The Science of Memories

March 13, 2017
Edward Kim  Oxford Academy  9th Grade

Edward Kim
Oxford Academy
9th Grade

Be it math tests, formulas, or shopping lists, people have always needed to recall lists and strings of items for everyday life. But how exactly do we remember things and how can we become better at remembering the facts we need to recall? While there have always been the traditional forms of recall, some types of unorthodox memorization techniques have very scientific roots.

Let’s begin, however, with how the brain generates memories. There are three general types of memories: sensory, short term, and long term.

Sensory memories involve the five senses and are used to maintain focus in an environment. These kinds of memories aren’t consciously processed by the brain, and decay in about half a second.

Short term (aka working) memories are the memories that are actively retained in the brain for a brief time while the person carries out a necessary task, such as subtracting three digit numbers. When a person generates a memory, the memory is formed by creating a unique configuration of synapses in a person’ s neurons that will correspond to the certain memory, say, the difference of the problem. The brain only retains the short-term memory/configuration for a short amount of time before discarding it,unless it is transferred into long term storage.

Long term memories are the ones engrained into a person’s mind. These can be the person’s address, phone number, or name. Forged via repeated connections in the person’s neurons, these memories are the ones that you should be trying to replicate when memorizing something. Repeated usage of neuron synapses is what results in long lasting memories. What methods are best for retaining a configuration of synapses in order to best help one’s memories?

People have generally use rote memorization, repeating the list of concepts that needs to be memorized over and over and over again. While this may make sense in terms of repeating the synapse code over and over again, there are better ways to memorize something like lists, for example. The Rhetorica ad Herennium, an ancient text written nearly 2 millennia ago, outlines a form of memorization that involves using sensory context in order to integrate information.

For example, when given a list of 10 random, everyday objects, instead of simply monologuing them into submission, try placing those objects into conspicuous, even bizarre, locations of a place one would be familiar with, such as one’s house. If the list consisted of chair, banana, phone, etc., imagine entering the house and stepping on hundreds of miniature chairs while sighting upon a giant banana surfboarding around the house on a phone. Wacky and colorful details incorporating as much of one’ s senses as possible can help a human’s brain into memorizing seemingly impossible lists and numbers.

The trick here is to use already pre-existing synapse connections into helping form new, interconnecting circuits. Memorizing a list through rote recital forms a weak link that one must reinforce repeatedly independent of any other synapse. But by integrating that list into memories already formed such as household locations, one can easily memorize any obstacle thrown in one’s way. With that said, try recalling what I said at the beginning. Do those sound easier to remember now?

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