Why is it impossible for us to forget the sweet smell of the perfume that grandmother used when we were three years old, but we have trouble remembering the details around a difficult family situation that we went through just a couple of years ago?
In this article we are going to answer the question ‘’Does your brain remember everything?’’, We will analyze how memory works and why we forget some things and not others.
Does your brain remember everything?
No, our brain can’t remember everything. Cognitive psychology has concluded that it is impossible to remember absolutely everything, the brain cannot keep all the memories of every minimal experience. We only keep what is important.
Cognitive psychology seeks to understand the nature and workings of the human mind. Its subject of study is cognitive processes: perception, learning and memory, which is the process by which we acquire, store and retrieve information.
Memory is the source of our life; it offers us a way of being, and configures us in what we are and feel. It is also selective: it allows us to forget old hobbies and teaches us to adapt to new situations.
Human memory is a fascinating and complex reality. It is the mental capacity to which we resort the most and to which we demand the greatest effort, although it has betrayed us all at times.
It’s that memory works in complex ways that are totally linked to the emotional. To deal with pain our brain creates labyrinths and barriers by adapting reality to our whim. This process is popularly known as “selective memory.”
Thanks to memory, we recover images and scenes from the past, we preserve our experiences and emotions, and we elaborate our personal history. We cannot live without awareness of what we have experienced.
As can already be guessed from the definition of memory itself, it consists of an extremely complex cognitive function. Not only it involves a large number of brain structures, but it also acts in most everyday situations.
For this reason, different theories and divisions have been created about this cognitive ability. We can divide the types of memory based on different criteria:
It’s the shortest type of memory. It consists of the ability to retain perceptions of sensory information once the stimulus has disappeared.
A great deal of information is continually bombarding us. They can be auditory, visual, olfactory, taste or touch data. Our body cannot attend to all the stimuli at the same time because the energy is limited, therefore, it filters. Thus it ignores some data and detects others. The latter are those that are part of sensory memory.
This type of memory doesn’t require conscious attention, in fact, it’s usually involuntary. It’s characterized by fading very quickly, approximately 200-500 milliseconds after perceiving an element. Although the echoic or auditory sensory memory may last a little longer, at most 3 or 4 seconds.
Short-term memory works by temporarily recovering the information that is being processed. Its capacity is limited, and ranges from a few seconds to a minute.
This type of memory is what helps us understand what the text we are reading is about, because while we read a sentence we still remember the previous one.
Long term memory
Memories that are in long-term memory can stay there for the rest of our lives. It deteriorates very little over time, and can store an unlimited amount of information.
However, not all the memories in this warehouse have the same strength, nor do they all remain static. From time to time, our memories are reviewed and “updated” if necessary. Therefore, the information we memorize is not strictly constant or reliable.
For memories to pass into long-term memory, a consolidation process is necessary in which through complex neural mechanisms the information is fixed in our brain.
Conscious or unconscious
Explicit memory is one that requires conscious thought. For example, try to remember what you had for dinner last night or name objects that you can find in a store.
Usually it’s associative, that is, our mind links new memories to others that we already have and that have certain common aspects.
It’s about those memories that you are not aware of. That is, perceptual and motor habits that depend on our experience.
It’s the knowledge we have about how the things we normally do are done. We usually run them automatically and they are difficult to put into words.
For example, playing an instrument, riding a bicycle, writing, avoiding being scared by loud noises that we are already used to hearing, quickly recognizing our family and friends, etc.
Autobiographical or episodic memory: It consists of a set of important memories of our life, such as our personal experiences, important events, events of great emotional charge, etc.
Semantic memory: General and conscious knowledge, like what we were taught in school or in university. It includes concepts, facts, meanings, and other knowledge about the external world that we have been acquiring.
Instrumental or procedural memory: They are those motor patterns that we have already acquired and reproduce with ease. For example, climbing stairs, playing the piano, rollerblading, swimming, etc.
Topographic memory: It’s the ability to orient ourselves, recognize a path and cross it, remember keys to a family environment, etc.
How are memories formed?
Neurons communicate with each other to build memory.
Memories are encoded between neurons and their connections. A new memory is formed by being participants in an event that we will later remember. This is transferred to the brain in neural connections.
Circuits or small networks are generated that represent memories or aspects of different memories. The activation of neurons and their connectivity, the circuits that are formed, is what encodes memory
Specifically, neurons communicate with each other to build memory. Memories are encoded between neurons and their connections. A new memory is formed by being participants in an event that we will later remember.
