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What is Memory? – With Process, Types, and Ways To Improve

What is Memory? – With Process, Types, and Ways To Improve

Updated on Jun 14, 2022 | Published on May 19, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Memory - Its Meaning, Types, Process & Ways to Improve

Key Takeaways


  • In simple terms, memory refers to remembering and recollection of data and information learned in the past.
  • Memory involves some distinct processes such as encoding, storage, and retrieval.
  • Memory is a mental faculty that retains information for a period of time or a lifetime and can be recalled whenever needed.
  • There are various types of memory.
  • When we cannot recall information on time, it is known as forgetting.
  • The power of memory can be improved by doing mental exercises and healthy lifestyle choices.

What is Memory? You must have shown a lot of interest to understand the core processes that go into the retention and recall of past information.

Do you still remember the things you learned when you were in school? Maybe you remember maths? Or any other subject that felt interesting.

You do not feel the need to go through the books again. It’s all stored in our minds. We remember the things and apply them in our daily life as and when needed.

This process of storing information in our brains and recalling them whenever needed is known as memory.

Human memory is an information processing system. The outside information received through sense organs is processed and encoded before retrieving them at a later time.

Let us learn more about this topic in this article.

Stay On…..


What is Memory?

SUMMARY
Memory is a process of acquiring, encoding, storing, and retrieving past information whenever needed. It is a continuous process of information retention and recalls over a person’s lifetime.

Memory is essential for human existence. We cannot function without remembering the learning of the past. If we do not know the past, we will not be able to operate in the present.

Likely, the future will also become hazy because both past happenings and present actions shape our future life.

Memory is the capacity to remember and recall information over some time. It depends on the type of cognitive work we have at hand. 

Memory refers to the procedures for receiving, encoding or storing, retaining, and retrieving information.

The ability to both store and retrieve information is part of human memory.

Memory is a cognitive function of remembering past learning and using them in the current contexts.

In one way, we can say that memory forms due to neural connections in the brain. 

It is the storehouse of experiences, impressions, learned facts, etc that can be accessed whenever needed.


How are memories formed?

SUMMARY
Memories are formed by the activation of specific neural connections. You remember something just because your brain triggers the synaptic patterns in certain ways.

You may be curious to know how we can store so much information in our little brains.

So the brain has a lot of activity. 

There are various neurons or nerve cells. These are responsible for different thoughts or perceptions of human beings. 

Memory is the activation of these nerve cells which are formed by the changes in the power of connections between them.

So how is this possible?

 Synaptic strength

It involves permanent changes in the strength of connections called synapses between brain cells. 

These connections can be made stronger or weaker depending on the frequency of activation. Active connections are stronger, whereas weaker connections disappear.

Varying the power of older synapses

In the human brain, the hippocampus is the important memory structure that creates new neurons for learning and memory. 

So new researches show to increase in the mass of the hippocampus suggesting new nerve cells are being made.


How does memory work? (The stages of memory)

SUMMARY
Human memory works through a process known as memory consolidation. It is a process through which the various learned experiences are encoded strongly and are turned into long-term memories.

Memory is thought of as a process consisting of three separate, but related stages. These are the encoding, storage, and retrieval process. 

It means storing and retrieving information. Any information received by us usually goes through these three stages of memory.

The sense organs help in receiving the outside information. Then, the information is processed, encoded, and stored in patterns as definite neural connections. 

These can later become accessible for retrieval and recall.

Encoding

The encoding process is the first stage by which information is received and registered for the first time.

Later we can use it. In memory encoding, all the information is received and we get some meaning. 

It is then presented in a way that enables later processing in our memory system. The process of encoding involves receiving information and coding it in ways that can be retrieved easily later on.

In encoding, the input is made meaningful by using some information already stored in the memory.

For example: when you meet someone for the first time, you will encode data about the person by seeing their facial expressions, body language, communication style, name, specific details of where they live, the company they work for, etc.

Storage

This is the second stage of memory. Earlier encoded information has to be stored to be later put to use.

