The Bygone


by

Ariana Husain

(Ariana Husain our grand child, is the daughter of Sabila and Malik Husain. She is in the 10th Grade at a School in Boston. This is her first article and hopefully will continue to contribute many more in future. She is transporting us down memory lane, let us accompany her!)

All of us have memories. Whether they are good or bad. Memories help form meaningful relationships with our family and friends. Memories are what create our personal characteristics and help us utilize the skills we learn.

I distinctly remember that one time in 6th grade, when I got my quiz back in science class on solids, liquids, and gases. The quiz was graded by a machine, and I felt so calm because I had been learning about solids, liquids, and gases since the second grade. Much to my surprise, when I saw my grade my heart dropped. There was a 10% on the machine. The kid in front of me got a 60% on his quiz, and he couldn’t care less about school. This made me feel so anxious and uneasy. My eyes started watering. At the end of class, I tried to keep it together and talk to the teacher. As soon as I started talking to her, I started crying. I’ve never cried in front of a teacher until that day. What’s funny is that the next day, she looked at my paper, and told me that the machine made a mistake, and I actually got a 95%.

How can I remember vivid details from a random sixth-grade experience when I can’t even remember what I wore to school last Tuesday? Why can I remember that when Chandler and Monica got married in Friends, Ross and Chandler thought they lost all the disposable cameras, but I can’t remember the quadratic formula?

I’m currently watching Grey’s Anatomy, and one of the most beloved characters on the show died after saving the lives of many people. He was a neurosurgeon. This led to my interest in neuroscience and the brain. The brain is what controls all of our functions. Without the brain, we would not be able to survive. I wanted to write about something psychological and related to neuroscience. I explored different topics, but ultimately, I was led to researching memories. Memories are essential for leading a productive life. Without our memories, we wouldn’t be able to have meaningful relationships with our family or friends. We wouldn’t have our personal character traits or attributes. We wouldn’t be able to succeed without remembering the skills we’ve learned. Understanding how the brain works can improve the course of treatment for complex brain disorders.

I will start my research by understanding the functions of different parts of the brain responsible for memory. I will learn how memories are formed and how they are stored. I will learn about different types of memories. Forgetting is a frequent occurrence in our lives. How does it happen? I also want to understand certain neurological diseases where people lose their memories. Overall, I want to understand, how do memories work and how are they lost?

Memories are a recollection of something in the past. These memories are the foundation of our personalities. Memories of our experiences shape who we are. Also, our memories allow us to utilize our skills. For some people, sports are an important aspect of their life. Sports use many skills but without our memories, we could not remember how to execute these skills.

But how exactly do these memories form? And how do we forget some of our memories? It has been found that memories are formed in three main processes called encoding, storage, and retrieval. There is a fourth process called memory consolidation, but it is only used on short term memories. Furthermore, the use of different parts of the brain such as the hippocampus, cerebellum, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and neurons create the formation of memories. Damage to these parts of the brain may cause amnesia.

Understanding the different types of memories and memory loss will help to fully understand memory loss. Memory loss can be caused by many factors. Often, signs of depression and isolation will weaken the ability to pay attention and cause memory loss. Over the course of my research, it has been stated that memories form in three specific processes but some elements vary throughout different sorts of memories.

There are various types of memories which can be categorized in several different ways. The broadest way to classify memories is short term and long term memory. Short term memory is a memory of information that has been recalled from a few seconds ago. On the other hand, long term memory is a memory of information that has been recalled from anywhere around a few minutes ago or many years ago.

Declarative memory and nondeclarative memory are other common ways to classify types of memories.  As conveyed by National Geographic, declarative memories, also called explicit memories, are the kinds of memories you remember consciously or information that is considered general knowledge (Greshko). For example, knowing a friend’s birthday or knowing that the Earth revolves around the Sun are declarative memories. Conversely, nondeclarative memories, also called implicit memories or procedural memories, accumulate unconsciously (Greshko). For instance, being able to remember your skills such as riding a bike or knowing how to cook a dish are considered nondeclarative memories. Declarative memory is formed more easily compared to nondeclarative memory. It takes longer to ride a bike than to learn the capital of a country, but skills often stick with a person longer (Greshko).

