What is Memory and How does it Work?

Memory is the way we recall information from our past to use in the present. It is a vital process for everyday life. Memory allows our past experiences to affect our future behaviour.


The stages of memory are:

  • Storage – the information (such as your sights, feelings, or and smells) is converted by the brain into an electrical signal. This is then stored in the brain to be accessed later.
  • Retrieval – getting the information out of storage. This is how you remember.


When a memory is recalled again and again, it will become easier and easier to recall in the future. For example, consider the memory of a meaningful event, such as a birthday. It is likely that you can recall details, such as who you were with, what you ate, or what you were wearing. Compare this to Wednesday three weeks ago. You are likely to remember much less about an insignificant day, because this memory has been recalled less since it was stored. The less often you remember something, the more likely you are to forget it.


Humans need to store many types of information. Sights, smells, experiences, thoughts, and actions are all stored differently. As a result, humans have different types of memory.

Some memories cannot not be explained with words, such as ‘muscle memory’ of actions. Practising an action, like brushing your teeth or throwing a ball, allows it to become automatic.

Memories differ in how long they last. When repeating a set of random digits in your head, these can be remembered, but when you stop thinking about them, the temporary memory will be lost. Other memories such as childhood experiences can be longer lasting.

Some memories cannot be actively remembered. The information is stored, but cannot be recalled at will. For example, consider typing on a mobile phone. Many people are able to type without looking at the keyboard. However, if asked to list the letters in the order they appear, most people would struggle. This shows the difference between memory that can be recalled, and memory stored beyond reach.


Memory can worsen with age. Some people keep their ability to remember better than others.

Lifestyle choices can have a major impact on memory. Exercising regularly, eating healthily, getting plenty of sleep and not smoking are all important for maintaining a good memory. It is also important to keep the brain active with activities such as learning a language, doing puzzles, and spending time with family and friends.

Memory can be improved using techniques like repeating things out loud, writing things down, and dividing information into manageable chunks.

Individuals can choose to recall important memories more to preserve them. Similarly, practising an action will maintain the skill. Most importantly, a healthy lifestyle can strengthen memory and reduce ageing memory loss.



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