The fascinating human memory has the ability to remember events and things from far back in time and to store new experiences so that they can be retrieved in the future. We only realize how important our memory is when it leaves us. People with memory disorders are disoriented and hardly able to cope with everyday life. Almost everything you do and can do is based on acquired knowledge.
Memory types: short-term memory, long-term memory and working memory
Humans have different types of memory. What they all have in common is the ability to store information and recall it when needed. The subdivision of the different categories refers to the time span in which you remember certain things.
The short-term memory
Maybe you studied for an exam in your school days, accurately recited what you learned, had a good Note and then forget the whole thing again. If that's the case, then you're in good company, because very few people keep everything they learn in their lives in their heads. Most of the time, things that we don't consider important enough disappear from our memory again. Colloquially, this is referred to as short-term memory, but in reality you have kicked this information back out of long-term memory.
Everything that we do not retain in our memory in the long term is assigned to short-term memory. The ultra-short-term or immediacy memory, also called sensory memory, stores impressions for a maximum of only two seconds. Countless amounts of this information are quickly forgotten. A small part of it passes into the short-term memory.
You store information in short-term memory for a few minutes. For example, you remember a phone number until you write it down. Another name for short-term memory is working memory. Working memory is the transition to long-term memory.
The long-term memory
The long-term memory stores all things relevant to our lives. There is room here for our vocabulary, learned knowledge, skills and knowledge. Memory research knows the declarative and non-declarative long-term memory.
The declarative, explicit memory stores conscious and linguistically retrievable content. Episodic memory includes knowledge about your own history, identity, and experiences. Semantic memory stores your acquired school and factual knowledge.
The non-declarative, implicit memory stores rather unconscious contents that cannot be recalled linguistically. This includes, for example, automatic movement sequences during shoelace tying, horseback riding, skiing, and swimming.
Surprising facts about memory: Amazing findings of science
The function of memory is fascinating. Memory research is intensively concerned with the memory function of our brain. Neuroscientists, such as Joshua Dubnau, who works in the USA, assume that the permanent storage of information is closely related to the ability to quickly and dynamically change the strength and number of connections in the neuron network.
In the 1940s, psychologist Donald Hebb noted that the interconnection of neuronal associations is the basis of memory formation. If a certain neural activity pattern emerges in response to an event, then your brain remembers. The activity pattern resembles the trace of the experience left during memory formation.
The way your brain works is a bit like a computer. Information is stored in temporary memories, from where it can be retrieved quickly. It is interesting that your brain processes and stores information in different places. Injuries in certain areas of the brain often do not affect the entire memory, but only affect sub-areas. There is probably no special storage location for our memories, but the memory traces are widely distributed throughout the neuron network.
Factors that influence memory: Genetics, environment and lifestyle
Good brain performance is important for storing and remembering information. But not everyone is equally capable of retaining content in memory. Scientists in Zurich found out that the ability to remember and learn is about 50 percent inherited and thus genetically anchored. A specific memory gene is responsible for this.
Our lifestyle also influences brain performance. One memory killer is stress. This can also be performance and learning stress. At some point, your brain shuts down for reasons of self-protection alone. Especially permanent stress and too many impressions lead to everyday forgetfulness. In addition, the stress hormone cortisol probably stimulates the nerve cells.
Other risk factors include excessive alcohol and drug use and taking certain medications. Malnourished people also frequently suffer from memory loss. But too much sugar and fat probably also have a negative effect on cognitive performance.
The role of diet and exercise for a healthy memory
As mentioned earlier, you're not doing your brain any good with high-fat and high-sugar junk food. The intake of vitamin B12, on the other hand, promotes memory performance, as do the omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish and cooking oils. Tuna, salmon and mackerel can help your memory.
Exercise is also good for the memory. Sports ensures better blood flow and nutrient supply to the brain and promotes the formation of new connections in the cerebellum, hippocampus and cerebral cortex by stimulating various nerve growth factors. Especially endurance sports and such Disciplines, which require good coordination, are excellent for brain training.
According to a report from the University of Siegen, brain volume increases after several months of juggling training. Motor Learning processes produce structural changes in the brain. It was found that even the adult brain can change and reverse age-related shrinkage.
