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“How Do You Remember That?”

For me, it often happens out of nowhere. I’ll be working on something or listening to music on the train, and something triggers a memory. The memory could be from 10 days ago, or 15 years ago, but I find myself paying attention to that memory for a while, wondering where it came from and if anyone else remembers it. When it’s a memory that includes someone else, I will often reach out to them and ask, “Hey do you remember when this happened?” and 85% of the time they will respond to me with, “How do you remember that?”

I recently read an article in National Geographic titled “Human memory: How we make, remember, and forget memories” written by Michael Greshko. In this article, Greshko answered a lot of questions I had about the human memory, and why I have found myself sometimes remembering the simplest, most mundane memories, at the “strangest” of times.

Different Types of Memories

Short-term memories – According to Greshko, our short-term memory may last for only a few seconds, and could last up to hours.

Long-term memories – Long-term memories last for years.

Working memories – Our working memory is activated when we frequently repeat something. Think of a time where you have had to remember a password for only a short period of time, we often say it ourselves over and over until we say “Okay, got it.” This is our working memory.

Declarative (explicit) memories – Declarative memories are things that we are trying to remember, such as the answer to a question on an exam, or others “facts” and “common knowledge.” This could also be an event you are trying to remember, like the vacation of a lifetime, or a birthday party.

Nondeclarative (implicit) memories – Nondeclarative memories form “unconsciously.” Greshko reported that nondeclarative memories also include memories of our skills of how to do something, such as riding a bike, or our immediate responses to emotions, such as freezing when you are scared. These types of memories tend to last longer.

Through research on amnesia, scientists were able to understand that our brain stores different types of memories in different areas of our brain, and each type of memory has a different process. Greshko explains, “As we recall a memory, many parts of our brain rapidly talk to each other…” and they participate in “high-level information processing.”

Memory Consolidation

Memory consolidation is the process of strengthening short-term memories for long-term storage. This could be done through long-term potentiation, which is when the nerves in our brain, work to communicate to one another in a different way, and work toward a long-term connection. Recent work has established that at times, our memories must be “reconsolidated” every time you have that memory. When we remember something, the memory is flexible, and it is able to be “strengthened, weakened, or otherwise altered.”

From what I understand, it is likely that I have the memories that others have forgotten because they were more declarative to me in the moment and I was trying to remember, or due to the long-term potentiation process.

If you have ever been curious as to why you remember so many parts of your life or why you don’t remember many things, and wish to further explore this, it may be helpful to connect with a therapist. Contact Symmetry Counseling today to get matched with one of our clinicians.

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