The reason memory sometimes fails

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

If you’ve ever lost your keys, you know how tricky memory can be.

Most folks imagine their memory is like a video camera, recording every single thing we experience, with a rewind button to recall important facts. The cold hard truth, however, is that our memories can be incredibly faulty, because of how we create them. Thankfully, there are some helpful hints to make us a little less prone to forget!

We form memories in two basic steps. The first is through a process known as encoding, which is taking an experience and storing it in our brain through a particular pathway. This occurs in a region of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is a seahorse-shaped structure near the center. In order to access the information later, our brains need to use the same pathway to retrieve the memory. Unfortunately, forgetfulness can occur at any one of the above steps.

If we don’t pay attention to a particular action, for example, it’s not encoded! You may have experienced this while rushing home after school to use the bathroom, and hurriedly removing a backpack. When it comes time to start homework, you can’t remember where the bookbag is because, well, you weren’t paying attention! On the other hand, difficulty retrieving information is also related to lapses in memory, which is best demonstrated by the feeling of having a memory on the tip of your tongue.

Forgetting is definitely frustrating, but thankfully there are some tips to improve memory. Talking out loud is one of the simplest ways to recall where we place certain items. For example, shouting, “my backpack is by the couch!” on the way to the bathroom will help with recall later. If an event wasn’t stored at all, it’s particularly helpful to retrace your steps and relive the experience. Finally, creating a regular spot for an item is almost a foolproof way to remember its location, since it narrows down the possible locations to just one!

Forgetfulness is a common human phenomenon – and an annoying one at that – but with these tricks, you can make it occur less.

Featured image courtesy of eflon on Flickr. Image of keys courtesy of Moyan Brenn on Flickr.