Memory storage, therefore, refers to the process in which information is kept and stored over periods of time.

Storage involves the process of holding or keeping previously learned information for some later use.

Retrieval

This is the final stage of the memory system. Information can be used only when one can recover or recall it from the memory.

So this is recalling the stored information in the awareness so that it can be used for various tasks.

You may find it funny that memory failure can occur at any of the stages.

One may fail to recall information because he did not encode it properly, or the storage was not good so he could not access or recall it.


Types of memory with examples

Here mentioned are different types of memory. They are as follows:-

1. Sensory Memory

The incoming sensory information initially enters the sensory memory. It is of a very short duration that is for less than a second.

This is a memory system that keeps information from each of the senses correctly. 

In sensory memory, all the information stays for a brief period of time. Research has proved that visual images remain in the visual sensory system for a maximum of half a second. 

Auditory images remain in the auditory system for a slightly longer time; for two seconds.

Though for a short time, the sensory register holds information in an accurate form until we pay more attention for further processing.

For example: if you look at a tray full of things and then close your eyes to remember the number of things you have seen, you will find that you can remember a few of the things only. 

This happens because your sensory memory has limited capacity.

It cannot hold more information at a time.

2. Short-term Memory

The information that is attended enters the second store memory called the short-term memory which holds a small amount of information for a brief period. 

This is usually for 30 seconds or less. These are of two types- Iconic and echoic memory.

Atkinson and Schifrin’s model of memory proposed that information in STM is primarily encoded in the ear, in the form of sounds. 

If not practiced it may get lost from the STM in less than 30 seconds.  For example, we try to memorize a phone number or else we will forget.

For example: if two of your friends tell you their phone numbers one after the other, then the first mobile number will be lost immediately when the second is told to you.

If you keep on rehearsing the learned material over and over again, it goes into your long-term memory.

3. Long Term Memory

Information enters our long-term memory via the STM. Long-term memory has large amounts of storage capacity that can hold pieces of information for long periods of time. 

It can also be said that all information stored in long-term memory is stored there permanently.

So for example our capacity to remember dates, people, or places we have visited had an impact.

Long-term memory has unlimited capacity. It is stable and less susceptible to forgetting.

4.  Implicit Memory

New studies have shown that there are some kinds of memories that people are not aware of.

Thus no one realizes it. Implicit memory is that kind of memory of which a person is not conscious.

5. Explicit Memory

Explicit memories are the conscious, willing recall of old experiences and information.

You can see people use explicit memory throughout the day, such as remembering the time of a doctor’s appointment or remembering past events from years ago.

6. Declarative Memory

In declarative memory, all information which is relating to different facts, names, and dates fall under this category.

For example, a car that has four wheels or a tiger that is an animal is part of declarative memory.

7. Procedural memory

This refers to memories regarding the procedures for fulfilling various tasks and skills.

Facts stored in the declarative memory are amenable to verbal descriptions while contents of procedural memory cannot be described easily in words. 

For example, when asked one can describe how to ride a bike, one may find it difficult to narrate.

8. Episodic memory

Episodic memory contains all the memories linked to our personal life experiences.  The contents of this form of memory are generally emotional in nature. 

They are mainly stored in the context of time, place, and person.

For example, how did you feel when you stood first in your class? Or how angry were your classmate and her reaction when you did not fulfill a promise? 

Although some experiences are hard to forget, sometimes it is true that many events take place continuously in our lives and that we do not remember all of them. 

Also, there are painful and unpleasant experiences that are not remembered in as much detail as pleasurable life experiences.

9.  Semantic memory

This is the memory that mainly involves general awareness and knowledge. So the various concepts, ideas, and rules of logic are stored in semantic memory. 

For example, it is because of semantic memory that we know the meaning of saying ‘apple’ or remember that 4+6=10 or the capital of the USA is Washington D.C.

Unlike episodic memory, this kind of memory does not involve dates.

So you perhaps will not be able to tell when you learned the meaning of the apple or on which date you came to know that Washington D.C is the capital of the USA.

