Memories and Forgetting

“Things end but memories last forever” as said by the famous Indian author Kumar Milan, and because of memories, we are the people we see ourselves today. Every person has their own special story. Memories flow like a movie, non-stop and uncontrollable, this notion shapes our understanding of the world and helps us to make a prediction on what is coming. Given that our past is stored in our memory, regardless of whether these memories are positive or negative, it is undeniable that they play a huge role in shaping our personalities. In other words, we can’t replace memories; they make us the very best version of ourselves.

What are memories? 

Memory helps serve human beings in uncountable and different ways. Firstly, it enables us to improve our behaviour and give context to our lives. Secondly, memories allow us to process our environment. Studies of this psychological phenomenon show that memory creation happens in different stages. This valuable information gives us clear insight into the inner workings of the brain.

The different types of memory processes 

When the brain receives signals from its surrounding environment, memories are kept in the brain using three types of memory processes.  

The Sensory Register

The brain acquires information from its surroundings using a short process that lasts seconds. During this process, the brain collects information through the visual and auditory senses which creates what is known as “iconic “and “echoing “ memory.

Furthermore, the process in which iconic memory takes place is when your brain remembers an image you saw. This is a very fast and brief process and an example would be; a memory of a dark scary painting you saw when you visited an art gallery.

Echoing memory is also known as the auditory sensory memory in which sound dictates what information we store from the world around us. Due to the auditory element of echoing memories, the brain stores them for a longer time so that they could be processed and understood. An example of echoing memory is remembering the lyrics of a song you heard on the radio of the bus.

Short Term Memory 

Short term memory occurs in two parts: short term memory and working memory. 

The first part of the process is best described as the brain taking in and remembering a memory but not being able to manipulate or repeat it. Another example is information on recent events that a person is aware of. The process is longer lasting (as it takes anywhere from fifteen to thirty seconds) but the memory can last from thirty seconds to several days. Examples of short term memory are remembering what you had for breakfast yesterday and remembering where you parked your car before going to work. 

Working memory can be defined as the tiny amount of data that the human brain holds and uses for cognitive tasks. Rehearsing information in working memory enough can make the memory permanent. For example, listening to a sequence of events in a biology lesson while trying to understand what the lesson is about.

Long Term Memory  

It is a myth that memories are stored indefinitely in the brain, long term memory is divided into two types.

Implicit memories 

We use implicit memories unknowingly and effortlessly and it can have an effect on our daily life and behaviour. These memories use experiences that we have gone through in our past to set a standard for our brains to follow without too much. For example, this includes being able to ride a bike without the need to keep thinking of balancing.

Explicit memories 

The second type of long term memory is explicit memory. We use it knowingly as it uses previous experiences and concepts for remembering things such as what time you are going with your friend to dinner or the date of a doctor’s appointment.

There are two types of explicit memories:

  1. Episodic memory: these include examples of a specific long term memory or events such as your wedding day or what you did last week.
  2. Semantic memory: these are stored as factual information, for example; names.

How Do Memories Have an Impact on Our Personalities? 

Memories play a role in the way we behave and they have a huge impact on our personalities. When a person goes through an experience whether the experience is negative or positive this experience can form as an implicit memory in our human brain. These experiences come in handy as they tend to help us through our daily life and the different situations that occur, and over time, they help us to learn more about who we are.

When we experience a negative or uncomfortable situation, it is likely that it was difficult for us to handle. Hence, to avoid any associated negative feelings, we use our memory for guidance on what not to do. In contrast, when we associate a positive experience with a happy feeling, we use the memory we’ve made to attempt recreating the experience.  

Do you ever ask yourself why does a person act this way or why every person in this world has different personality traits than others? Well, that is because of the way that memories impact our personalities. 

For example: when you meet a shy and quiet person, they will mostly have past experiences that underpin these behaviours, for example, a strict childhood. An open, confident and talkative person will most likely have a history of an outgoing and expressive childhood.

Forgetting memories and why it’s important to us

Dr James Hardt, who is the president and founder of Biocybernaut Institute has said in his presentations that forgetting is essential to the workings of the brain. To acknowledge how we remember memories, we must take in and recognize how and why we forget. Forgetting is an active process that is continuously working in the brain.

So why do we forget?

Forgetting can happen because the brain cannot hold on to memory the time needed for it to be stored. Scientists have found out that there are two main theories as to why we forget:

  • Decay theory: this theory says that if a certain memory has not been rehearsed it will decay over the course of time.
  • Interface Theory: this theory believes in repetitive learning. For example, after the summer break, you would usually find it difficult to get up early in the morning and start school as your brain has become accustomed to memories of sleeping and waking up later.

In conclusion, it is undeniable that human memory is a complex process that researchers are still studying and trying to understand in a better way. Our memories make us who we are yet our understanding of the process is imperfect. Although the human brain is able to preserve memories for a long time, this does not mean that humans are not susceptible to making mistakes and errors. Hence, we should learn to embrace all the memories that make us who we are today.

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