Memory - The Short & Long Terms of It
Types of Memory
There are several definitions and types of memory.
Sensory memory pertains to all the things that are going on around you. Those that you choose to give your attention to - even for seconds at a time, are stored in the short term memory. Some researchers believe they are stored for seconds as exact photographs or icons (iconic memory) or even as an auditory echo in our brains (echoic memory). Items are stored for several seconds to as much as 30 seconds in the short term memory.
If we rehearse them - or repeat the information - such as a license plate number or a phone number, it can stay there longer.
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Short Term Memory Loss
Many people have experienced the problem where they run upstairs to retrieve something and by the time they get there - they have already forgotten what it is they were going to do. This is a short term memory issue.
Short term memory loss can be due to many factors. The main reasons are due to:
- damage to the brain
Most of the time focusing on something is what is necessary to retain short term memories. If we pay attention to something we will remember it much better. Something that is dramatic or exciting will stay in the memory much better because we were so absorbed with it at the time we learned the information.
I was responsible for a patient in a sleep lab one evening and he had been struck on the head several years prior to our sleep study. The resulting damage was that he was unable to store short term memories. It was one of the longest nights of my career. This man was extremely intelligent and even knew that I was using a water column manometer to measure air pressure. I learned he had been an engineer before he had the head trauma.
Once he suffered the head injury he could no longer form short term memories. Information that had been stored in his long term memory was still there and could be recalled but no matter how simple the task or information that I was trying to relay to him now - it could not be remembered.
I had the same conversation with him over and over again. Mr. Short Term Memory would inform me that he didn't want CPAP, he lived with his cat and the cat didn't care if he snored. The study did not end well, since apnea triggered frequent awakenings, he spent more time telling me the same story than he did sleeping. The study was a bust.
Storage of Information
If we have a stimulus and we focus and pay attention it is much more likely that we will be able to recall the information when we need it. Think of the brain as a giant Rolodex of information on cards. If we want to remember a thing - we must first properly process and encode the information. For example, if information is stored in our long term memory it must have the proper key or tag words for optimal retrieval.
Have you ever studied for a test and you simply can not remember the correct answer to a question you know that you studied for? Many times if you pass up the question and continue the exam, a later question may trigger the answer for you. This is a great example of information that you have stored in your brain but didn't encode as well so when you attempt to retrieve the information - the tag word or the card in the Rolodex were improperly filed in your brain. By exploring other areas you may run across the information if you trigger the correct code word for your brain. For example, the person that is taking the test may come to a question that triggers the answer they thought they had lost. The information is in the brain! You just have to find it sometimes.
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Tips for test takers!
I took a class in college in memory and cognition. I used these tips that I learned to effectively help me study and pass exams with high scores.
- use yellow highlighter on text
- read your notes just before you go to sleep at night (don't cram just read it and focus)
- space out your study sessions and take frequent short breaks (research proves that we remember the information we study at the beginning and end of study sessions, better than the information in the middle)
- rather than having long cram sessions - I found that if I read the information several times while relaxing I could recall the information better
- don't be afraid to ask your instructor what information will be emphasized on the test
- take good notes
- re-write the information or write summaries
- remember things in chunks (four to nine bits of information can be stored in STM at one time)
- visualize information (try to imagine it as a photograph)
- read and say the information aloud (auditory memory)
- listen to music while you study (relax while you study)
- study the most important parts first and add details as you go
- make sure you understand the information well
- if you are having problems associate a rhyme or tag word
- sing the information into lyrics you can remember (try not to sing out loud during the test!)
- always sleep well before and exam and try to arrive early so you can read over your notes while you relax just before the test
- leave the answers you are not sure about blank and go through it a second time filling in the bits that you may have been reminded of while reading later questions
It has been found that we forget 90% of the information we learned in class within 90 days.
If you follow all these steps you are sure to commit your information from short to long term memories that could last a lifetime! If you studied the information then it is there - you just have to make sure that you can remember the correct word that will trigger the que card in your brain.