We can define a memory as a recollection of past experiences. The process of how we form new memories is essential to life because without this ability we would never be able to learn anything new! We all have memories but the question is, how are memories made?
The information to form a memory is channelled to the hippocampus which is the part of the brain where new memories are formed. First, a memory has to be registered by the brain and then encoded into a structure that is recognisable. Therefore, the hippocampus’ job is to combine all the relevant information together and encode it into a new memory by forming new synapses. This process of encoding begins at birth and occurs continuously throughout your entire lifetime! However, the hippocampus is very selective to which memories it encodes. It usually tends to prioritise those that have been rehearsed repeatedly in the short-term memory or those with a strong emotional component.
Next up is the consolidation stage when a memory is stabilised – this is essentially laying the glue that holds a memory together. The best time for your brain to consolidate all of your memories from during the day usually occurs at night whilst you are sleeping. Newer memories, once consolidated, are then stored throughout the brain. Memories which are similar tend to stick together i.e visual memories are near the visual cortex, spoken memories are near the language centres. Human memories are not static, they are constantly in the process of being tweaked and updated based on the information the brain is given.
Retrieval of memory or recall is the step by which the brain re-accesses a memory from the past, one which has previously been encoded and stored within the brain. This is also commonly known as the act of remembering. A memory isn’t really a memory until you can actually recall it, which is why the final step is called retrieval. Retrieving a memory is actually one of the best ways you can boost your memory because every time you remember something, the neural path to that memory gets stronger making it even easier for you to recall it again and again. So the more often you recall back to a certain memory, the easier it is to find and recall.