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How Memory Works

February 25, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 134

"You must remember this."

Until fairly recently the brain was thought of as a kind of high-level computer, with memory conceived as a sort of storage facility. This model does have validity in distinguishing between short-term, or working memory (the memory you use between looking up a telephone number and entering the digits on the keypad), and long-term or permanent memory. They correspond roughly to the computer's RAM (random access memory) and memory storage on a hard drive. But the computer model misleads us if we ask for the location of memory in the human brain. Recent research suggests that human memory, in the sense of remembering an event, doesn't actually reside in any one place, but is drawn together from a number of sources when our mind summons it.

By the age of two our brain has developed implicit memory (the memory of doing things, like walking or riding a bicycle) and explicit memory (the recall of facts or incidents situated in time). But memory begins even earlier than that. During what year of our lives do we learn the most? Clearly, the first year. And what year comes in second place? Our second year. Most of us can't actively recall memories during these first two years, but the massive learning that takes place during this period necessarily depends on memory. From birth a baby begins to remember and distinguish faces and the sounds of language. (Recent studies suggest that memory of certain sounds actually begins before birth, but pre-natal Mozart won't produce a Baby Einstein, no matter what the salesman tells you.)

One can distinguish as many as a dozen different kinds of memory, including the muscle memory that allows us to master tennis or the bicycle riding, and musical memory that allows us to reproduce a melody. Emotional memory may lock in certain feelings even before we develop the verbal ability to describe the incident that provoked them. By the age of three or four our neo-cortex has developed to the point that we can store memories in such a way that we can later retrieve them. But different parts of the brain have been storing memories well before that time.

Trauma may interfere with memory. Clients who say that they cannot recall any memory before the age of eleven or twelve usually have had experiences that overwhelm the brain's coping ability. These traumas exert considerable influence on a person's self-perception even though the memories cannot be consciously recalled. Psychotherapy can provide a safe context for the brain to process hitherto-concealed memories.

Arthur Wenk, a psychotherapist practicing in Oakville, Ontario, combines cognitive-behavioral therapy (discovering techniques for producing immediate changes) with a psychodynamic approach that helps make changes permanent by addressing the root causes of mental health problems. Learn more at http://www.arthurwenk.com, where you will find one-page summaries of recommended books on personal growth, brief explanations of common mental health issues, and lectures on parenting, the psychology of families, and the functioning of the brain.

Source: EzineArticles
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