Still, we do know that there are basically three stages or steps to memory processing: encoding, storage, and recall. The first step to creating a memory is called encoding : It's when you notice an event or come across a piece of information and your brain consciously perceives the sounds, images, physical feeling, or other sensory details involved. Let's take, for example, your first trip to Las Vegas. Your memory of that event is formed by your visual system noticing extravagantly designed buildings and lush landscaping, for example , your auditory system the ringing of the slot machines , and perhaps smell the distinctive scents pumped into each casino.
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If you attach meaning or factual knowledge to any of this sensory input, that's called semantic encoding. For example, if you associate the Bellagio Resort and Casino in Vegas with its location on a map or the fact that the dancing fountain show takes place every 30 minutes, you're encoding the Bellagio with semantic memory. This is good to know because research suggests we remember things better and retain them longer when we associate meaning to them using semantic encoding. All of these little bits and pieces of information are then stored in different areas of your brain.
Your neurons the nerve cells in your brain pass signals to each other about what you perceived, effectively "talking" with each other and building either temporary or long-lasting connections. It's that neural activity and the strength of those connections that make a memory, neuroscientists believe. There are two kinds of memory: short-term and long-term. Short-term or working memory is like your brain's scratchpad.
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It's when your brain temporarily stores information before either dismissing it or transferring it to long-term memory—for example, remembering what you want to order for lunch before calling the takeout place. Once your food is delivered and eaten, your brain can let go of that info. Long-term memories are those memories you hold on to for a few days or many years—things like how to ride a bike or the first dinner you had with the first person you fell in love with.
The Science of Memory
Both kinds of memories can weaken with age because the brain loses cells critical to those connections between neurons over time—but that's not inevitable. As with muscle strength, you can exercise your brain; with memory, it's "use it or lose it. And finally, to retrieve a memory, your brain "replays" or revisits the nerve pathways created when the memory was formed. Repeatedly recalling information helps strengthen those connections and your memories, which is why techniques like reviewing your notes or using flashcards help you retain information.
However, when you remember something, it's not an exact reproduction of the first time you experienced an event or came across a fact, because your own awareness of the current situation gets mixed in with the memory. As The Human Memory explains :. Memories are not frozen in time, and new information and suggestions may become incorporated into old memories over time.
Thus, remembering can be thought of as an act of creative reimagination.
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That's also why people can have false memories, or their memories of events might change over time. Now that we know some of how memory works, we can use that understanding to improve our memory. We'll start with the lifestyle changes we can make, since they can improve more than just our memory, and then go over specific memorization techniques.
In general, increasing your overall health with better sleep, regular exercise, and better nutrition will improve your brain health—including memory—as well as your physical health. These three things will give you the biggest bang for your buck in preventing memory loss and improving your memory overall. Here's an easy way to boost your memory: Get a good night's sleep or take a power nap after learning something new. One research study found that people who slept for 8 hours after learning new faces and names were better able to remember them compared to those who didn't get the sleep opportunity.
And in an analysis of two research datasets , psychologist Nicolas Dumay determined that not only does sleep protect our brains from forgetting memories, it also helps us retrieve memories better. Why is this? It appears that sleep "resets" our brains and is critical for memory and learning. If you're sleep-deprived, the brain's neurons become over-connected with so much electrical activity that new memories can't be saved.
So this makes the case against late-night cramming for a test or staying up all night to rehearse your presentation. As the New York Times explains :. Studies have found that the first half of the night contains the richest dose of so-called deep sleep — the knocked-out-cold variety — and this is when the brain consolidates facts and figures and new words. Naps count too!
So sleep on it. If your boss or co-workers catch you napping at work, just show them these findings. Just as sleep is important for both your physical and mental health, so too is that other pillar of health: exercise. Our brains rely on oxygen to function properly, and to get that oxygen, we need a healthy flow of oxygen-rich blood to our brains. Guess what? Exercise improves blood flow to the brain.
