How to Improve Memory: Part 1 A Brief Understanding of Memory
Do you drift to the same memory when a particular song plays?
Do the lyrics disappear, and you’re seventeen again?
When I listen to Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill, I always tell myself, I am going to listen attentively. I consciously try to remember the lyrics, but I always end up day-dreaming about another time in my life. When I listen to Jackson Browne’s In the shape of a heart, it’s a January night, and I’m driving home with a cousin, from my Grandmother’s place.
Do you have songs that take you back in time? Does music improve your memory?
When I listen to music, remember Solsbury Hill and where I was, which parts of the brain are working? How does memory work? What parts of the brain help us to remember? Will understanding this motivate you to improve your memory?
What we need to remember determines the part of the brain used.
(I touched briefly on music and brain health, and you can read more here. I will write more on music and the brain, in a future blog).
Types of Memory
Memory is broadly divided in two parts:
1. Explicit memory- the memory of facts and events.
2. Implicit memory- the memory of habits and skills.
When I remember Peter Gabriel, Solsbury Hill, 1977- I am remembering facts. This is a form of explicit memory. The hippocampus is important for this type of memory. The hippocampus is part of the temporal lobe (see image above). The hippocampus gets its name from rather imaginative pathologists, who thought it resembled a sea-horse. (Hippopotamus, being a river-horse).
Driving home with my cousin, from my Grandmother’s place, listening to Jackson Browne (thankfully he didn’t sing along), is a personal experience. This is also a form of explicit memory but a different part of the brain is active for this memory. Parts of the frontal lobe (see diagram above) are necessary for the memory of personal experiences.
As I time-travel with music, I don’t just remember where I was, but how I felt. The memory of emotion, is helped by the amygdala. (Amygdala is Latin for almond, or tonsils.)
Do you drift to the same memory when a particular song plays? Do the lyrics disappear, and you’re seventeen again?
Driving is a skill (well, for most of us). To remember this skill, driving home, while listening to music, I use the cerebellum (see diagram above). The cerebellum is important in the memory of patterned movements. This, as I mentioned above, is implicit memory. It is a form of memory, that in a sense, involves no conscious thinking, and is reflexive. (The cerebellum is also essential for balance and co-ordination of movement.)
How to Improve Memory? What will you do?
While specific parts of the brain, perform a specific function, they often work with other parts of the brain to carry this out. Take the above example, the parts of the brain involved in memory, emotion and movement, are all active and necessary, at the same time.
Memory doesn’t involve just one part of the brain, different parts are used for different aspects of memory. The associations we have help us to remember facts and events better. I remember In the Shape of a Heart & Jackson Browne (which are facts), because of the significance around it, because of the emotion attached to this song and not because I want to remember a name.
Can you remember which part of the brain helps you to drive? What can you do to remember the part of the brain involved in remembering facts? How can you improve your memory of the parts of the brain involved in emotions or personal events? You can. You will.
Lifestyle factors can improve memory
Don’t forget that adequate sleep, exercising, spending time with people you love & stimulating your brain, can improve your memory. As important, a poor diet and smoking, can harm your memory.
I hope this gets you thinking about how your brain works, about memory, and about how to improve your memory.
Let me know what suggestions you have to improve memory.
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