Thursday, September 20, 2012

More On Our Memory System

Our Senses

Our five senses capture the information from the world around us, the physical stimuli in our environments. If we pay attention to the information collected by our senses, that information is held in our working or short-term memory

Working Memory

Our working memory temporarily holds on to the information that we are attending to, it is like our brain’s scratch pad. Working memory is where we note information from the world around us. Some of the information we keep, some we discard. Our working memory can hold information for about 20 seconds, and the information gets lost or forgotten if it is not practiced or rehearsed. For example, your friend tells you her new phone number. Usually, if you don’t write the phone number down, or repeat it over and over in your head, it is forgotten within about 10-20 seconds. 

In addition, your working memory has a limited capacity. It can usually hold between five and ten chunks of information at a time. A chunk means pieces of information that hang together in a meaningful way. 

For example:

· 7,     3,     9   are three chunks, but 739 (seven hundred thirty-nine) is one chunk.

· H,    O,    M,    E   is four chunks, but the word “home” is one chunk.
You can remember more if you separate it into chunks.

· 1-800-547-7968  -vs-  1-800-KISS-YOU


Working memory is quite vulnerable to disruption. Chances are that at some point we have all lost our train of thought during a conversation, or gone into a room to get something and forgot what it was we were looking for. This usually happens when we are distracted, and our thought or plan is “lost” from our working memory, or our brain’s scratch pad.

We can strengthen our working memory by increasing our ability to pay attention.

Long-Term Memory

If you want to remember something, and you rehearse it, or repeat it over in your head, it gets transferred from your working memory to your long-term memory. Long-term memory stores all the experiences, facts, events, skills, etc that have been transferred from your working memory. You long-term memory includes everything from the date of your best friend’s birthday to mathematical formulas you learned in school, or things like knowing how many inches in a foot, or how many litres in a gallon. Long-term memory stores words and concepts according to their meaning – which is called semantic coding. In other words, long-term memory often ignores details, but focuses instead on the general, underlying meaning of the information. Long-term memory has an unlimited capacity.

When you are trying to remember something, you are actually trying to retrieve the information from your long-term memory. Recalling information is easier if you have clues.

There are different types of long-term memory:

· Memories of how to perform skills get engrained in your long-term memory, and they are referred to as your procedural memory. For example: using a typewriter, tying a shoelace. These kinds of memories are really hardy. It might have been 30 years since you rode a bike, but the memory comes back quickly as soon as you sit on the seat and put your feet on the pedals.

The problem with procedural memories are they are difficult to explain to people using words. For example, it is much easier to show a child how to tie their shoes than to explain it to them using only words.

· Semantic memory is more an encyclopedia. It stores general knowledge of the world, and facts that you have gained over a lifetime. For example, you know that a wrench is a tool and not an animal.  

· Episodic memory refers to our memories of specific events that happened to us. For example, remembering what you had for breakfast, or what whether or not you took your pills. 

Examples of the distinction between procedural, semantic, and episodic memory:

· Procedural: You get into your red Ford and you automatically know how to drive.

· Semantic: You know that you have a red Ford, and that a Ford is a kind of car.

· Episodic: You remember that you parked your car near the entrance to Walmart in the shopping mall parking lot.

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