10. Flashbulb Memories

These are memories of events that are very arousing or surprising or at times shocking. Such memories are very encoded in detail. 

They are like a photo taken with a camera in our minds. You can click the button, and suddenly you have a recreation of the scene. 

These are mainly visual images in the memory and relate to certain places, dates, and times. 

It may be due to people putting in greater effort in holding information, and saving details might lead to deeper levels of processing and also help in the retrieval of information.

 11.  Spatial Memory  

Spatial memory is a memory process that enables a person to recall correctly many locations and spatial relations between objects. For example, give exact directions to someone over the phone.

12. Autobiographical Memory

These are personal memories. They are not present evenly throughout our lives. Some moments in our lives produce more memories than others. 

For example, few memories are reported about early childhood, particularly during the first 4 to 5 years. 

Later on, we can see that there is a big increase in the frequency of memories just after early adulthood. 

Perhaps age, maturity, emotionality, novelty, and importance of events contribute to it.


What is forgetting and why do we forget?

SUMMARY
Psychologists usually use the term forgetting to refer to the apparent loss of information that is already encoded and stored in the long-term memory.

Forgetting is natural and inherent to the human mind. In our lifetime, we come across infinite experiences. 

Is it possible to remember everything that we see, hear, smell, or learn around us? No, it is absurd and not needed as well. 

Thus, forgetting is a blessing in disguise because it prevents information overload in the brain and enables us to work in the right manner.

Forgetting can occur instantly if the encoding and storage of information are not done in the right manner or it can fade out with a lapse in time.

Sometimes, you may forget school-level learning later in life because the memory traces have faded with the time gap.

At times, you may feel that your capacity to retrieve information is pretty bad and you tend to forget a lot. But in reality, this is quite common. 

But, if there is frequent forgetting and it tends to interfere with your normal life, then it can be a cause of worry.

Forgetting has some possible reasons that are mentioned below:

1. Ineffective Encoding

Much useful information is thought to be lost. That information that is lost may have not been put carefully in memory. 

Since you can’t forget something you have not learned this is sometimes called pseudo-forgetting. 

So false forgetting occurs due to a lack of attention.

For example, if you’re distracted while you read your study books, you are not focusing on them. Hence it is not going into your memory.

2. Decay

The decay theory mainly says that forgetting occurs because memory traces vanish. The decay occurs in the bodily process responsible for memories. 

Hence according to decay theory, the long duration of time produces forgetting. 

In newer studies of long-term storage memory, researchers have found that time is not a big factor as what happens during the time interval. 

So forgetting depends not on the amount of time that has passed since learning but on the level of difficulty and quality of information.

3. Interference of information

Interference theory says that people forget information stored because of influence from other tasks or work. There are two kinds of interference. 

The first one is retroactive interference and the second is proactive interference.

Retroactive interference occurs when new learning impairs the storage of previously learned information.

Proactive interference occurs when earlier learned information interferes with the storage and retention of new information.

 4. Retrieval failure

Memory retrieval failure is sometimes called cue-dependent memory loss. 

This is because it occurs when information is really not lost from long-term memory, but a wrong or not correct cue has been used to recall. 

It also may be due to the information is not well organized to help us to remember.

5. Motivated Forgetting

This is the tendency to forget things one doesn’t want to think about is called motivated forgetting.  

You can also understand it in Freud’s words, which is repression. In Freudian theory, repression refers to keeping stressful thoughts and feelings deeply buried in the unconscious. 

Thus, when you forget unpleasant events such as a humiliation, or heartbreak motivated forgetting may be at work.


15 tips to improve memory

Here are some useful suggestions to improve memories that are simple and easy to apply in real life. These can help you in a long way and may prevent further loss of memory. 

1. Decrease sugar in your diet

Research has mentioned that eating a sugary diet can be linked to cognitive decline, which slows down your memory functions. So high-sugar diets can lead to poor memory. 

You need to be careful about your diet.

So, trying to avoid sugar intake in your main courses will benefit your total body health, also it can have a good impact on your memory function.  

