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How does the brain make new memories? | RMIT University


Without our memory we wouldn’t know how
to ride a bike, the way to our favourite cafe or even the names of our parents. But how exactly do we turn new information
into a lasting memory in that human hard-drive known as the brain? One theory is a three stage process known
as the “multistore model of memory”. Firstly, paying attention to new information
or surroundings is called sensory memory. This only lasts for a split second. The information is quickly deciphered by the
pre-frontal cortex, a part of the brain that is essential for planning your behaviour and
deciding which action to take. It then becomes a short-term memory. While short-term memory is essential, it never
lasts more than a minute or so. Imagine writing your name in the sand just
before a wave washes it away. This is what would happen to your short term
memory if it weren’t able to take the next step in its development. Neurons then fire in the brain, making new
physical connections and synapses with each other. As they build, they also dump the bits of
information that we don’t need, like the colour of a door we walked through or if somebody
was wearing glasses or not. The essential stuff then migrates to the brain’s
hippocampus. It is there that it becomes a long-term memory. These memories then put down their roots throughout
the cerebral cortex, a part of the brain responsible for the higher order functions that make us
human. This process is called cortical integration. Memories can fluctuate and change depending
on our curiosity and the emotions we were feeling when we experience them. Everyone remembers the day they experienced
extreme pain or joy but it is more difficult to remember a mundane Tuesday from three years
ago. While we know a great deal more about the
brain than we did even 10 years ago, it is still one of the last frontiers of the human us to discover.

Glenn Chapman

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