Long term memory manipulations

Most of the memorization methods work with long term memory for several hours or days. This is what we train working with memory palaces and mindmaps. Some of the exercises work with short-term and memory: remembering an image of a paragraph or a series of numbers for a few seconds, enough to grasp complex concepts and generate nontrivial associations.  The real memory is much more complex and spans for decades.

What is long term memory

long-term-memory 

Long-term memory is a fundamental component of human memory that enables the storage and retrieval of information over an extended period. It refers to the ability to retain and recall knowledge, experiences, and skills acquired in the past. Unlike short-term memory, which has a limited capacity and duration, long-term memory has virtually unlimited storage capacity and can last a lifetime. It is divided into two main types: explicit (declarative) and implicit (non-declarative) memory. Explicit memory involves conscious recollection of facts and events, while implicit memory involves unconscious recall of skills, habits, and associations. Long term memory manipulations formation occurs through processes like encoding, consolidation, and retrieval, making it crucial for learning, problem-solving, and personal identity.

How does long-term memory work?

Long-term memory is a complex process through which information is stored and retrieved over an extended period. It involves encoding, consolidation, and retrieval of memories. When we experience something, the brain processes it, converting it into a form that can be stored. This encoding occurs in various areas of the brain, including the hippocampus. Once encoded, memories undergo consolidation, where they are strengthened and integrated into existing knowledge networks. Neurotransmitters and synaptic connections play crucial roles in this process. Retrieval involves accessing stored information when needed, often triggered by cues or context. Neuroplasticity allows memories to be modified and updated over time, contributing to the flexibility of long-term memory.

Types of long term memory 

Types of Long-term memory: it  is a crucial aspect of human cognition, storing vast amounts of information accumulated over time. It consists of different long term memory examples that serve unique functions. Declarative memory encompasses semantic and episodic memory. Semantic memory involves general knowledge and facts about the world. Episodic memory stores personal experiences and events in a specific context. Procedural memory relates to skills and procedures, enabling us to perform tasks effortlessly. Spatial memory involves navigation and remembering spatial relationships. Emotional memory holds intense emotional experiences, shaping our responses to similar situations. Autobiographical memory relates to personal life events and self-identity. These diverse types of long-term memory contribute to our rich mental tapestry, shaping our perceptions and actions.

Here I address some long term memory manipulations relevant to the truly long-term memory, such as autobiographical memory. I suggest the readers of this post also read this, this and this articles.

Old memories are unreliable

While we tend to trust old memories more than new understandings, this trust is not deserved. We do not really have to actively revisit strong old memories to keep them alive, yet naturally, we do revisit all memories from time to time. Each time we revisit an old long term memory loss we modify it: we do not remember the original memories themselves, instead we remember the last “preview” of these memories. With time, memories change and warp into something very different from the original experience. Quite often, each time we review the old memory we add some elements of self-compassion, generating warm nostalgic experiences. These experiences are very different from what actually happened, yet they are one of the greater pleasures of maturity and experience. We can enjoy these memories without being surprised that other people remember very different stories.

Dealing with negative memories

Fears and negative memories often come from stressful events. It is very natural that we do not want to relive these events, yet the traumatic memories tend to be very strong. Since we do not revisit these memories and infuse them with compassion, the original trauma stays active and affects our current decisions. What can we do to overcome these traumas? The best thing probably would be revisiting the traumatic experiences and reframing them with the help of friends or therapists. This process can happen when we are asleep or under hypnosis, but it can also happen when we are fully awake. Each time we are threatened by the memory, we explain the experience to the person we trust and this person explains how this experience can be reinterpreted into something less traumatic. The support and compassion we get occasionally mixes with the original story and softens the trauma. After several repetitions, we learn to experience the traumatic memories as heroic or life-shaping events, or we get filled with compassion to ourselves during the experience. Either way, we reduce the negative influences of the old experiences on our current lives.

Mixing new and old memories

Most of our memories are associated with some state: our age, our interests, our physical activities when the memories are formed. When new memories deal with the similar subjects as the old memories, we get a complex mixture which is associated with several states. This mix-up may cause several effects:

Reevaluation of old memories.  By mixing ideas of a more mature self with old memories, we make the old memories more mature and deeper. This also means that we may give a weight of experience to very immature memories, which may be an issue. It is best to keep different themes like color for new and old memories to reduce the mix-up.

Two sets of memories. We may remember two different sets of facts, and remember that one of the facts is right and the other one is wrong and yet not remember which is which. Occasionally a third mnemonic device enables arbitrage between the right and wrong. If we have two conflicting visualizations, we may prefer to use auditory mnemonics for arbitrage.

Misattribution of the new memory. We may assume that the new memory is older than it really is, assigning it to the old self. Then we may get a false memory sensory of security like nothing has changed over the years. This fallacy does not generate an internal alert, so it is important to be vigilant.

