What are your memories of the 1940s

How experiences become experiences - memory

Without memory, our life would be inconceivable. Our experiences leave traces of memories in the nervous system that help us cope with everyday life and better adapt our future behavior to the requirements of the environment.

Scientific supervision: Prof. Dr. Randolf Menzel

Published: 08/31/2011

Level: medium

    Memory is the ability to store new information in the brain and make it available again. In this way, experiences are transferred into memories.
  • Facts and memories of one's own life are stored in declarative memory, behaviors and skills such as cycling in procedural memory.
  • Memories are not stored in a specific place, but rather as fragments distributed in many places in the brain. The basic process with which data is permanently stored in the brain is a synchronous activation of neurons, whereby the neurons are of particular relevance, which represent the meaning of a perception.

A day has exactly 86,400 seconds, and every second countless sensory impressions patter down on us. We see, smell, hear and taste, we shake hands, talk to work colleagues or friends, react with emotions and judge what we have experienced. In short: we are constantly making new experiences and learning new things. Even when we sleep, we unconsciously take in impressions. We take it for granted that we can move safely in this world without being overwhelmed by its flood of information. The fact that our brain is able to do this is thanks to a masterpiece of nature: our memory.

People with amnesia have to experience bitterly how important memory is for all of our thoughts, experiences and actions. Anatomy of oblivion Patients who have lost their memory in whole or in part provide science with insights into the neurobiology of memory formation. The studies on Henry Molaison, the famous patient H.M., have made a decisive contribution to the understanding of the processes and brain structures involved and thus to memory research. The man with no memory

Even in healthy people, the memory is not perfect. In fact, we quickly forget most of what we experience. And that's just as well! The blessing of oblivion The brain filters the constantly incoming abundance of information - and above all stores those that could be of importance to us in the future. In this way, it adapts to the demands of the environment throughout our lives and influences our decisions today by processing previous experiences. The great party last weekend, the first kiss, the grandiose concert of the Berliner Philharmoniker - as nice as it is to be able to keep things like this in mind, the purpose of a memory is primarily to provide information that informs action in the present and the future serve.

The first kiss or the prom at school: In episodic learning, we save personal experiences.

Different forms of memory

We are not aware of much of the memory that we have saved: Once you have learned how to tie your shoes or drive, you no longer have to think about it. And without thinking twice, we recapitulate a huge vocabulary with which we dispute our conversations at the breakfast table or cope with reading the newspaper. On the other hand, we have to laboriously unearth other memories when someone asks us about the capital of Nicaragua or the name of the hotel we raved about after our last vacation. But even in these cases it is an unconscious search process that activates the memory.

These examples already show that there are different types of memories: In procedural or implicit memory, habits, skills and behaviors are stored - such as tying shoes or driving a car. It enables such motor actions to be carried out automatically and without thinking and to quickly assign sensory stimuli.

The other group of memories is consciously perceived. On the one hand, these are learned facts - for example that the capital of Nicaragua is called Managua and that Donald Duck has three nephews. Such content is stored in the semantic memory that becomes conscious and can be expressed in language. A special form of memory is the memory of ourselves as acting persons, the episodic memory. Whether it is mere facts or personal biography, in both cases it is about knowledge that we can describe. Psychologists therefore group episodic and semantic memory under the term declarative or explicit memory. Forms of memory

Memory is network work

But what exactly happens in our brain when we save a memory? This is a question that concerns neuroscientists around the world - as does Joshua Dubnau from the Spring Harbor Laboratory near New York. According to the American memory researcher, an important mechanism for permanently storing information in the brain is its ability to “dynamically and quickly change the number and strength of the connections between the huge network of neurons. We now understand that to a certain extent. ”And down to the level of the underlying molecular processes.

As early as the late 1940s, the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb (1904 - 1985) postulated that the associative connection of groups of neurons is the basic element of memory formation. This is still true today. The formation of memories in an associative network of nerve cells can be imagined as follows: An experience is anchored in the brain through the synchronous activation of certain groups of neurons. This synchronous firing increases the tendency of the nerve cells involved to continue firing together in the future. The more frequently this happens, the stronger and more stable the synaptic connections within this neural network become. This leads to a kind of sensitization. Soon the firing of individual nerve cells is enough to stimulate the others in the group to fire too - and thus recall what they have experienced.

Facts such as the names of rivers or European capitals represent a separate category of memory.

Storage takes place gradually

Before a declarative memory content is permanently stored, it passes through several stages of storage. The ultra-short-term memory is a kind of buffer for sensory stimuli from the environment. From here the information is transferred to short-term memory, which is often equated with working memory. There are some differences - in fact, working memory is more of an interface between short and long-term memory and some researchers such as the Dutch cognitive researcher Bernard J. Baars even see it as a basis for our consciousness. But both have one thing in common: Information is temporarily stored in a memory so that it can be retrieved as quickly as possible.

However, the capacity of short-term memory is limited and can quickly be exceeded if other information seems more important or we are distracted. However, if the event or information is relevant enough - attention and emotions play an important role in this assessment - it is sent to the hippocampus for further processing. Here then begins a process for the permanent storage of declarative memory contents in long-term memory, the so-called memory consolidation.

Case studies with patients have shown that injuries to certain areas of the brain can affect certain aspects of memory, but do not necessarily affect others. This suggests that the various forms and “stages” of memory content are processed and stored in different places in the brain.

Procedural learning is the ability to remember skills such as cycling.

The seat of memory