How Can you Improve your Memory ?
The physiological basis of memory
Memory is an amazing thing; it enables us to live effectively and socially in a changing world. It gives us the basis from which we can explore new ideas, remember important information and learn new things. In short, it is critical for us to engage fully with the world we live in. However, it is also notoriously unreliable. Our memory can play tricks on us; it can make mistakes and enable us to remember things that never actually happened or help us forget things that did.
So How Does it Work?
There are three basic stages of memory:
- Encoding: this is the process by which information is taken into the brain, interpreted and coded. Information comes to us in three main forms: visual (what we see) acoustic (what we hear) and semantic (what it means) and the brain converts the stimuli detected (e.g. what the eye sees) and converts is to the electrical impulses the neurons in the brain use to communicate with one another.
- Storage: this is the process where information is retained within the brain. There is a distinction drawn here between short term memory which is quite limited (it is primarily acoustic and the rule of thumb is that people can typically hold around 7 plus or minus 2 items in working memory at any one time) and long term memory which has an almost infinite capacity and is believed to be primarily semantic. During storage psychologists believe that the brain consolidates memories and categorises them appropriately (e.g. categorising bananas as yellow, fruit, long, healthy etc.). This process is believed to happen during sleep and sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on memory.
- Retrieval: this is the process of calling up the relevant information when it is needed. This can be conscious (e.g. in an examination) or more subtle and automatic e.g. through association, context or mood.
Where Does Memory Live?
There are a few areas of the brain which are particularly associated with memory. The Hippocampus, for example, is important in spatial and declarative learning (knowing things, facts and information). The Amygdala is associated with emotional memories. Working memory (the memory you use when you temporarily store information in order to use it e.g. counting out the correct money to pay a bill) is associated with the pre-frontal context, and procedural memory depends upon the cerebellum and basal ganglia.
However, much learning is not constrained to one area of the brain. Considerable knowledge is encoded and stored through the different networks of neurons within the brain. As an individual performs a task or learns something new neurons fire across the brain strengthening their relationships and creating more robust linkages.
Different Types of Memory
Scientists have identified a number of different types of memory:
- Short term memory – things you can remember for a short period of time.
- Long term memory – things you can remember for a longer period of time.
- Working memory – the memory that allows you to hold information in your head whilst you process it e.g. comparing the relative times and costs of different travel modes.
- Declarative memory – remembering specific things that you have intentionally learned e.g. that Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal.
- Procedural memory – remembering how to do something e.g. how to drive a car. This is seen as implicit because you don’t really have to think about it to do it.
- Semantic memory – memories relating to specific knowledge e.g. the rules of basketball.
- Episodic memory – memories relating to a specific event e.g. your wedding day.
How Can you Improve your Memory?
There are a number of things you can do that are associated with improved memory.
- Make sure you get enough sleep as sleep is thought to aid the consolidation and processing of memories.
- Cluster information. Your brain can remember a limited number of items in the short term so clustering these items together into groups can help you remember them.
- Studies have found that stress can impact on your ability to learn new things – whilst an emotionally charged situation can be beneficial to learning, prolonged stress is not. It can interfere with your ability to accurately encode information.
- Be careful about your mental dialogue about events as this can influence the way you remember them. For example, if you come out of an interview telling yourself that it went really badly you will remember it as going really badly, even if it didn’t. This will have an impact on your confidence in your next interview.
- The brain does not distinguish between physically completing an act and mentally rehearsing it. It can therefore be valuable to mentally rehearse giving a presentation or running a race before the event.
Therapies that can Assist you to Control Stress – Eliminate Limiting Beliefs and Improve your Memory and Concentration: