Meaning of human memory

What is human memory:

Human memory is a brain function that involves a complex process of encoding, storing, and retrieving information, skill, and experience gained in the past.

It is a basic, but vitally important function of the brain that arises thanks to the synaptic connections made by neurons and that make it possible for humans to develop the ability to remember.

In fact, although quite reliable information is stored in memory, it is not a totally accurate memory of what we live. Hence, we often have distorted memories.

In this sense, human memory is one of the most studied brain functions due to its importance. Specialists have established that it is a process that develops in various parts of the brain and their studies have developed from the 19th century to the present day.

Memory allows us to distinguish what we know, who are the people around us, how we should act or carry out certain tasks, it allows us to locate ourselves in time and space, among others. Therefore, it is of vital importance, since without memory, human beings would not know how to act in the face of the various scenarios that are presented to us on a daily basis.

Phases of human memory

Below are the phases that constitute human memory as a brain function.

  • Coding: it is the process and continuous transformation of sensory information into verbal codes or visual codes that receive meaning. Human memory only stores the information that is most relevant to it according to previous experiences, hence both the concentration and the attention of the individual influence what their memory encodes.
  • Storage: refers to the accumulation and retention of information that will be used as necessary. Storage can occur both in what is called short-term memory, and in long-term memory.
  • Recovery: it is the action of remembering and that allows us to find the information that has already been encoded (with meaning) and stored, either to evoke or update it.

Types of human memory

Human memory is classified into three different types that are presented below.

Sensory memory

Sensory memory is one that is captured through the senses, especially through the visual and auditory senses. This type of memory is characterized by processing a large number of information, but it is stored for a short time. It can also be transmitted to short or long term memory.

Sensory memory is subdivided into:

  • Iconic memory: records and stores a large number of visual stimuli (images), but for a short time until what was seen is categorized or recognized.
  • Echoic memory: temporarily stores auditory stimuli until the receiver processes them. This type of memory, for example, allows us to carry out conversations.

Short term memory

Short-term memory is characterized by having the ability to store information, based on the environment in which it interacts and for a limited time.

In this sense, human memory can retain between 6 or 7 items or elements for a period of 30 or 40 seconds, approximately, if the information is not repeated several times.

For example, we can only memorize a phone number for a short time if we don't repeat it more than once. Another example can be trying to remember a series of elements that have been shown to us quickly, of which some are forgotten after a few minutes, especially the intermediate ones, since it is easier to remember the first or last elements.

Short-term memory can be maintained by constantly reviewing new information for a moment, otherwise it will be forgotten. Even if it is a prolonged review of the information, it may be transferred to the long-term memory.

Operating memory

Operating memory or working memory is a short-term memory system that allows us to store and use information that can then be applied in the execution of certain tasks that require a type of information stored in long-term memory.

This memory in turn is composed of other subsystems that are:

  • Central executive: it is a supervisory system that allows us to make use of the information we have in order to establish goals, plan or organize tasks with a specific purpose.
  • Phonological loop: it is a memory system that stores the verbal information that we receive.
  • Visuospatial Agendo: limited memory system that stores visual and spatial information (mental images).

Long term memory

Long-term memory is one that has stored all the accumulation of information, experiences and memories that we have encoded, retained and recovered throughout our lives. That is, it is our general memory about everything we know.

In long-term memory are the skills developed, the strategies applied to carry out various tasks, events, images, among others.

Long-term memory can be subdivided into:

  • Implicit or procedural memory: it is about what we learn and then apply unconsciously. For example, a physical skill like riding a bike.
  • Explicit memory: refers to the knowledge that is accumulated through experiences. In turn, it is subdivided into episodic memory (concrete events) and semantic memory (words, dates, numbers).
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