Connecting the unconnected

Memories are stored in some areas in the brain, and may move with years. Occasionally the memories that were very distinguished get mixed. Some strange associations may be created if we raise two very different memories at once or reuse some specific visualizations. If we are asked about “Obama” and “kitchen hammer” at the same time, we may suddenly associate them with each other. A false association may pull additional false details with time. Dual coding is a good way to reduce false associations, since we usually generate the false associations in the visual chain and not in the auditory chain. Analyzing each event after experiencing it introduces the metacognitive memory which is a natural way to create dual coding.

Our memory is changing with time. Sometimes the changes are good and we may use the changes to improve our wellbeing, other times we need to use specific mnemonic devices to fight these changes.

How can I improve my long-term memory?

long-term-memory

Improving long-term memory requires adopting effective strategies and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips to enhance your long-term memory:

  1. Organize information: Structure and categorize information into meaningful chunks, making it easier to remember and retrieve.
  2. Use mnemonic devices: Create acronyms, rhymes, or vivid mental images to associate with new information, aiding recall. 
  3. Practice active learning: Engage actively with the material by summarizing, teaching others, or participating in discussions, reinforcing memory consolidation.
  4. Repeat and review: Regularly revisit the information at spaced intervals to reinforce memory retention.
  5. Get sufficient sleep: Quality sleep consolidates memories and promotes optimal brain function.
  6. Exercise regularly: Physical activity boosts blood flow to the brain, enhancing memory and cognitive abilities.
  7. Manage stress: High stress levels can impair memory, so practice relaxation techniques and engage in stress-reducing activities.
  8. Maintain a balanced diet: Consume foods rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, and essential nutrients to support brain health.
  9. Stay mentally stimulated: Engage in activities that challenge your brain, such as puzzles, reading, or learning new skills.
  10. Minimize distractions: Create a conducive environment for focused learning, reducing interruptions and multitasking.

Frequently Asked Question

faq

Is spaced repetition necessary?

Typically we are subject to a forgetting curve, and our memory deteriorates exponentially with time. Spaced repetition addresses this quality of memory, by exposing the memory to the same data, progressively increasing the time between exposures. This works very well for example with rare words of foreign languages that we cannot use all the time. 

The original research was performed in a way that negated the effects of other memory skills. Using mnemonic devices, associations and logical connections we can reduce or eliminate the need for spaced repetition. For example foreign words we use all the time as well as their modifications do not usually require active spaced repetition. In math, if we understand the logic of derivation of some argument, it is often enough to apply it only a couple of times actively and we will remember it for many years. So spaced repetition is not necessary. Is it sufficient?

If we want to be proficient with our skills they need to be automatic or effortless, and then we need to use the skills way more than dictated by spaced repetition paradigm. In fact food students often practice solving very similar mathematical exercises many times until these exercises become effortless. This technique is called overlearning. You would not expect martial arts masters to be satisfied with spaced repetition of their katas, would you?

Is short term memory a separate skill?

While it would be nice to assume that there is a generic memory training, it is not so. Long term and short term memory skills are both incredibly useful, yet there is very little overlap between the skills. Consider training your muscles. You do not really train all of your muscles with one exercise. Hands and feet are usually trained separately. And yet, if you swim most of your muscle groups are active. In a similar way, reading and writing activates both short-term and long-term memory. So while various memory skills are almost independent, we often fail to distinguish between them as our activities require multiple skills.

Would it be nice to remember everything?

Some rare individuals have perfect memory, usually perfect autobiographic memory, capable of replaying all events of their lives. These individuals are often traumatized by their memories, and they struggle to create new memories and new experiences. Whatever we think that we know might be plain wrong. As the world around us changes at an accelerated rate, our ability to forget or relearn is probably critical for our ability to generate new long-term knowledge and new experience. 

Where is long term memory stored 

Research shows that long term memory is stored in synapses of the neurons. Long-term memory is stored in various regions of the brain, primarily in the hippocampus and the neocortex. The hippocampus plays a crucial role in the consolidation of memories, while the neocortex stores and retrieves memories over extended periods. The intricate connections between these brain regions facilitate the encoding, storage, and retrieval of long-term memories, shaping our understanding of the past. 

However the reality is more complex. It would be a misconception to assume that the hippocampus and the neocortex are the only regions where is long term memory stored in the brain. The entire brain stores memories, but we are limited by the capabilities of research techniques to address selectively the specific areas of the brain. 

What is the role of sleep in long-term memory formation?

When we sleep our memories are consolidated between various areas of the brain, and possibly relocated between the brain areas contributing to neuroplasticity. It is recommended to review the critical information after we sleep to ensure that we remember it, as the memories we do not need are often deleted when we sleep. The exact nature of the processes in the SWS and REM phases of the sleep is complex and I occasionally address them in dedicated texts. Even with polyphasic sleep, it is usually recommended to have enough sleep to get 4 REM phases per 24 hours otherwise the consolidation of the memories will be incomplete and our learning will slow down.

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