This article deep dives into the science behind memory. This will help us channelize the science behind memory formation into results. This is a useful insight to many aspirants as they deal a large body of knowledge that is constantly streaming to them. Knowing how memory works can optimise the way you study, and how the brain converts information into memories by sorting them through different stages.
How Memory Works:
What your senses detect or experience in real life is what constitutes the sensory memory. Much of the inputs to sensory memory is lost almost immediately. However whatever is relevant is coded into your short term or working memory.
A short term memory is not permanent unless you review the short-term memory it disappears within 30 seconds. This can also occur if you try to upload too much content in a short period of time. Your working memory only process 4-7 ‘bits’ or items of information at a time.
You can expand your memory’s capacity by combining ‘bits’ of information into ‘chunks’. A ‘chunk’ is bits of memory combines together by meaning. Please be advised that your brain has limits and it cannot store immeasurable amount of content in a short period of time.
Memory formation occurs in the prefrontal cortex but eventually the memory has to be encoded in long term memory. The memory is moved to the hippocampus where it is augmented with chemicals called neurotransmitters; Which transmit details of the information. This leads to formation of new synapses which is the connection between neurons.
The memory is moved to the hippocampus where it is augmented with chemicals called neurotransmitters. These transmit details about the information. This leads to formation of new synapses (which are connections between neurons).
The process of memory formation causes physical changes in your brain. This is due to the fact that neurotransmitters move throughout the brain creating new neural pathways. Keep in mind that such processes take time, which is why studying for a test takes time. This is also why cramming overnight never seems to work.
“Work involving higher brain functions such as analysis and synthesis needs to be saced out to allow new neural connections to allow new neural connections to solidify. New Learning drives out old learning when insufficient time intervenes” Pierce J. Howard; Author of ‘Owners Manual for the Brain’
The learning from this is that you should space out your study over time. When you practice spaced learning consistently, you can significantly expand your capacity for information storage.
The brain prioritises different memories differently. When encoding long term memories, the hippocampus will use different levels of neurotransmitters to code the importance of a ‘bit’ of information. This is a factor in how strongly a memory is embedded in long term memory.
Regrettably deciding what information ranks as important and what doesn’t is decided by the brain and is not a conscious choice.
The Forgetting Curve:
Herman Ebbinghaus wanted to understand how memories decayed over time. He wanted to know how long it took to forget. He conducted many tests and experiments and research has culminated in the creation of the theory behind the “The Forgetting Curve”.
According to the “Forget-to-learn” Theory by Benedict Carey, memory has 2 kinds of strengths-storage and retrieval. This theory differentiates between the storage capacity of our brain and the retrieval capacity. According to the postulations of this theory, the brain has a tremendous capacity for storage. In theory, you could effectively remember every single moment of your life. However, this is where the retrieval ability of your brain kicks in.
The way the memories are haphazadly stored in your brains makes retrieval difficult and interferes with your ability to remember things.
When new memories are formed and encoded, it plays to storage strength and this does not weaken over time. Then you may wonder, why does memory fade over time? That is a function of retrieval strength and it does not fade over time. So unless you frequently recall the memory, the pathway established to that memory gets weaker and it becomes difficult to retrieve that memory.
The more a memory’s retrieval strength has faded, the greater the difficulty in recalling. When you actually recall information, it increases your understanding and enhances the learning. This is known as the ‘Spacing Effect’. The flipside to this is that if you wait too long to remember, the retrieval strength diminishes so much that you won’t be able to recall the memory at all. This is why you forget.
A way to hack your brain is to present information in a tangible, visual and unusual way. This ensures that the brain can easily understand the content. It is difficult for the brain to understand abstract information. This is why mnemonics are a good mental device that helps you associate pieces of information in ways that you can easily remember.
Mnemonics can range from a string of letters to a sentence to a story. For example, if you wanted to remember the countries in SAARC through the mnemonic
“Big Brother Is Moving After Some Painful News” as a mnemonic for the SAARC countries Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal.
ExCuSe ME : Indirect taxes
Ex= Excise Duty
Cu = Customs Duty
Se = Service Tax
M = Motor vehicle tax
E = Entertainment Tax
This is a mnemonic for remembering the different indirect taxes. The simple process of trying to come up with different mnemonics can be useful to help you remember and interlink concepts a lot better than remembering the mnemonic alone.
The more connections that tie into a memory, the stronger the remembrance, especially when they’re learned in different contexts. This means if you have a particular study space, its effectiveness only increases with increase in usage. This can be supplemented by accessing your memories frequently. This ensures that the memories are more permanently encoded.
Memories attached to strong emotional experiences tend to remain despite lack of recall. Other memories tend to fade away unless you recall them frequently.
These are some of the tricks and trips that can help you understand your memory a lot better. We hope this insight into memory formation can help you with your UPSC preparation. We hope this brought you some insight into how memories function and how you can enhance your study. This will help you achieve your dreams.