What is Memory?

What is Memory?

What is Memory?

Although we all have a more or less clear idea of ​​what memory is, it may be useful for us to know a more precise definition of it to help us understand how our brain works and why we sometimes have difficulty remembering certain things. Memory can be defined as the brain’s ability to retain information and retrieve it voluntarily. In other words, this capacity is what allows us to remember facts, ideas, sensations, relationships between concepts, and all kinds of stimuli that occurred in the past. Although the hippocampus is the brain structure most related to memory, we cannot locate memories in a specific point of the brain, but a large number of brain areas are involved. Furthermore, this ability is one of the most commonly affected cognitive functions with age. Fortunately, memory can be trained through cognitive stimulation and various types of brain games.

CogniFit’s leading brain training program enables you to activate and strengthen this and other important cognitive abilities. His brain games have been designed to stimulate certain patterns of neural activation. The repeated activation of these cognitive patterns can help strengthen the neural connections involved in memory and establish new synapses capable of reorganizing and/or recovering weaker or damaged cognitive functions.

memory types

As can already be inferred from the very definition of memory, it consists of an extremely complex cognitive function. It not only involves a large number of brain structures but also acts in most everyday situations. For this reason, different theories and divisions have been created about this cognitive ability. We can divide the types of memory according to different criteria:

  • Depending on how long the information remains in the system: In this case, we would talk about sensory memory, short-term memory, working memory, and long-term memory. Sensory memory would retain information for a couple of seconds, while, at the opposite pole, long-term memory can store information for virtually unlimited time. All these types of memory work in a coordinated way for the system to function properly.
  • Depending on the type of information: We can say that verbal memory is responsible for retaining information with verbal content (what we read or the words we hear), while non-verbal memory is the one that handles the rest of the information (images, sounds, sensations, etc.).
  • Depending on the sensory organ used: Depending on the sense stimulated, we speak of visual memory (vision), auditory memory (hearing), olfactory memory (smell), gustatory memory (taste), and haptic memory (touch).

What are the phases of memory?: The process of learning and remembering

In order to remember what we did yesterday, which is probably what anyone would say if we asked them to tell us what memory is, our brain has had to carry out a series of complex cognitive processes. Each process is necessary to access memories. In fact, a failure in any of these processes would prevent us from remembering the information. The phases our brain has to go through to create a new memory are:

  • Encoding: In this phase, we incorporate into our memory system, through perception, the information that we can later remember. For example, when we are introduced to someone and they tell us his name. We will need to pay attention to perform the encoding.
  • Storage: To make information durable, we store it in our memory system. In the previous example, we would say that we have learned the name, and we can associate it with the face of the individual or with other data.
  • Recovery: When we need past information, what we do is access the stored memory and retrieve it. Following the example, we would retrieve this person’s name when we see him again the next day.

memory examples

  • Thanks to this ability we can remember where we live, the name of our parents, the faces of our friends, what we ate the day before, and even what the capital of our country is.
  • Memory allows us to remember that we have a meeting at work, know the name of a client, or know the password of the computer.
  • Studying the syllabus of a school or university subject would be impossible without our storage system. We would also have trouble remembering when we have a test or what activities we had to do.
  • When we are driving a vehicle, we use our memory to know which way to go. In addition, it helps us remember where we have parked or simply how to drive.
  • Remembering the definition of memory that we have seen at the beginning of this text is also possible thanks to this memory function.

Amnesia and other disorders associated with memory

The study of how this cognitive function fails has greatly helped to understand what memory really is and how it works. Being such a complex cognitive function, it can be affected in different ways and for different reasons. On the one hand, very specific damage can occur due to the double dissociation of memory systems. This means that one system can be altered, while keeping another intact (for example, our long-term memory can be damaged, while our short-term memory remains intact). On the other hand, memory can be altered due to neurodegenerative disease (such as dementia and Alzheimer’s), due to acquired brain damage (head injuries, strokes, infections, and other diseases), due to congenital problems(such as cerebral palsy or different syndromes), due to psychological and mood disorders (such as schizophrenia, or depression and anxiety), due to substance use (drugs and medications), etc. In addition, difficulties in some types of memory can also be found in learning disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia or dyscalculia.

The most common type of memory impairment is memory loss, as occurs in Alzheimer’s. This loss of the ability to remember is known as amnesia. Amnesia can be anterograde (inability to incorporate new memories) and retrograde amnesia (inability to access past memories). However, there may also be an alteration in the content of memories (confabulations or fabulations) or even hypermnesia. Confabulations, characteristic of Korsakoff Syndrome, consist of the involuntary invention of memories, filling in what they do not remember with incorrect information. Hypermnesias, on the other hand, consist of involuntary access to vivid and detailed memories, as occurs in flashbacks of post-traumatic stress disorder, for example.

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