How Memory Works

Latest news

  • Individuals vary in how vividly they remember the past. A new study links this to differences in brain activity which may reflect a stable trait.
  • The finding also has implications for assessments of age-related cognitive decline.

A study involving 66 healthy young adults (average age 24) has revealed that different individuals have distinct brain connectivity patterns that are associated with different ways of experiencing and remembering the past.

  • New measurements have exploded the previous estimates of the human brain's memory capacity, and also help explain how neurons have such computational power when their energy use is so low.

The question of the brain's capacity usually brings up remarks that the human brain contains about 100 billion neurons. If each one has, say, 1,000 or more connections to other neurons, this produces some 100 trillion connections in which our memory can be held.

Because this is such a persistent myth, I thought I should briefly report on this massive study that should hopefully put an end to this myth once and for all (I wish! Myths are not so easily squashed.)

The two measures of working memory capacity appear to be fully independent, and only one of them is related to intelligence.

The number of items a person can hold in short-term memory is strongly correlated with their IQ. But short-term memory has been recently found to vary along another dimension as well: some people remember (‘see’) the items in short-term memory more clearly and precisely than other people.

A recent study reveals that when we focus on searching for something, regions across the brain are pulled into the search. The study sheds light on how attention works.

We talk about memory for ‘events’, but how does the brain decide what an event is? How does it decide what is part of an event and what isn’t?

Why do we find it so hard to stay on task for long? A recent study uses a new technique to show how the task control network and the default mode network interact (and fight each other for control).

We know sleep helps consolidate memories. Now a new study sheds light on how your sleeping brain decides what’s worth keeping.

A new study has found that errors in perceptual decisions occurred only when there was confused sensory input, not because of any ‘noise’ or randomness in the cognitive processing.

A new finding points to brain reorganization, rather than brain size, as the driver in primate brain evolution.

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Articles

Autobiographical memory contains the information you have about yourself. It includes several domains:

Short-term vs long-term memory

Planning memory contains your plans and goals (such as, “I must pick up the dry-cleaning today”; “I intend to finish this project within three months”). Forgetting an appointment or a promise is one of the memory problems people get most upset about.

You may have heard of “g”. It’s the closest we’ve come to that elusive attribute known as “intelligence”, but it is in fact a psychometric construct, that is, we surmise its presence from the way in which scores on various cognitive tests positively correlate.

Humans have a long tradition of holding genes responsible for individual differences in behavior (of course, we called it "blood", then, or "family"). In the 20th century, a counter-belief arose: that it was all down to environment, to upbringing. In more recent decades, we have become increasingly aware of how tightly and complexly genes and environment are entwined.

Intelligence in a cultural context

Does emotion help us remember? That's not an easy question to answer, which is unsurprising when you consider the complexities of emotion.

First of all, there are two, quite different, elements to this question. The first concerns the emotional content of the information you want to remember. The second concerns the effect of your emotional state on your learning and remembering.

Widely cited gender differences in cognition

It is clear that there are differences between the genders in terms of cognitive function; it is much less clear that there are differences in terms of cognitive abilities. Let me explain what I mean by that.

Some personal experience

Difficulty in remembering people’s names is one of the most common memory tasks that people wish to be better at. And the reason for this is not that their memory is poor, but because it is so embarrassing when their memory lets them down.

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