  2.  Meditation 

You’ve probably known that yogic meditation is a great way for managing a lot of health problems in your life, physically, emotionally, and mentally. 

It is a relaxing activity with many benefits. It has been shown to lessen pain and tension, and also improve your general well-being in a variety of ways. 

Meditation can increase nerve cells in the brain which helps in keeping information for long.

Since nerves die with age and have a bad impact on memory function, meditation is helpful in regaining lost nerve cells.

3. Taking vitamins and supplements  

Fish oil is one supplement that has appeared to lower the chance of conditions such as heart issues and irritation, as well as moderate declining mental work. 

Particularly in more seasoned individuals, the advantageous greasy acids that these supplements contain have appeared to conceivably make improvements in memory. 

Low levels of vitamin D have moreover been related to poorer memory. So your body’s levels of vitamin D must be at an optimum level.

4. Managing your sleep routine 

How well you are resting is also a part that plays in your physical and mental health. There are many studies between sleep and memory consolidation as well as memory function. 

Sleep deprivation can have many bad effects on your memory. 

Focusing on having a good sleep routine and allowing yourself to sleep well is extremely important for your memory. This will ultimately contribute to better mental function overall.

 5. Brain games

Mind exercises are those which involve constant memory arousal or require you to remember things.

This can be a good way to help energize your brain and improve memory functioning capacity. 

Playing word puzzles such as scrabbles can help in these cases.

 6. Physical exercise

People benefit from exercising. Regular and frequent exercising is good for your physical health. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also necessary. 

You need to be aware of both your body and mind’s needs. Exercises also help with improved cognitive function.

Thus there are chances that the risk of memory disorders is less as per new research.

7. Organization of facts

The information which is organized in memory is stored together. You can benefit from this by organizing the facts you’re studying and it helps in memorizing. 

Researches show that grouping similar concepts and facts together helps you to remember better and also is easier to learn.

 8. Use of Mnemonic devices

These are techniques often used by students to help recall difficult concepts. A mnemonic is simply a way to remember facts. 

For example, you might relate a term you need to memorize with a simple item that you know very well. Such as the BODMAS rule in mathematics.

 9. Association of facts

When you’re reading any unfamiliar material, you usually take the time to think about how this information is similar to what you already know. 

So by establishing similarities between new concepts and previously learned information, you can increase the likelihood of remembering the recently learned information.

10. Paying attention

Many people benefit greatly from paying attention and visualizing the information they study.

For example, focusing on the study materials and the pictures in the textbook will help you to remember a lot better. 

You try creating your flow charts in your mind to help you recall better. These visual images will help your memorization to be better than just casual rote learning.

11. Always try to learn something new

Your memory gets strengthened the more you use it. Thus, you should always focus on new learning and form new memory traces. 

Stimulate your brain by doing challenging tasks and getting to know the power of your memory.

Try to do something innovative that will lead to a lot of brainstorming.

Learn a new language or a dance form that can help you learn and remember the details of what you have learned.

A research study has proved that people who know more than one language have fewer memory issues.

They can actually delay the onset of dementia and other memory issues. 

12. Repeat and rehearse

If you have learned something new, try to relearn, repeat, and study all over again for better storage. If storage is good, information will be remembered for a longer time. 

When you repeat, neural connections are reinforced leading to better remembrances.

13. Chunking

This is a grouping method. Here the newly learned information is divided into parts or grouped in order for easy learning and better recall whenever needed.

For example – you can learn a big paragraph by dividing it into three small paragraphs for easier learning and better retrieval.

14. Avoid taking medications without advice from doctors

You should avoid taking certain medications because they can hamper memory functions. 

Sometimes statins that are used to control blood cholesterol levels are said to cause memory loss. Sometimes, it causes brain fog and poor recall of recently learned things.

Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs can also lower your memory power. Thus, medication should never be taken without the advice of your doctor.

15. Increase caffeine in your diet

New research on memory has revealed that coffee and green tea intake increases the power of your memory.

