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The memory plays a role in all our activities. It helps us remember all kinds of information (personal memories, common knowledge, automatic processes...) for a more or less long while (from a few seconds to an entire life). It is essential in creating and developing our personality, it is a direct witness of our own past (episodic memory), and also of history and common knowledge (semantic memory). The memory is therefore one of the most essential cognitive functions in a person's life.

Verbal memory and visual memory

Verbal memory allows to memorize e.g. a series of words and to recall them a few minutes later. For some, it is easier to memorize visual than verbal information. Visual memory highly depends on our attention skills as visual elements around us constantly have to be analyzed to be memorized. It helps in easily finding the location of objects, in precisely remembering the details of a picture we've just seen or the clothes worn by the person we just met.

There are different types of memory:

We tend to consider memory as a whole, for instance by saying we have a good or bad memory. Remembering what we had for lunch yesterday is very different from remembering the fact that Paris is the capital of France. The type of information to be memorized or recalled engages the brain in different ways.

Traditional segmentation of memory according to how long information has to be remembered for:
Click to expand

Sensory memory

Sensory memories are the shortest type. They record all new information we experience in the space of a few hundred milliseconds (example of visible persistence).

Short-term memory (STM)

Short-term memory (STM), or working memory, then takes over and retains the information a little longer (for about a minute). It has a limited capacity and can store up to 7 items. This type of memory allows to memorize a verbally received phone number until it has been dialled or written down. It is also necessary when reading and helps momentarily retaining information from a sentence we just read, so as to make sense of the next sentence.

Long-term memory

Long-term memory (LTM) intervenes when we wish to memorize a piece of information for a longer period of time (or when we try to retrieve information from the past). This type of memory has an unlimited capacity and preservation time of the information. There are several types of stored information.

Subsystems of long-term memory:

Episodic memory

Remembering what we did the day before, a dentist appointment or a friend’s birthday party are personal and autobiographic memories for which the memorization context is very important.

Semantic memory

At the same time, knowing grammar rules, names of capital cities, or objects represents general knowledge for which the memorization context is irrelevant. Despite the fact that this knowledge has initially been episodic knowledge, it has turned into semantic knowledge since both spatial and temporal context in which it has been memorized have been set aside. This type of knowledge belongs to the semantic memory which allows us to make a list of flower names or to give the word that corresponds to a certain definition.

Procedural memory

As well as these elements of "explicit" memory, which correspond to a conscious and voluntary search for stored information, there is also an "automatic" mode to retrieve data from our knowledge. In this case, these are "implicit" memory mechanisms which group, for instance, our know-how such as: Knowing how to play the piano, riding a bike, driving... These are things we do automatically but that still require us to consider the knowledge we have stored in our procedural memory (knowing that positioning your hands a certain way on the piano will render this or that chord, or that maneuvering your car a certain way will help you make a left turn).

Memory complaints

Given the important role of memory in daily life, memory complaints tend to be a major handicap and the mere thought of such deficits a cause of stress. Memory disorders are very common among people over 50 who are often afraid of suffering from some neurodegenerative disease. However, it is rarely the case as memory decline is a normal part of the aging process. Declining memory performances can also be due to factors such as current circumstances and events, fatigue, stress, motivation, or emotions...

In daily life

The memory is the cognitive function we most call upon. We use it to store all types of information, e.g. a phone number, what we did last week-end, an appointment, where we left our keys, the name of this thing and that person we just met, a historical date... It also plays an essential role in various cognitive activities (lien vers page interaction entre fonctions) such as reading, reasoning, mental calculation, mental imagery... Whether we're aware of it or not, we constantly use our memory and it helps us develop a stock of common knowledge, personal memories, or motor processes...

Improving memorization
The following can be done to better memorize:
  • 1. Focus your attention on the item you need to memorize.

  • 2. Identify essential information for understanding.

  • 3. Consider and examine the content and sense of the information.
    Relevance of the emotional aspect: We cannot memorize something we cannot relate to in any way. The more emotional cues there are, the better you memorize.

  • 4. Organize the information into categories.

  • 5. Make associations. If you are dealing with a routine task, i.e. remembering to water your plants or take your treatment, it is handy to always do it at the same time of day or week and to link it to a particular event such as a meal or a weekly TV show.
    Memorization and recall become even easier if each word to be memorized is linked to a sentence or mental image.

  • 6. Regularly recall the information you have learned.


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