By Valerie Welch

“We do not know the true value of our moments until they have undergone the test of memory”
    Georges Duhamel, The Heart’s Domain

When is the last time you tried to remember what you already forgot? Why does this happen?
How does memory work?

The human memory is divided into three types:

Sensory memory – The sensory memories filter stimuli through each sensory channel. The
sensory channels are: iconic memory for visual stimuli, echoic memory for audio stimuli and
haptic memory for touch. Information is passed from sensory memory into short-term memory,
as it is needed.

Short-term memory - Short-term memory has a limited capacity and allows us to have temporary
recall of information. It is necessary to “chunk” information to increase short-term memory
capacity. A quick example of chunking: A telephone number is easier to remember when you
hyphenate it into smaller sections.

Long-term memory - Long-term memory is intended for storage of information over a long time.
Information from the working memory is transferred to it after a few seconds. Unlike in short-
term memory, there is little immediate deterioration.
There are two types of long-term memory: episodic memory and semantic memory. Episodic
memory represents our memory of events and experiences in a serial form. It is from this
memory that we can reconstruct the actual events that took place at a given point in our lives.
Semantic memory, on the other end, is a structured record of facts, concepts and skills that we
have acquired. The information in semantic memory is derived from that in our own episodic
memory, such that we can learn new facts or concepts from our experiences.

There are three main activities related to long-term memory: storage, deletion and retrieval.
Information from short-term memory is stored in long-term memory by rehearsal. Deletion, the
second form, is mainly caused by decomposition and obstruction. The third process of memory is
information retrieval. There are two types of information retrieval: recall and recognition. In
recall, the information is reproduced from memory. In recognition the presentation of the
information provides the knowledge that the information has been seen before. Recognition is of
lesser complexity, as the information is provided as a cue. However, the recall can be assisted by
recovery cues, which enable the subject to quickly access the information in memory.

Everyone wishes they had a better memory. Part of having a good memory is learning to use
your memory effectively. Learn what is important and most worthy of your attention. It’s
important to pay attention to what you want to remember. One way to improve memory is to
make the memorization process more fun.

Mnemonic devices are methods used to improve your memory. Mnemonic devices are not only
helpful with memorizing facts; they can also help you remember peoples’ names and faces.
Some common Mnemonic devices are acronyms, rhymes, grouping, imagery, and rehearsal.

External memory devices are another helpful way to remember things. External memory devices
can be anything from using electronic devices to simply writing it down.
Some common external memory devices are: organizers and planners, written labels, alarm
watches and timers, tape recorders, calendars, and other cognitive devices.

Revised: Friday, December 05, 2003