How Good Is Your Memory

Many of us pride ourselves on our memories.  If someone questions how we remember a given fact, we may even become somewhat irate.  However scientists are now finding out that the power of our memory may well be set at our birth.

Short-Term Memory

In this we are dealing particularly with short term memory.  Here is part of an article from McGill in Montreal that explains how short term memory functions.

In the course of a day, there are many times when you need to keep some piece of information in your head for just a few seconds. Maybe it is a number that you are “carrying over” to do a subtraction, or a persuasive argument that you are going to make as soon as the other person finishes talking. Either way, you are using your short-term memory.

In fact, those are two very good examples of why you usually hold information in your short-term memory: to accomplish something that you have planned to do. Perhaps the most extreme example of short-term memory is a chess master who can explore several possible solutions mentally before choosing the one that will lead to checkmate.

This ability to hold on to a piece of information temporarily in order to complete a task is specifically human. It causes certain regions of the brain to become very active, in particular the pre-frontal lobe.

The pre-frontal lobe is highly developed in humans. It is the reason that we have such high, upright foreheads, compared with the receding foreheads of our cousins the apes. It is no surprise that the part of the brain that seems most active during short term memory is located precisely in this prefrontal region that is well developed only in human beings.

Improving Your Memory

There are of course a number of ways in which you can improve your memory.  HelpGuide offers suggestions on  how to Improve Your Memory with Tips And Exercises To Sharpen Your Mind And Boost Brainpower

Their list includes the following:

  • Don’t skimp on exercise or sleep
  • Make time for friends and fun
  • Keep stress in check
  • Bulk up on brain-boosting foods
  • Give your brain a workout – Use mnemonic devices to make memorization easier

There are some excellent suggestions in this detailed article.

Another source of Memory Improvement Techniques is MindTools.  They promise that using them will allow you to avoid frustrating memory loss.  You will be able to retain and recall more information.

Some Memories Work Better Than Others

The latest news is that some of us will never have memories that are as good as those of other people.  Recent research at Cambridge is now suggesting that our memory capability is set at our birth.

A structural variation in a part of the brain may explain why some people are better than others at distinguishing real events from those they might have imagined or been told about, researchers have found.

The University of Cambridge scientists found that normal variation in a fold at the front of the brain called the paracingulate sulcus (or PCS) might explain why some people are better than others at accurately remembering details of previous events -such as whether they or another person said something, or whether the event was imagined or actually occurred.  The research was published tin October 2011 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

This brain variation, which is present in roughly half of the normal population, is one of the last structural folds to develop before birth and for this reason varies greatly in size between individuals in the healthy population.  The researchers discovered that adults whose MRI scans indicated an absence of the PCS were significantly less accurate on memory tasks than people with a prominent PCS on at least one side of the brain.  Interestingly, all participants believed that they had a good memory despite one group’s memories being clearly less reliable.

Dr Jon Simons from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Experimental Psychology and Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, who led the research, said:

All those who took part were healthy adult volunteers with typical educational backgrounds and no reported history of cognitive difficulties.  The memory differences we observed were quite striking.  It is exciting to think that these individual differences in ability might have a basis in a simple brain folding variation.

This is indeed remarkable news and could be the reason why some memories are just not as good as others.