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Something magnificent in a human’s brain!

Memory is the retention of information over a period of time through storage, encoding, and retrieval. For something to be considered “memory”, you have to take it in, store it, and then retrieve it for use in the future.

Memory is a very complex thing and it can let you down at times when you are trying to remember something – like when writing an exam. Most people experienced not recalling someone’s name or a place that they visited. It’s obvious that a human’s memory is not installed like data is in a computer; but a little more complex!

The initial stage of memory is known as encoding, in which the information is processed for storage. When you are listening to music, or watching television you are encoding information into memory. Some data gets into memory practically effortlessly, while other requires more time and processing. How information gets stored in the human brain is of interest because it tends to vary from individual to individual.

When we start encoding we use selective attention which means that we focus on something specific while ignoring everything else. Although our brain is magnificent, and is more powerful than a super computer it does has its limits, and it can’t pay attention to everything at once.

Divided attention has an impact on memory – trying to pay attention to too many different things at once. To focus on one single event, as opposed to trying and remember numerous of things simultaneously, has better results.

However simply paying attention to something does not guarantee success with remembering it. Encoding is processed in three different levels. Levels of processing are known as encoding information from shallow to deep. Deep processing produce better results than shallow.

  • Shallow level: Includes the sensory or physical characteristics of stimuli that are analyzed.  For example, we might detect some shapes of printed characters, or detect the pitch of a particular sound.
  • Intermediate level: The stimulus is recognized and is given a distinct label. For example, we will identify an object that drives on the road as a car.
  • Deepest Level: Includes information that is processed semantically. When we get to the deepest level we make associations with things which mean that we are more likely to remember it in the future.

It seems that memories improve when people make associations that are used in deep processing as opposed to tuning into just the physical characteristics. For example, you are more likely to remember someone’s name if you make some type of association as opposed to remembering how the person look.

You could attach a meaning to it or associate the individual with a famous person. Likewise you could associate a famous individual with a friend of yours.

Psychologists that study the thinking process realize that there is more to memory than just deep processing. There are a lot of layers of memory, so to speak. While still on the topic of deep processing, the more extensive the processing, the better you will remember something.

Elaboration is defined as the extensiveness of processing at any level. Rather then just remembering a definition, you should come up with a deep concept of the word by thinking of examples that relate to the word.

This is a strategy that is used on Kaplan SAT Vocabulary Flashcards. On the front it has the word, and on the back it has the definition followed by a sentence that uses the definition properly. The primarily reason why elaboration is so successful is because it makes something distinct in your mind.

Just think of an event that you remember in your life. One that I think affects people living today is the World Trade Center event. People most likely remember where they were and how they first heard the news. People that were in the event and survived most likely have a hard time forgetting about it and can most likely remember the sounds and all of the imagery very clearly.

Speaking of seeing things clearly, imagery is a very important aspect of memory. To make memories extremely powerful it is important to use mental imagery. An example of using mental imagery is remembering where you placed your remote control after watching television last night.

Using mental imagery is very powerful; people tend to remember images better than words. It has been proven that images can help individuals learn a foreign language more easy. However, how intricate storage is determine how well it will get encoded.

Storage refers to the ways that information stays in storage for a long period of time. We remember some information for years, and some we forget within a minute or possibly less.

Sensory memory is a type of memory that holds information in a sensory form for an instant. It is extremely high in detail but the information is quickly lost. Think of the sounds you hear when you’re getting out of a car, or the sound of a bird singing.

These are some common examples of sensory memory. Short term memory is information that is contained in storage for 30 seconds or less. There are some strategies to keep it in storage for longer.

Some ways that you can improve short term memory is by chunking and rehearsal. We all probably have experience with rehearsal, which is the repetition of something, usually a number. If we have to remember a telephone number then an easy way to do this is to keep repeating the number.

Likewise you can try and remember long numbers by chunking them. For example, look at this number – turn away and try to repeat it. The number is 7835677876.

How did you do? Don’t feel too bad if you could not remember it. However, you could have done better if you chunked or grouped the numbers together. For example, rather than trying to remember this big blob of 7835677876, you can chunk in into 783-567-7876.

Well, look at what we got; it looks similar to a phone number.  This is an example of how chunking can be helpful to remember content.

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