Memory over the course of life: developmental phases and changes
It is no secret that Children often learn languages easily, especially if they grow up bilingual. They memorize movement patterns more quickly and also have little trouble learning a musical instrument. Scientists at the University of Regensburg have discovered that the neurotransmitter GABA may play a major role in this.
The neurotransmitter GABA stabilizes the memory trace. In children, it may protect them from overwriting information. Studies have shown that children's GABA levels skyrocket during practice. This stabilizes what they have learned.
Does memory decline with age?
You can't teach an old dog new tricks. That's the old saying. In fact, the brain is more receptive at a young age, and short-term memory tends to diminish slightly with age. A moderate slowdown in response and learning is part of the normal aging process. In addition, brain diseases, for example dementia or deficient blood circulation, increase with age.
Apart from that, the number of nerve cells in the cerebral cortex hardly changes with increasing age. If you continue to use the nerve connections regularly and face mental challenges again and again, the chances are good that your memory will function well into old age. Many people experience a significant deterioration in brain performance when they transition from employment to retirement.
In general, the changes primarily affect processing speed. This is possibly due to the decrease in white matter in the brain. White matter comprises parts of the central nervous system that are largely made up of nerve fibers. White matter increases from childhood until the age of around 40 to 50, before gradually declining. Often, a decline can be seen as early as the 20s and 30s.
Dreaded memory loss in old age
In people with dementia and patients with Alzheimer's disease, short-term memory no longer works. They often can no longer remember what happened a short time ago. Time However, they are often capable of recalling content from the distant past, such as experiences from their childhood.
Creative memory techniques: Unusual approaches to strengthen memory
Regular training often brings about a significant improvement in memory. This is especially important for people in middle age, because an overly sluggish lifestyle increases the risk of later developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease by about three times. As a study by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin shows, brain performance improves after just a few hours of training.
To exercise your brain, all you have to do is concentrate and think sharply as often as possible. What rests, rusts, and what is used a lot, remains permanently in momentum. It's best to take advantage of every available opportunity to play all kinds of brain games. Memory training can be easily integrated into everyday life. At the same time you practice Mindfulnessby focusing on the things around you.
Examples of memory exercises
Memory exercises can be combined well with leisure activities. Simply plan to count five things and memorize the number for several hours. For example, if you visit the park at the weekend, count the trees and memorize the number for as long as possible. You count the dogs that pass you in an hour, the ducks on the lake, the baby carriages, men, women, flowers, or whatever comes to mind. At home, you try to remember and write down the results on a piece of paper.
When shopping, you add up the prices of the parts you put in the cart. You will then find out at the checkout if you are right with your estimation. Try to remember the number of items and reconstruct the receipt by hand after shopping. Compare your record with the original receipt. What did you remember? The more you buy, the more difficult the exercise is.
Various memory techniques
One of the most effective memory techniques is chunking. You group different elements together to remember them better. Associating with visual content also makes it easier for many people to remember specific words or numbers. The mnemonic is well known. You put the first letters of a sentence together to form a word or form an easy-to-remember sentence from the letters of a word.
Rhymes are especially easy to remember. If you want to remember something, make it into a rhyme. Learning poems promotes memory skills and keeps your brain fit. The association technique is also promising. You link the facts with logical conclusions and memorize them better.
Conclusion: The many aspects of memory influence your life
Around 10 million signals reach your brain every second. These come from your sensory organs, for example from your eyes, ears, skin and nose. Your brain stores only a fraction of them so that you remember them later. This small number of impressions is enough to influence your life in the long term. Only if your memory is able to recall certain memories at the right moment, you can organize your everyday life in a meaningful way.
Without memory, you are not even able to brush your teeth or make a sandwich in the morning. You can't drive a car or do your job. What it is like to live with a memory impairment is shown by the many examples of seniors with dementia and stroke patients.
As important as memory is for you, forgetting is just as important. Your brain constantly processes a flood of information and, by eliminating irrelevant content, creates storage space for things that actually enrich your life. It's worth keeping only those memories in your mind that you need to make your actions profitable in the present and future.