In order to dive deeper into the analysis of memory, we need to understand what the backgrounds are and how they function. First of all, as most of us know, human memory divides into categories. The biggest of them are short-term memory (or working memory) and long-term memory, based on the amount of time the memory is stored.
Remembering what you did this morning or the movie you watched last night with your friend or the face of a stranger who was passing by are what constitutes short-term memory. In general, these kinds of memories will last approximately between 30 seconds and several days. However, you will not be able to remember after ten years what you were doing or eating this morning. Quite cleverly and logically, such memories are pushed out of the brain in order to create a space for new short-term memories.
Nevertheless, we do remember such events as the best birthday party or our last time on a ride, even if it was years before, or the day when we received a much-loved pet. Wondering why? The reason is that all of these memories have a strong emotional background or sensory experience. Happiness, sadness, fear, anger, etc. implant our memories in our brains for a much longer time that is the case with events which have no emotional connection. However, where does everything begin? What is the primary basis of our perception of information and events?
Imagine a common talk between friends/acquaintances/colleagues. As soon as you have heard anything from them, you create an attitude toward the information, based on your feelings. Therefore, you may find the talk boring, monotonous, irritating or, on the other hand, extremely involving, the sort that grips your attention tenaciously. It is obvious that the second talk, which is engaging, will be remembered much better, as it has an emotional influence on you. It works the same with an advertisement, reading articles, learning, listening to music, or watching films. The more emotions or feelings it causes – the higher possibility that it will remain in your mind for a long time. Hence, there is something that is called sensory memory. What is this, and why it is said to be a basis of our cognition?
It is a fact universally acknowledged that each human being has 5 main senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. We use our senses all the time, starting from checking if milk has soured to evaluating the material of a new fluffy coverlet. Usually, people tend to have one or two senses that are more developed than the others. As a result, we are divided into so-called types: visual (sight), auditory (hearing), kinesthetic (touch and feel), and cognitive (mental processing). Sensory memory is based exactly on these senses; and with the help of them, the information we are interested in moves to our short-term memory and finally, becomes encoded in our long-term memory.
However, as research has shown, the most active and influential senses are sight (33%) and hearing (26%). In the case of visual memory, it is known as iconic memory, which lasts for about 1/20 of a second, whereas auditory memory is called echoic memory and lasts as long as 4 seconds. Yet, this does not mean that other senses are not significant. Moreover, it is vital to know your type in order to understand and simplify the way you learn or memorize of any piece of information.
Based on this, there are plenty of strategies and techniques for organizing and directing your memory in the way you want or need. One of them is mnemonics, which is widely used for learning. By creating images and associations with a word or a term, you are ingraining it in your memory as it has a strong emotional basis. For instance, you are struggling with learning new vocabulary and there are some words that are simply hard to memorize. What to do in such a case? First of all, make sure you understand the meaning of the word. The next step is to create an emotional connection, which will undoubtedly result in an active and productive learning process.
Let us consider an example. Imagine yourself preparing for a test in history or geography, especially when you have limited time. You definitely need to remember the names of the geographical places, maps, features, and hundreds of other things. How to simplify this with the help of mnemonics? For example, you need to remember the order of the Great Lakes from west to east. Instead of overloading yourself trying to learn the lakes by heart, you can remember just one sentence: “Super Man Helps Every One”. (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario). Or, coming back to vocabulary, how to memorize, for instance, a beautiful word like procrastination (=delay). It is actually one of those cases when it is not that easy to find a word that sounds similar or to create an association. However, you can use another technique of mnemonics – music mnemonics. Think about how easily you can memorize the lyrics to a song and how you came to remember them? The same method can work in academics. Therefore, an easy way to remember the word procrastination is to go and listen to this song. The truth is that there are so many different tactics that influence our memories in extremely productive ways. Moreover, with the help of them, you will see that even learning boring things can turn into a tremendously engaging process.
As you can notice, it is quite complicated to give a single straight answer to the question of what memory is. However, it is obvious that there are many “underpasses” like sensory memory, which create an individual basis of our own perception, and consciousness in general. The only thing you need is to dive deeper into your own cognition to learn how your memory works and what the best strategies for you are. This way, you can broaden your mind and open it to new possibilities.