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How Does Your Brain Make a Memory?

How do memories work?

In the film Inside Out, Riley’s core memories come from super important moments in her life and power aspects of her personality islands. These are maintained by Joy and the gang. However, as much as we’d like to believe that we have little emotional people roaming around our brains looking after our memories, sadly that isn’t actually how it works. Your memory isn’t really one solid thing – it’s a term that refers to the process of remembering. Experts also believe that memory isn’t actually located in one part of your brain, but instead is a brain-wide process. Here’s how that all works. Short-term memory When we talk about short-term memory we often refer to things that happened to us in the last day or so, but in reality our short-term memory only lasts between 15 and 30 seconds! Anything that can be remembered after that length of time is actually a long-term memory. A good way to think of your short-term memory is like a computer RAM, as it works with information you are currently using or thinking about. This can be brand new information or old information we have recovered from our long-term memory. Long-term memory Your long-term memory is like a computer hard drive – it stores pretty much everything! What’s even cooler is that these memories actually have a physical presence in your brain because the neurons make physical connections with each other. These connections last regardless of whether or not they’re being used. Your long-term memory can also be split into two separate forms of memory – explicit and implicit.  Explicit Memory – These are memories we’re consciously aware of and actually want to remember (a bit like the information you absorb when you’re trying to study for a test). If you have an explicit memory that is of an event that has happened to you then you would call this an episodic memory, but if your explicit memory is more general knowledge based then you would call this a semantic memory. Implicit Memory – This includes habits and skills that you can automatically do, like riding a bike and tying your shoelaces. How Do We Actually Form Memories? Before we do anything we need to encode the information by sending it to the hippocampus (a part of the brain where new memories are formed). Here all the important information is prioritised and linked together to form a new memory. Of course, all of this is useless if the memory doesn’t have a home to go to.  Your new memory is able to chill out in the hippocampus for a bit, but as more memories are formed things start to become a bit crammed. The neurons that make up a specific memory therefore move further into your cortex – and as a result your memories end up being stored throughout your brain! Watch the video below for even more on the magic of memory.