Understanding the Long-Term Memory

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When people talk about memory, they often refer to the long-term and short-term memory. As the name suggests, long-term memory lasts a long time, as opposed to short term memory, which only lasts a few seconds.

Memories that stay with you from anywhere between a few days to the past decades are said to be stored in the long-term memory. There is a scientific explanation as to how and why long term memories are stored for a given period.

Some Information About Long Term Memory

·                      Long term memories reside outside of our consciousness but are possible to access through the help of the working memory.

·                      It is possible to have strong and weak long-term memories: some memories pop up more quickly, while others take more time to access. Important memories are easier to recall. For example, you might be able to remember the details of your parents’ 40th wedding anniversary that you organized compared to that psychology final exam you took back in college.

·                      Long-term memories are strengthened when you frequently access them, thus making them easier to recall.

Duration of Long-Term Memory

How long a memory stays with you depends on a few things. First of all, if rehearsed and repeated for a period of time, a short term memory can become a long-term memory. Your disposition when a memory occurred plays an important role in creating memories. If you were alert or highly emotionally activated when a specific event happened, this memory will likely last a long time. How memory is stored and encoded also matters. The more you access and retrieve memories, the more easily it becomes a long term memory.

Types of Long-Term Memory

·                      Explicit memory is available in a person’s consciousness and can be accessed easily. Explicit memories are said to be either episodic or semantic.

·                      Implicit memories can be located in the unconscious and are, therefore, harder to access. This is where procedural memories of driving cars, muscle memory, and even traumatic events can be located.

Memories Can Change

Scientists and researchers will tell you that the best way to strengthen your memory is to keep using it. Keep your brain engaged by constantly recalling and using these memories and making connections. 

Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that memories can change over time. Memories are not set-in-stone and are subject to changes whenever they are accessed. Each time you recall a specific event, you might unknowingly add or omit details that were not part of the original memory.

This happens because people typically forget some details from past events. Over time, these memories become “cloudier” and might even get mixed up with other memories.

Final Thoughts

Memories are not like a computer or a mind palace, as Sherlock Holmes would like to put it. Come to think of it, the mind palace only ever worked because Sherlock Holmes frequently used these memories, which is why they remained active and easy to access. Although memories are enduring, they are just as vulnerable to errors and biases. 

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