That carries over to the brain in neural connections. Circuits or small networks are generated that represent memories or aspects of different memories. The activation of neurons and their connectivity, the circuits that are formed, is what encodes memory.
Human beings build and renew our representation of the world based on three fundamental cognitive processes: perception, learning and memory.
Memory consists of three stages:
- Encoding: It’s the transformation of stimuli into information. At this stage, attention is very important. For example, when they introduce us to someone and tell us their name. We will need to pay attention to do the encoding.
- Storage: For the information to be durable, we store it in our memory system. Storage is done using schemes. In the previous example, we would say that we have learned the name, and we can associate it with the face of the individual or other data.
- Retrieval: When we need past information, what we do is access the stored memory and retrieve it. Following the example, we would retrieve the name of this person when we see him again the next day.
Why can’t we remember everything?
One of today’s best-known memory researchers, Elizabeth Loftus, has identified the top four reasons why people forget.
#1 – Failure to recover
The inability to retrieve some data is one of the most common causes that we forget. This inability can be explained by the called Decay Theory, according to which a trace is created with each memory.
According to this theory, over time these traces begin to fade and disappear if they’re not recovered. However, there’s a problem with this theory, as some research has shown that even memories that have not been recovered remain in long-term memory.
# 2 – Inductions
Another theory that addresses the reasons for forgetting is the interference theory, which suggests that memories compete and interfere with each other. Thus, when the information is very similar to other previously stored in memory, it’s more likely that some interference will occur.
It can be of two types: proactive (when an old memory makes it more difficult or impossible to remember a new one) and retroactive (occurs when new information interferes with the ability to recall previously learned information).
# 3 – Lack of storage
Sometimes information loss has less to do with forgetting and more to do with the fact that it wasn’t stored in long-term memory in the first place. Encoding flaws sometimes prevent information from entering long-term memory.
# 4 – Motivated forgetfulness
Sometimes we can actively work to forget memories, especially those of traumatic or disturbing events or experiences. The two basic forms of motivated forgetting are suppression (a conscious form of forgetting) and repression (an unconscious form of forgetting).
However, the concept of repressed memories is not universally accepted by all psychologists. One of the problems with repressed memories is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to scientifically study whether or not a memory has been repressed.
So, does your brain remember everything?
Memory is selective, so we only remember some things, since if a particular memory is not reviewed every so often, it’s not thought about for a long time, the neurons that encode memory when that event happened begin to lose contact with each other.
That connectivity begins to be lost and with that comes forgetfulness because that network of neurons that was coded to create that memory is not so strong and the concept is forgotten.
On the fact that there are people with more memory than others, everything is about interest.
If you remember something, it’s because you are interested. These are things you repeat all day. If you work with something you’re all day with it and you repeat it so many times, which is a topic of interest to you.
It’s also about emotions, if I live an emotionally very strong event, I will predictably remember it until death. It happens with both negative and positive emotions. Everything that stands out, is very positive or negative, we tend to remember it more.
To better remember things, we must try to better understand the information we record, try to put things in context, and thus we will retain it better. When you make associations you understand everything, and it is very different from memorizing.
And you, how good are you at remembering things?
FAQS: Does your brain remember everything?
Do we subconsciously remember everything?
The brain can remember things “unconsciously”, they are the perceptual and motor habits that depend on our experience. The brain remembers how to do certain things without realizing it.
How does the brain remember things?
Memories are encoded as electrical and chemical signals between neurons, and create patterns. What the brain does is trigger the associated pattern.
How much can your brain remember?
The brain can remember approximately 2.5 million gigabytes.
Does your brain record everything?
The brain processes all the information, doesn’t record it. It’s usually forgotten quickly depending on the stimulus.
Is good memory a sign of intelligence?
Memory is not exactly a sign of intelligence. It’s sometimes associated with being able to remember certain events that other people cannot. But it doesn’t mean you are “smart.”
In this article we answered the question ‘’Does your brain remember everything?’’, We analyzed how memory works and why we forget some things and not others.
If you have any questions or comments please let us know.
Baddeley, A. D., & Mehrabian, A. (1976). The psychology of memory (pp. 162-187). New York: Basic books.
Cowan, N. (2008). What are the differences between long-term, short-term, and working memory?. Progress in brain research, 169, 323-338.
Roediger, H.L., Dudai, Y. and Fitzpatrick S.M., eds. Science of Memory: Concepts. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 147 – 150.