The Australian Academy of Science revealed that different types of declarative memories are called semantic memories, episodic memories, autobiographical memories, and spatial memories (Berthold). Semantic memory is generic knowledge such as states and capital. Episodic memories are recollections of events that have happened in your life. Autobiographical memories are a mix of semantic and episodic memories that help create your sense of identity. Lastly, an additional type of declarative memory is spatial memory. Our sense of direction and memories of certain routes are categorized as spatial memories. For example, spatial memories are memories such as, “remembering the route to drive home, or where a certain shop is located” (Berthold). Understanding these different types of memories helps scientists understand different types of amnesia and other diseases.

Memories are retained through three processes called encoding, storage, and retrieval. Simply Psychology explains, “when information comes into our memory system (from sensory input), it needs to be changed into a form that the system can cope with, so that it can be stored” (McLeod). This implies that different ways memories are encoded must get converted into a suitable form so that it can go on to be stored. The Derek Bok Center of Teaching and Learning expresses that the four ways memory can be encoded are called visual, acoustic, semantic, and tactile encoding (“How”). Visual encoding is when one encodes something they have seen. Acoustic encoding is when one encodes something that has been heard. Semantic encoding is encoding the meaning of something. Lastly, tactile encoding is the remembrance of how something feels. Short term memory and long term memory are encoded differently. Short term memory is encoded acoustically or visually and it lasts for only 15-30 seconds. Long term memory is primarily encoded semantically, but it is possible for long term memory to be encoded visually or acoustically.

The next process is memory storage. Storing is the process of placing encoded information in the brain for storage. Our memories may be unreliable, because our stored information may differ from the form it was encoded in, causing our memories to change. Short term memory can only store 5-9 pieces of information, while long term memory lasts endlessly with unlimited storage. The following process is memory retrieval. Memory retrieval is the process of acquiring memories from storage (McLeod). Differing forms of memory storage may change the way the memory is retrieved. Furthermore, short term memory and long term memories have distinct differences in retrieval. The Derek Bok Center of Teaching and Learning affirms, “While STM is retrieved in the order in which it is stored…LTM is retrieved through association…” (“How”). This quote illuminates, short term memory is retrieved in the same way it was stored. For example, if one was given a list of numbers to remember, they would most likely retrieve it in the same order. However, long term memory is retrieved by correlation. For instance, being able to remember the area where you kept your phone.

There is another process applied in short term memories. This process is called memory consolidation. National Geographic explains that memory consolidation is when the brain converts short term memories in long term memories. Consolidation is what keeps our memory together (Greshko). Stress hormones, the hippocampus, and the amygdala are primarily implemented in memory consolidation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America claims the amygdala mediates stress hormone influence in consolidation (McGaugh). The hippocampus also activates during consolidation. Essentially, encoding, storage, and retrieval are the main processes of forming memories while consolidation is an additional process used to turn short term memories into long term memories.

Throughout the brain, there are numerous different parts utilized in human memory. According to UH Pressbooks, the hippocampus, the cerebellum, the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex are four main parts of the brain involved with memories (“Parts”). Additionally, TED-Ed claims neurons, neurotransmitters, and synapses are also associated with the formation of memories (Young). The hippocampus resembles the structure of a seahorse. The hippocampus is essential for memory consolidation. Different types of declarative memories such as episodic memories and spatial memories are affiliated with the hippocampus. The hippocampus gives memories meanings and correlates them with other memories.

Another portion of the brain is the cerebellum. It is located at the lower back of the brain. Procedural memories are created by the cerebellum. The cerebellum acknowledges when to execute procedural memories. For example, the Australian Academy of Science states, “Imagine there’s a ball zooming towards your head: do you raise your hands to catch it, or do you run away from it to avoid being hit? Quickly deciding which action to take is a decision for the basal ganglia. The cerebellum…is also responsible for coordinating those movements” (Berthold). This confirms that the cerebellum is what allows a person to learn skills and when to use them.

Another main component of the brain is the amygdala. The amygdala is found within the temporal lobes of the brain. The amygdala is mostly related to emotions because emotional responses are stored within the amygdala. This is why fear is primarily associated with the amygdala. While memory consolidation is linked to the hippocampus, it is also linked to the amygdala. As previously mentioned, the amygdala is connected to the mediating of stress hormone influence on memory consolidation (McGaugh).

