How does memory work?

At My Story Told, we know the true value of documenting your memories for future generations. We also have the skills and experience to guide you on this journey, and ultimately provide you with a stunning personal keepsake that tells your story, your way.  

Our previous blog ‘what are memories?’ outlines how memories are formed and their benefit to us in everyday life.  

Here, we delve deeper into the different ways our memory works, and the relevance and importance of the different types of memory in how we view, and feel about, the past. 

Types of memory 

While there have been many differing theories proposed surrounding memory, the most basic of these was first proposed in 1964 by Richard Shiffrin and Richard Atkinson, which outlines the three stages in logging memory to be sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory.  

Sensory memory 

Sensory memory is the initial stage of the process, where information solely from the environment is stored for very short periods of time (half a second for visual information and three to four seconds for auditory information).  

This stage of the process allows the brain to retain impressions of sensory information following the removal of particular stimuli. For example, if you’ve seen traffic rush by at night, the light appears to leave a trail. The reason for this is “iconic memory”, where visual cues are stored for a short duration. This is also like waving a sparkler and seeing a circle form from the ember. The sparkler isn’t actually creating a line, your eyes just cannot process the information quickly enough when it’s in motion, so what you see is a trail. 

There are also other sub-categories of sensory memory: echoic memory (auditory), haptic memory (touch), olfactory memory (smell) and gustatory memory (taste). Echoic memory is seen in spoken language. When you are listening to somebody speak, your brain is registering and retaining each individual syllable which are then pieced together to form words. Similarly, to take it a step further, words are registered and retained individually and pieced together to form sentences.  

Haptic memory refers to the recall of a sensation involving touch. For example, the feeling of a raindrop touching your skin is stored by the brain so that you can recognise what is happening. Additionally, sensory memory can also involve smell (olfactory) and taste (gustatory). These two somewhat work in tandem but individually can work in developing memories when experiencing the stimuli again. It is a well-known phenomenon that certain tastes and smells from your childhood immediately remind you of that earlier time in your life, conjuring all the associated visuals and emotions from that specific moment. The primary function of sensory memory is to provide a detailed sensory overview of which the most relevant chunks of information are extracted and processed by “working memory”, the next stage of the model.  

Short-term memory 

Also referred to as working memory, short-term memory extracts relevant information for around 30 to 40 seconds, and a large percentage of this is forgotten quickly. Short-term memory is estimated to hold between 5 and 9 items at any one time. 

Information progresses to the next stage of the model through processes like rehearsal. Think about when you get a new phone number, at first it seems impossible to remember, but once it is recited enough, you can. Interruptions to rehearsal processes can result in losing that information.  

Long-term memory 

Long-term memory contains the information deemed relevant enough to be continuously stored. Information stored within long-term memory is utilised through a process called retrieval. 

Long-term memory also has many sub-divisions, including explicit or declarative memory, which involves information that is consciously stored or retrieved. An example of explicit memory is a fact taken out of context, such as, “Cardiff is the capital of Wales”, this information is readily stored and retrieved.  

Our long-term capacity is extraordinarily vast, and some memories stay with us for life. These are the memories that we care about, the ones that have stood the test of time and deserve to be shared. 

Preserve your memories 

At My Story Told, we understand the importance of preserving your memories, and want to help you every step of the way. Our writer matching and interview process will ensure that we are documenting your most relevant memories for your story, taking the pressure off you completely. Telling your story has never been easier.  

Get in touch today to see how we can bring your personal story to life. 

Memories make up a large percentage of the stored information in our brains. They are imperative for recalling previous experiences, reacting to certain stimuli and evoking particular reactions when faced with those stimuli.  

Memories are responsible for your behaviour in everyday life and how you perceive your past. At My Story Told, we help you preserve your memories for future generations, ensuring that your legacy lives on.  

Our memory will fade; you can’t keep your memory… But you can keep your memories …. Write them down.

How are memories formed? 

Memories are formed through a process called decoding, which involves adapting information into a useable form for the brain, and once completed the information is then able to be stored in memory for later use.  

Once stored, memories are brought to the forefront of our brains in order to be utilised in a process called retrieval. The retrieval process is not always successful, which is why we forget certain parts of memories, and experience the ‘tip-of-the-tongue’ phenomenon. This phenomenon, in a nutshell, is the temporary inability to retrieve information from our memory.  

In order to retrieve memories, sensory triggers are used to trigger activation. For example, thinking about certain aspects of your childhood home like your bedroom or front door will activate memories involving that location.   

Types of memory 

While there have been many differing theories proposed surrounding memory, the most basic of these is the stage model. According to verywellmind.com, this theory was first proposed in 1964 by Richard Shiffrin and Richard Atkinson, outlining the three stages to be sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory.  

Sensory memory is the initial stage of the process, where information solely from the environment is stored for very short periods of time (half a second for visual information and three to four seconds for auditory information).  

Information that is deemed valuable enough to store then moves into short-term memory, sometimes termed ‘working memory’. Information is stored for around 30 to 40 seconds, and a large percentage of this is forgotten quickly. Attending to this information will allow it to progress into long term memory.  

As its name suggests, long-term memory contains the information deemed relevant enough to be continuously stored. Information stored within long-term memory is retrieved as mentioned, and some more easily than others.  

Losing memory 

Forgetting or losing some aspects of memory is a natural process as the amount of information stored in the brain increases. There are a few reasons why we forget things, which are: failure to store, interference, motivated forgetting and retrieval failure.  

Sometimes, we unconsciously forget certain aspects of our memory for reasons such as traumatic experiences, but on the whole, our brain will only store information that is relevant for our survival.  

Although memory can be lost, certain sensory stimuli can also kickstart the retrieval process and can be used as a long-term component of memory. For example, recognising a certain colour, smell or a familiar voice will aid in retrieval.  

Preserve your memories 

At My Story Told, we understand the importance of preserving your memories, and want to help you every step of the way. Our writer matching and interview process will ensure that we are documenting the most relevant memories for your story, taking the pressure off you completely. Telling your story has never been easier.  

Get in touch today to see how we can bring your personal story to life.