What the Memory Formation Process Actually Looks Like in Practice

Memories are curious things. They comprise much of what we consider to be our “selves” in a psychological and philosophical sense. However, they also have a tendency to be subjective instead of objective. This makes it difficult to discover what actually happened in the past.

If you’ve ever wondered how memory works in the brain, keep reading for a full explanation of how memory formation occurs.

Understanding the Types of Memory

There are 2 understood types of memory that get used by the brain on a day-to-day basis. Explicit memory is what most people think of when they try to remember something. It deals with the active recall of information or experiences when requested or needed.

Implicit memory, on the other hand, is subtler, harder to track. It refers to the influence that experiences and memories have on our behavior. This process tends to occur on a subconscious level, although conscious awareness of it can be developed through therapeutic techniques.

Memory Formation Stages

Memory formation occurs in the brain in 3 main stages. These stages occur in the following order.

Sensory Register

The first stage is called the sensory register, where the brain gets information from the world around it. This process takes place over a few seconds and happens when the brain gathers information from audiovisual cues.

If you’ve ever wondered why you can recall something you were just looking at for a few split seconds, that’s the reason.

Short-Term Memory

Once you give your attention to the information processed via the sensory register, it moves into short-term memory. Short-term memory stores information on a temporary basis for recall after a short period, while working memory stores information you learn for the purposes of manipulating it.

Long-Term Memory

Information that gets accessed regularly or leaves a deep enough impression then moves into long-term memory. This is not a permanent storage folder, but rather, a place where information lives as long as needed.

Transference from working memory into long-term memory occurs due to the brain rewiring itself to store the information. As long as the information gets used, the memories will remain.

Why Memory Decays Over Time

So, why do we forget? Why do people who live a certain number of years tend to require memory care? There are two main theories behind this phenomenon.

The first is the decay theory, which simply holds that if you don’t use it, you lose it. Memories that aren’t accessed or repeated will deteriorate. The second is interference theory, which states that the brain always updates, swapping out new information for old.

Each holds equal weight. However, neither accounts for the physical decay of the brain’s synaptic plasticity, which often causes the loss of memory over time.

Curious to Learn More About How the Brain Functions?

Memory formation is an in-depth process that still requires more research to this day. However, there remains much more you can learn about this process and many other neurological functions.

If you found this article about how creating new memories works inside the brain interesting, then why not check out our blog? We update the Health section each day with more interesting and informational content like this.