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Researchers at the National Institute on Ageing discovered that aerobic exercise, such as running, is linked with improved memory. Exercise such as this triggers high levels of a protein called cathepsin B, which travels to the brain to trigger neuron growth and new connections in the hippocampus, an area in the brain believed to be critical for memory. The tests were done on mice, monkeys, and 43 sedentary university students who were forced to get fit for the study. Those subjects with the largest improvements in memory?
You guessed it: those with the largest increase in cathepsin B after physical activity. Don't rush to get your running shoes on just yet, though. After studying or learning something new, it might pay to wait.
Exercising about 4 hours after learning might be better for improving memory than exercising immediately after. Scientists are still unsure why delaying exercise is more effective than working out immediately, but perhaps our brains need time to soak in new information before that brain-boosting exercise. We don't mean to sound like your mom or doctor with all this advice, but here's the last lifestyle-based recommendation: Eat healthier.
You've probably guessed it, but saturated and trans fats—the kind you get from red meat and butter—are linked to poorer memory. Just as cholesterol can build up in your heart's arteries, it can build up in your brain. Harvard Health explains :. The buildup of cholesterol plaques in brain blood vessels can damage brain tissue, either through small blockages that cause silent strokes, or a larger, more catastrophic stroke.
Either way, brain cells are deprived of the oxygen-rich blood they need to function normally, which can compromise thinking and memory. Diets such as the Mediterranean diet, which consists mostly of vegetables and fruit, olive oil, seafood, and nuts—rich in healthy unsaturated fats—have been linked in numerous studies to improvements in memory and lower rates of memory decline. Ready to feed your brain? Here's the Mayo Clinic's guide to getting started with the Mediterranean diet. Beyond living a healthy lifestyle, specific memory techniques will help you better remember details of anything you're learning.
The most common mnemonics help you quickly remember words or phrases. Music Mnemonics: Music is a powerful mnemonic because it provides a structure for information and encourages repetition.
It's a lot easier to remember a catchy song than it is to remember a long string of words or letters, such as your bank account password. It's also why advertisers often use jingles to make their messages stick in your head. Don't get me started with that Kars4Kids jingle. As Allison Preston, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Texas at Austin, explains in this research study release ,. We think replaying memories during rest makes those earlier memories stronger, not just impacting the original content, but impacting the memories to come.
When you are learning something new, you bring to mind all of the things you know that are related to that information. In doing so, you embed the new information into your existing knowledge. With this in mind, when you give yourself a few minutes to rest and think about what you just ingested from the page, you're allowing your brain to better connect the new information to what you've already done or understand.
And because the brain is wired to respond to emotions quickly and efficiently , connecting them to memory formation and the interpretation of facts and rational thought, if you can allow yourself to really acknowledge and respond to what you feel during your reading reflections, you stand a better chance of the new memories being more powerful and easier to retrieve.
How am I supposed to take time to reflect on what I read? I get it. But when you can remember information from your content better, you actually can end up saving time. You don't have to go back and look up as many facts or ideas, and whether it's rubbing elbows with some big shots at a conference or explaining your rationale for a new process to your team, you can apply the information on the fly better.
From this standpoint, reading reflection is an efficiency booster and worth the few brief minutes it takes. Underlining key words by using different colours can significantly reduce the material you need to study while stimulating your brain to remember information. It is advised that you read a piece of text to the end then highlight the key words as you would then be aware of which words are most important. If we go a step further, you can also use the underlined portion of the text to create your own notes as a summary do not forget to include pictures and different colours also in these notes.
Avoid highlight complete sentences and paragraphs! Create Online Flashcards with important laws you need to memorize for your exam. Once you have created your first deck of Online Flashcards, you can review them and change the order to test yourself properly. In this way, your brain is stimulated to a high degree which in turn will improve your memorization skills. Note : Saying your notes out loud acts as a memory mechanism in your brain which help you remember your study notes better. Many of you are probably already using Mind Mapping to connect concepts and ideas visually.