Posts Tagged ‘accessible’

Misconceptions About Memory

August 2, 2019

This is the third post in a new series of posts on Healthy Memory. One common misconception is that memory is a complete recording of our experience. Only certain information is stored. Mnemonic techniques (on which there is an entire category of posts) and effective study techniques are ways of increasing the likelihood of information being remembered. But other information remains, some of which one might like to forget.

Memories can change over time at the subconscious level. Remember the analogy of the corporate headquarters. This information is held on the lower floors and we are unlikely to be aware of these changes. Moreover, memories tend to be cleaned up over time in an effort to make them more coherent. HM frequently has the experience of encountering new information which reminds him of previous information or studies, some of which he might have personally conducted. His typical finding is that the conclusions of the study are remembered correctly, but the evidence, although supportive, is not as strong as he remembered.

It is also important to remember that most failures to recall are due to information being available in memory, but inaccessible at the time of recall. If you try hard to recall the information, but still fail, it is likely that at some time in the future, the next day for example, the information will suddenly pop into consciousness.

The corporate building metaphor for memory provides a helpful means of thinking about memory failures. The failure of your conscious efforts to recall this information indicates to the cognitive staff on the lower floors that this information is important to you and needs to be recalled. So at a subconscious level retrieval continues. It is likely that these subconscious efforts to recall are healthy because they strengthen previous memory connections that had been weakened through nonuse.

So, what should be done when a senior moment is experienced? Not only seniors experience senior moments. All humans have them. It’s just less likely to have them the younger we are. So when you cannot recall something you want to remember, persist in trying to recall. Try to retrieve for a reasonable amount of time. This signals from the executive suite (remember we are talking about the corporate metaphor for memory presented in the previous post of this series) for the cognitive staff on the lower floors to continue to look for this information. The search will continue at a subconscious level. At an unexpected time, the result is likely to pop into consciousness.

There are many stories about scientists and mathematicians who worked for long periods of time, sometimes many years, on a problem, but failed to solve it. Then, unexpectedly, the answer suddenly appears in their conscious mind. There is a name for this phenomenon and that name is incubation. It is the result of large amount of subconscious processing conducted after the conscious mind decided to rest from the problem.
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