8 facts about memory
1. Forgetting helps you learn!
How? Well just imagine if you never forgot anything. How on earth would you sort through all that information to remember where your ‘phone is now for example, given your brain would know all of the places you’d ever left it? Ever?
Of course, in that context, the most useful of those memories is the most recent, and that’s often the case in the real world, on a day to day basis. So our brains have evolved to automatically discount all the information I.e. Forget it.
That leaves us, naturally with the information most likely to help us survive and thrive.
2. Memories may fade but never die!
Hmmm… we say use it or lose it, and indeed, brain cells do die, especially the unused ones. The ones that fire and wire together – the ones we use the most – developed stronger connections and function more quickly, which is why repeated actions or thoughts become quicker and more automatic.
But we also know that as we recall information, especially information we’ve almost forgotten, those connections are made stronger in comparison with other memories. So for example, the more often you recall a particular event at primary school, probably an emotional and significant event at that, the more the other memories from school become weaker.
3. Memory is unstable!
We’ve known for a long time that the process of pulling the information from your long-term memory in the cortex to the hippocampus from where it is available for conscious recall, actually makes that memory unstable because you are giving more emphasis to certain events, and not others.
This also means that we continually recreate ourselves and who we feel we are, according to which memories we choose to recall. A very useful strategy used in brief therapy, when reinterpreting the past allows us to create a new future for ourselves.
4. Memory is unreliable!
Because the very act of recall makes the memory unstable, students often underestimate how much effort they need to make to make the memory stick.
5. Memory is fickle!
I bet there’s been a time when you’ve kicked yourself having forgotten something that at the time seemed so brilliant that you didn’t bother writing it down, believing instead that of course you would remember it?
And there it is, right there!
Foresight bias – an underestimation of the effort required in forming a long-term memory.
Write it down!
6. The harder it is to remember, the more likely it is you will remember!
If you are learning information for an exam, don’t worry if it feels really hard work to put the memory of that information together. Research tells us that in working so hard the brain then remembers that information more reliably in the future.
That’s why it’s so important to test yourself and make your brain think.
7. Location, location, location!
The context, circumstances, surroundings of where you learn the information is all encoded in your brain along with the information itself. That means that to trigger the recall of that information the future, you will find it all the easier if you put yourself back in the same context.
That’s another reason why recall is difficult in the exam room when you didn’t do any of your learning there.
While it feels more difficult at first, you will remember more and learn faster if instead of concentrating on one subject for an extended period, before moving on to a second subject, you swap backwards and forwards.
It will feel slow-going to start with, but will pay dividends in the end. It’s called reloading because each time you go back to the memory you have to recreate it, and it makes that memory all the stronger for it.