There are several processes that go to work inside our brains, to enable us to remember things. Let’s look at how memory works by taking a closer look at the three phases of what happens when we form a memory.
The first thing we do is acquire information. We can do this unconsciously or consciously, but if our mind is not paying close attention to the information we are trying to acquire,
this lack of concentration will spell lost information and we won’t be able to remember what we are trying to acquire. This is a very important part of the acquisition phase.
The next phase is where you accumulate and store the information you have just acquired. How memory works here is a piece of your brain called the hippocampus takes the information you just concentrated on and acquired, and sends it to the area of your brain
reserved for the storing of your long-term memory. Again, if you haven’t focused your attention on the information you are looking to hold in your long-term memory, there will be nothing for your hippocampus to send to your long-term memory. A shortcut to
acquiring and consolidating information here is if you are already familiar with some or all of the information, or if the information triggers an emotional response in you.
The final phase in how memory works is the reason you have memory in the first place. You have memories so that you can get them for use later on. It makes no sense to memorize dates for history class if you are not going to recall them for the test at the end of the
month. The phrase, “Use it or lose it” can be adapted here. The more you use information, the quicker and simpler it is for your brain to go in, get it, and bring it back for you to use again and again.
When your brain works its memory system, it uses both long-term memory, as described in the second phase above, and short-term memory. How memory works in the short term is that it can hold on to information, but only for a short while, as in a few minutes.
don’t call it short-term memory for nothing, right? The reason for this evaporative nature of short-term memory is to keep us from going nuts and smoking our minds with all kinds of useless facts.
With short-term memory, we are supposed to be able to hold up to seven bits of information at any given moment. Then, as discussed in the first two phases above, if you don’t focus your attention on any of these bits of information, they go up in smoke and the hippocampus won’t be sending any of it on to the long-term storage area of your mind.
To recap on how memory works, long-term memories are those that you have concentrated on, even had an emotional attachment to. These conscious (or unconscious) memories are in your long-term memory because you need them, they have meaning to your life, or you have included an emotional response to them.