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The influence of memory on life

By Isaac Ang Feb. 15, 2023

Phone passwords. The formula for the area of a circle. Eating ice cream with friends. Whether it is information, events or nostalgia, memory is the heart and essence of our lived experience that connects and makes meaning of the individual happenings of our lives.

Lyn Kang Art

Memory formation can be divided into three chronological stages: sensory, short-term and long-term. Lasting approximately one second, the sensory stage consists of identifying a stimulus and interpreting it. After information is registered from the sensory organs, data already stored in long-term memory is used to categorize the stimulus. For example, after seeing a round red object with a green stem on top, prior knowledge allows one’s brain to classify it as an apple.


There are several types of sensory memory. The most well-known is iconic memory, or information gathered through sight like text or images. Other types of memory include echoic memory, like remembering a musical tune, and haptic memory, which is recalling the texture of an object.


Once a stimulus is interpreted, the sensory information is converted into a short-term memory, where it is stored temporarily in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that processes memory and emotion. The information is manipulated for a variety of cognitive tasks: making a decision, understanding a concept or performing a calculation. Information can be pulled from long-term memory to aid in this process; for example, recalling a formula is crucial for performing a mathematical calculation.


Sleep is essential for converting short-term memories to long-term memories by saving old memories and preparing the brain to receive new information. A study by Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, revealed that participants who took an afternoon nap were 20% better at remembering face-name pairs than those who stayed awake. Specifically, non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep allows short-term information in the hippocampus to more easily be transferred to the cortex, where long-term information is stored. NREM sleep is often associated with factual recall, while rapid eye movement sleep helps with problem solving. Getting a good night’s sleep may help students remember more on an exam, whereas pulling an all-nighter could actually be counterproductive.


“I make sure I get a full night’s sleep if I know I am completely prepared for an exam. However, even if I need to study, I still make sure to sleep before 2 a.m. to ensure I am able to recall facts during an exam,” Junior Rohan Talwar said.

Yet memory can be more complex than factual recall. Nostalgia, the mysterious joy that comes unbidden when running into an old friend or hearing a familiar tune, is more than sensory memory: it is episodic, resulting from a combination of sensory and emotional memory. Memories from childhood tend to be the most reinforced, as children form their first connections between objects in the real world during this time.


But nostalgia is more than a temporary feeling of joy—scientists have found that nostalgia helps individuals cope with stress and find meaning in their lives. According to online magazine Inverse, nostalgia motivates people to pursue their goals in life and engage in prosocial behavior. Notably, looking at old pictures was found to help soldiers returning from war deal with depression and homesickness.


Furthermore, memory is often recognized by students, parents and teachers as a significant aspect of education. However, a greater emphasis could be put onto working memory in the classroom, which allows students to process and draw connections between a new concept and an old one. According to the University of Strathclyde, a public research university in Glasgow, Scotland, emotion strengthens memories, so a possible tactic to help students remember facts in the long run is incorporating humor in lessons.


“I write down assignment deadlines to free my memory of cognitive load. Good analytical skills sprinkled in with a decent memory allows one to better comprehend concepts; having a strong memory by itself is not enough to learn new information,” Senior Ishir Garg said.

While having a strong recollection may help students get ahead in school, memory encompasses countless other aspects of everyday life as well. Rather than trying to remember distinct events, the brain always seeks to find connections between pieces of information, creating meaning in an otherwise meaningless life.

 

About the Contributors

Isaac Ang

investigative report and last word editor



Isaac Ang is a senior at Leland High School and is the Investigative Report and Last Word Page Editor. During his free time, Isaac enjoys rock climbing, coding, and reading/watching Lord of the Rings.






Lyn Kang

artist



Lyn Kang is a sophomore at Leland High School and an artist for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys sleeping, eating, and playing with his friends

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