Caffeine improves memory consolidation and helps to strengthen long-term memory. Caffeine also improves short-term memory.

Research data indicate that young adults who had consumed caffeine in the morning had better recall. Their short-term memory was good enough.


Disorders of memory

Memory disorders are disorders of cognition, which is the ability to reason, remember, and lastly make decisions and communicate thoughts. These are sometimes severe in nature.

These are explained as follows:-

 1. Brain injury

Traumatic brain injury is a potential cause of loss of memory. This often occurs from damage to the brain caused by an outside force for example an accident. 

This may lead to loss of memory depending on the severity of the injury. Head injury can give rise to either transient or persisting amnesia in many cases.

 2. Dementia

Dementia is a common term used for a disorder that involves deficits or problems in many aspects of cognition. 

These problems can be very intense. It can make an individual unable to function properly which creates problems in his/her daily life.

 3. Amnesia

Amnesia is a commonly used term for a disorder that involves difficulty in learning and retaining new pieces of information. It can be of two types. 

Retrograde amnesia involves loss of memory of older events and Anterograde amnesia involves problems in retaining new information. 

Some forms of amnesia, such as transient global amnesia, are not permanent and are completely reversible.

 4. Loss of memory due to depression and stress

Studies show that depression has been linked to memory problems, such as forgetfulness or delirium. It can also make it difficult to focus on work or other activities or think. 

Stress and tension can also lead to poor concentration. Thus poor memory power is evident. It can sometimes be associated with short-term memory loss.

5. Alzheimer’s disease

This is a neurological disease that leads to the shrinking of the brain cells and tissues and is one of the major causes of dementia. 

The death of brain cells leads to distortions in encoding, leading to faulty storage and inadequate retrieval. 

A continuous decline in memory occurs that leads to impairment in social functioning and the ability to do tasks in everyday life. 

The person will have problems remembering recent incidents, identifying known faces, remembering their names, etc.

if left untreated, severe memory loss occurs and impacts important areas of a person’s life.


Role of memory in mental health

Advance research has demonstrated that people who suffer from Mood and Anxiety Disorders experience working memory loss. 

Our working memory is a part of short-term memory. 

This is essentially important for helping us to keep important points in our minds while we are working on a task or any activity.

 It is useful for us to actively solve problems and also to manage the various bits of information that we might be presented with as and when required.

You can now understand that this is mainly the body’s stress response which occurs as a result of stress, and increases electrical activity in the brain as well as the release of adrenaline. 

This plays an important role in response to fear or threats. However, this uses up the body’s resources a lot, making other functions such as memory suffer. 

There are a lot of studies that show that anxiety and worry can create problems in your working memory, thus causing you to make more mistakes and be more forgetful.

For your understanding here are just a few examples of experiences that stressed individuals might encounter:

  • Forgetting where you kept your cupboard keys
  • Asking the same questions repeatedly since you have forgotten
  • Forgetting the location of various places
  • Losing track of common household items

Another interesting effect mental health issues have been shown to have on memory is higher levels of anxiety and depression.

They are linked to remembering and recalling information or things that are specifically linked to great emotional experiences. 

Now you can see why anxious or depressed individuals have an easier time recalling memories that have an emotional value than other events. 


Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’

Memory is an information processing system with varied functioning that is made up of sensory memory, short-term or working memory, and long-term memory

Memory takes us beyond the current state and allows us to experience the here-and-now. In the absence of memory, our adaptive behavior would not be possible as it allows us to be flexible.

This is because memory provides the cognitive basis for other mental functions. Memory is a very difficult process that we still do not fully understand. 

Researchers are learning more about human memory function even now and the way it operates in our daily life. You need to be aware of your memory, like all other aspects of your body health. 

You should try to keep your brain healthy and active, take time out of your stressful life, drink plenty of fluids and get lots of sleep to help maintain your body, mind, and overall quality of life.

Article Sources


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memory
2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/memory
3. https://www.britannica.com/science/memory-psychology
4. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02523/full

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