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Explicit vs Implicit
Let’s take a look at these:
- Explicit long-term memories are those we consciously and deliberately try to remember. For instance, remembering your best friend’s childhood landline number or the multiplication table of twelve. Explicit memories can be further categorized into episodic and semantic memory.
- Episodic memory, as the name suggests, is a repertoire of particular events, episodes, or autobiographical facts, such as your first day at school, your first bike, or even the day your folks got you a new furry buddy to play and grow with!
- Let’s explain semantic memory with an example. Geography teachers in school share knowledge about different countries and their capitals, and we, as students, were supposed to memorize the same. Most of us haven’t visited all the countries we learned the capitals of, yet we can recall the same thanks to our teachers at school. This is an instance of semantic memory.
So, to give it a definition, this kind of memory is associated with facts and continues to grow as you age. It does not have any connection with personal experiences or emotions.
- Implicit memories, or unconscious memories, on the other hand, are those that don’t require conscious effort in a bid to recall them. They often mold a person’s behavior and the way they think—for instance, skills like walking or learning to ride a bicycle. If you learned how to ride a bike in childhood and take it up again when you are forty, it is a case of implicit memory at play.
Implicit memory can be sub-categorized into – procedural memory and priming or conditioning.
- Procedural memory equips a person to carry out regular tasks such as walking or driving a car. Efforts might be needed the first few times you carry out such an endeavor, but later they become a matter of habit. Your hands glide over the gearbox without you giving much thought to it.
- Priming or conditioning occurs when the mind connects a specific cue and a consequent process. For instance, experimenters can train subjects to press a button in response to a particular photo.
How Do We Create Memories?
Coming to the most intriguing and exciting part, let’s get cracking on how memories are made! Spread over a symphony of three stages, memory formation begins with encoding, then comes storage, moving on to the last and final stage of recall.
The external stimuli that impinge on our five senses make their way to our brain through a process known as encoding. The next step on the ladder is storage, wherein the duration of the impression determines its allocation to short-term or long-term memory, as explained in the preceding paragraphs.
Then comes the final and most crucial stage of recall, wherein the information stored is retrieved from its location, whether short-term or long-term memory.
Tips for Improving Your Memory
At some point in our lives, all of us have fervently wished for the gift of a better memory, whether in school examinations or remembering the names of the people who just introduced themselves. Yes, we have been there too! But guess what? The good news is that it is very much possible to improve the encoding, storage, and retrieval process by considering the following measures:
- Implement good holistic health practices: One can boost brain health by ensuring the intake of a balanced diet, regular exercise, and a good sleep cycle.
- Solve puzzles: There are a plethora of brain activity-enhancing puzzles to keep the mind in great shape.
- Utilize planners and calendars to free up brain space: You can use online activity planners to schedule meetings and store those shopping lists. This, in turn, will free up brain space for other productive cognitive pursuits.
- Stay updated: Keeping yourself abreast with the latest developments in the fields of your choice helps you stay mentally active. Keep reading, writing, and learning to ensure mental acuity and thereby improve memory.
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Life is full of challenges, and while staying self-sufficient is good, we could all do with a bit of help in maneuvering those tough bends. If you know a friend or a loved one suffering from memory loss, feel free to refer them to qualified mental health professionals at DocVita. At DocVita, one can be assured of receiving premia mental health facilities from experienced professionals from the comfort of one’s home. Book a session now!