The Memory Process consists of encoding, storage and retrieval. (See the previous post on encoding.) In this post, we look at the storage and retrieval process.

Sleep Like A Baby
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Storage involves the process of storing and consolidating memories.

The following factors lead to  better storage and consolidation of memory.

Repetition. In the post on neural plasticity, we saw how repetition helps to strengthen neural pathways. Memories are stored not in specific parts of the brain but all over the brain circuits. Each new memory creates one or more neural pathways which when strengthened through repetition become long-lasting memories.

Sleep. Neuroscientists have emphasized the importance of sleep in consolidating memories and in improving brain function. During deep sleep the brain revisits information learnt in the day. This sub-conscious reactivation and rehearsal in the sleeping brain helps to consolidate and strengthen the memory. Modern lifestyle has severely affected the average number of hours of sleep that we get in any typical day. What does this say about our ability to remember!

This is a short talk by Arianna Huffington (on TED) on the importance of getting enough sleep.

Recall or Retrieval is the final step in the memory process.

It is the process of finding the desired memory and bringing it from storage to working memory so as to make it accessible for current use.

When we go to a library, we search for a book and having found the book, all the contents of the book are available to us immediately. However, memory does not work like that. Having encoded and stored a memory, we cannot retrieve it by going to the exact neural connection where it exists and retrieving it entirely. This is due to the fact that different aspects of the memory are stored in different parts of the brain. Recalling a memory means retrieving the different components of that memory and reassembling it in working memory.

Memory is not a tape recorder; it’s a reconstructed story. – Elizabeth Phelps

Science writer Ronald Kotulak uses the analogy of eating a meal to represent the encoding and storing of information:

The brain gobbles up its external environment in bites and chunks through its sensory system: vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. Then the digested world is reassembled in the form of trillions of connections between brain cells that are constantly growing or dying, or becoming stronger or weaker, depending upon the richness of the banquet (Inside Brain page 4).

 

Factors that affect successful retrieval include the following.

  • Attention is essential not just for encoding but for recall as well.
  • Emotional state at the time of recall affects the process of recall. Negative emotional states like anger, hurt, fear and stress affect the brain’s ability to properly reconstruct the memory retrieved. Similarly, positive emotional states lead to better recall and reconstruction.
  • The emotional state at the time of recall facilitates retrieval of memories that were encoded with that emotion. This explains why we seem to remember negative episodes in our life when we are down and vice-versa.
  • Sensory inputs at the time of recall help us remember events that were encoded with similar sensory information.

 

For further reading:

  1. Sleep and Memory

 

Previous posts on memory

  1. What every Brain Owner should know about their Memory
  2. Types of Memory: Importance of Sensory Memory
  3. The Truth about Short-Term Memory
  4. Long-Term Memory: What is that Elephantine Memory?
  5. Memory Process: How Do We Encode Our Memories?

 

Do visit the Brain Training Facebook Page for more content and the  Brain Training YouTube Channel for more video links. Do spread the word. Thanks for reading.

 

Storage involves the process of storing and consolidating memories.

The following factors lead to better storage and consolidation of memory.

· Repetition. In the posts on neural plasticity, we saw how repetition helps to strengthen neural pathways. Memories are stored not in specific parts of the brain but all over the brain circuits. Each new memory creates one or more neural pathways which when strengthened theough repetition become long-lasting memories.

· Sleep. Neuroscientists have emphasized the importance of sleep in consolidating memories and in improving brain function. During deep sleep the brain revisits information learnt in the day. This sub-conscious reactivation and rehearsal in the sleeping brain helps to consolidate and strengthen the memory. Modern lifestyle has severely affected the average number of hours of sleep that we get in any typical day. What does this say about our ability to remember!

 

Recall or Retrieval is the final step in the memory process.

It is the process of finding the desired memory and bringing it from storage to working memory so as to make it accessible for current use.

When we go to a library, we search for a book and having found the book, all the contents of the book are available to us immediately. However, memory does not work like that. Having encoded and stored a memory, we cannot retrieve it by going to the exact neural connection where it exists and retrieving it entirely. This is due to the fact that different aspects of the memory are stored in different parts of the brain. Recalling a memory means retrieving the different components of that memory and reassembling it in working memory.

Memory is not a tape recorder; it’s a reconstructed story. – Elizabeth Phelps

 

Science writer Ronald Kotulak uses the analogy of eating a meal to represent the encoding and storing of information:

The brain gobbles up its external environment in bites and chunks through its sensory system: vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. Then the digested world is reassembled in the form of trillions of connections between brain cells that are constantly growing or dying, or becoming stronger or weaker, depending upon the richness of the banquet (Inside Brain page 4).

 

Factors that affect successful retrieval include the following.

· Attention is essential not just for encoding but for recall as well.

· Emotional state at the time of recall affects the process of recall. Negative emotional states like anger, hurt, fear and stress affect the brain’s ability to properly reconstruct the memory retrieved. Similarly, positive emotional states lead to better recall and reconstruction.

· The emotional state at the time of recall facilitates retrieval of memories that were encoded with that emotion. This explains why we seem to remember negative episodes in our life when we are down and vice-versa.

· Sensory inputs at the time of recall help us remember events that were encoded with similar sensory information.

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