Errors of Memory

Memory; an intricate product of the brain’s functioning, is the ground at which the perception of the present builds upon and planning of the future happens. Comprehension of memory formation, and of the forgetting mechanisms are deemed important in daily life, so that we can consciously choose or not choose, up to an extent, to take up the information and store it according to our own desires and needs. Let’s try understanding those and how to apply this knowledge as well.

What is memory?

This is the ability of the brain to take in information based upon experience and learning, store it, and recall it at a later time purposefully or subconsciously.

How memories are formed?

1. Encoding

Every new information that we read or watch, every new skill that we try to learn is a sensory signal for the brain.

The brain changes these signals into forms that are easy for them to store and restore.

You can take this as changing your currency from one form to another when usable. So the brain encodes the information into three forms:

  • Picture (Visual)
  • Sound (Auditory)
  • Meaning (Semantic)

2. Storage

Have you ever wondered, there are definite events of your childhood or adolescence that you can remember so vividly and there are particular flashes from the past, that seem fuzzy at times?

This process tells all about how, where, for how long, and how much information to store and also distinguishes the types of memories;

  • Short term memory:

The memory of a new phone number or new information up to a digit of seven plus minus two is the information readily available but temporarily stored, if not repeated continuously. This type of memory contains few slots that get inhabited by a small amount of information and for a shorter period, if not rehearsed.

  • Long term memory:


You need to give meaning (easy for you to remember) to your newly learned cooking recipe or  the already learned topic of biology could be reviewed enough times to be traversed to long term memory and could be recalled when required.

Long-term memory is an inexhaustible space for details to be deposited and most of the time it is the one which is under the veil of subconsciousness, only to be surfaced when given an adequate trigger.

3. Retrival

On an exam day, recalling the answers to the questions requires you to have your knowledge of the syllabus in a well-organized manner in the brain, so that the particulars can be made out as needed.

This is the potential of the brain to get the information out of the storage and that’s the stage differentiator of the certain and forgotten parts.

Losing Memories

Do we forget or is the information stored behind the brain’s wall of bricks and we are just unable to retrieve it?

There are four theories for this.

  • Loopholes in storage

You were studying about cell and you gave 10 minutes to read two pages and then you closed the book and didn’t open it for the whole day, and on the next day, you did not remember it at all.

The reason behind this is that the knowledge was never encoded by the brain to be restored. It never went beyond the signal that died too early just because it was not strengthened enough.

  • Interference

After changing your mobile phone number, you have a difficult time observing the new number, so you keep giving people your old number erroneously. The memory of your old number intervenes with the ability to recall your new number.

Interruption of memory with another similar one either from the past or from an Immediate future is the interference; a hindrance.

  • Motivated forgetting    

It is a defense mechanism, used to cope with unpleasant memories (abuse of any kind) subconsciously or consciously.

  • Retrieval failure

Why do we forget?

There are times when you are unable to recall the information from your memory. Even when you are aware of the fact that you know it, you just cannot produce it. What are the reasons behind these errors in the memory system?

The one commonly encountered aspect is the inability to retrieve.

There are two theories which explain why retrieval cannot be accomplished:

  • Failure in encoding
  • Lack of cues for retrieval

A common rationale why we don’t remember the information is because it is never carried into long-term memory in the first place.

Psychologists have suggested that sometimes information is certainly present in memory, but it cannot be recalled unless retrieval codes are present. These cues are facets that were present at the time that the substantial memory was encoded.

For example, the smell of a scent that was used at an occasion could play the role of a cue in the future to reminiscence the same cycle of spectacles from memory.

How can this knowledge of the retrieval cues be helpful for us?

If we can just create those significantly stable stimuli at the time of making a memory then this can be composited into long-term memory.

For illustration, for those who are visual learners, once they see the picture of the brain they will be able to retrieve the information related to it from memory.

Factors affecting memory

The psychological causes that lead to forgetfulness are:

  • Lack of sleep (a major factor)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Emotional shock such as grief
  • Stress
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lack of self-confidence

The environmental causes are:

  • Isolation
  • Change of environment
  • Lack of stimulation

Tips to improve memory

There are probably a few things you can do to make your memory better. Psychologists have excavated several strategies that can help augment memory:

  • Jot it down.

The act of writing with a pen and paper helps register the memory into your brain and can also operate as a memo or reference later on.

  • Tie meaning to it.

You can memorize something more skilfully if you attach meaning to it. For instance, if you link a person you just met with someone you already recognize with, you may be able to remember their names easily.

  • Repeat it.

Repetition encourages memory to become encoded beyond your short-term memory.

  • Group it.

The knowledge that is categorized becomes simpler to remember and recall.

For example, analyze the following group of words: Desk, mango, bookshelf, blue, plum, table, green, pineapple, purple, chair, blueberry, and yellow. Spend a few seconds scanning them, then look away and try to reminisce and list these words. How did you organize the words when you inscribed them? Most people will list using three different categories: color, furniture, and fruit.

It is wise to understand the failures of memory, which will reduce the chances of letdowns in the future. The crucial part is to make the memory concrete, in which the repetition of the information or the skill is highly important. The other essential section is

to retrieve the details from the memory, for which stable cues at the time of memory-making are beneficial.

Hope this article will help you to understand the nuances of the brain in memory making and forgetting as well. Happy reading!

Written By: Dr. Sania Riaz

4 thoughts on “Errors of Memory”

  1. Very informative. This article has everything one may need to know about “memory”. I found the “losing memories” part quite interesting and was glad to see tips in the end as well. 💯

  2. as a medical student i found it quite interesting to know the psychological factors summed up beautifully by the writters … good job to expand the vision of readers beyond the limits theye set for themselves

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