The prefrontal cortex covers part of the front of the frontal lobe. The prefrontal cortex is correlated with processing memories and retaining information. Most semantic memories are remembered by the prefrontal cortex. Examples of this include, understanding the meaning of numbers and the alphabet. Incidentally, neurons are also applied in memories. Neurons are cells located within the nervous system. Experiences are converted into a pulse of electrical energy that moves around neurons (Young). These neurons communicate with neurotransmitters at synapses. Some of these neurotransmitters include epinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, glutamate, and acetylcholine. UH Pressbooks asserts, “Repeated activity by neurons leads to increased neurotransmitters in the synapses and more efficient and more synaptic connections. This is how memory consolidation occurs” (“Parts”). This quote emphasizes that when neurons communicate with neurotransmitters, synapses strengthen leading to memory consolidation. The more these neurons and neurotransmitters communicate, the stronger the memories will be. Ultimately, many parts of the brain are utilized in the process of gaining memories showing how complicated the brain and memories are.  

Memory loss or forgetting is inevitable, and memory declines as humans get older. One reason for this is chronic stress. Chronic stress affects memories and induces deterioration of brain cells. As previously mentioned, brain cells called neurons are crucial for forming strong memories. Catharine Young from TED-Ed states, “stress chemicals help mobilize energy and increase alertness” (Young). However, when one has chronic stress, their brain is flooded with chemicals causing loss of brain cells. Furthermore, memories can only be formed when one pays attention. Another cause of memory loss is depression. Depression causes individuals to have low levels of serotonin. Serotonin disorders may contribute to depression and low energy. This makes it difficult to pay attention. People with depression have a 40% chance of developing a memory problem (Young). Isolation also generates problems concerning memories. Isolation has been linked to dementia, and it may be considered a cause. Brain shrinkage is a cause of memory loss. As humans grow older, the brain shrinks and slowly weakens. Brain shrinkage causes the hippocampus to lose 5% of its neurons every ten years (Young). The number of neurotransmitters also decreases with age. This causes synapses to begin losing strength with aging, which changes how one can retrieve their memories.  Overall, there are numerous factors affecting memory loss, and most of these causes regard to aging.

Psychology has always seemed like an interesting topic to learn about for me. Psychology helps us understand the way we think and feel. I wanted to fully understand what helps us remember our experiences and make up part of our personality. Before researching this topic, I did not know anything about memories. So, when starting the research process, I was clueless. As the research began, I finally started understanding important aspects of the human memory and I found that I was very interested in this subject. It was not very difficult to find my information, but some of my sources were very broad. This was not much of a problem because I only needed basic information since I did not know anything about the topic.

Essentially, I had answered my research question thoroughly through the research process. Conclusively, memories are formed in three main processes, encoding, storage, and retrieval, and often, a fourth process is utilized as well, consolidation. In essence, the brain uses different senses to encode information which is passed on to storage and finally is gone to retrieval which allows us to actually remember the information. When short term memories go on to become long term memories, this is called consolidation. The different parts of our brain such as the hippocampus, cerebellum, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, neurons, neurotransmitters, and synapses are heavily involved with our memories. There are also many reasons why humans lose their memories such as chronic stress, depression, and isolation. From my perspective, learning about our memories and why we forget will help scientists further understand different diseases such as amnesia or dementia and possibly help them find cures or treatments for these diseases.

Works Cited

Berthold, Emma. “All Our Different Types of Memories.” Science. Australian Academy of

Science, 28 Oct. 2018, http://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/all-our-different-types-memories. Accessed on 5 February 2020.

Greshko, Michael. “Human Memory: How We Make, Remember, and Forget Memories.”

National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 27 March 2019, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/health-and-human-body/human-body/human-memory/. Accessed 4 February 2020.

“How Memory Works.” The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Harvard University,         

bokcenter.harvard.edu/how-memory-works/. Accessed on 7 February 2020.

McGaugh, James L. “Making Lasting Memories: Remembering the Significant.” Proceedings of

the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 110, 2013, pp. 10402–10407. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/42706673. Accessed 11 Feb. 2020.

McLeod, Saul. “Stages of Memory.” Simply Psychology. Simply Psychology, 5 August 2013,

http://www.simplypsychology.org/memory.html. Accessed 5 February 2020.

“Parts of the Brain Involved with Memory.” UH Pressbooks. Openstax College,14 Feb. 2014,        

pressbooks-dev.oer.hawaii.edu/psychology/chapter/parts-of-the-brain-involved-with-memory/. Accessed 10 February 2020.

Young, Catherine “How memories form and how we lose them – Catharine Young”

YouTube.com, uploaded by TED-Ed, 24 Sep. 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOgAbKJGrTA.

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