I’ve recently written a science-fiction novel about an island resort where your worst memories are temporarily removed so you can have a stress-free, relaxing vacation.
Here are some fascinating facts I learned about the human memory while doing research for my novel, because you probably don’t know as much about your own mind as you think:
1. Whenever you remember a memory, you aren’t recalling the actual memory. You’re recalling the last time you remembered that memory. It’s like a game of telephone with yourself. However, when memories are rarely accessed, they start to decay. So either way, over time, your childhood memories aren’t going to be as accurate now as they were years ago.
2. Certain smells can trigger your emotions much easier than sound or touch can because your olfactory bulb, which processes smells, is directly connected to the amygdala and hippocampus. Those two areas of the brain are strongly linked with memory and emotion.
3. False memories are much more common than you think. They affect almost everyone and can be created in a lot of different ways. They can be influenced by interferences, misleading information, or by too much time passing. To put it simply, what you remember might only contain pieces of the truth that have been distorted by other information. Or your memory can be completely wrong due to a suggestion. (For example: if someone says a robber was wearing a black hat, you might start to believe that is exactly what you saw). Sometimes, strong emotional memories relating to trauma will also be repressed.
4. Your brain is virtually limitless. Its storage capacity is equivalent to about one-million gigabites. However, most short-term memories will only stay in your head for approximately twenty to thirty seconds. On average, you can only hold up to seven pieces of information at a time in your short-term memory.
5. Generally, good memories tend to last much longer than bad ones. Unpleasant memories tend to fade faster, which shows the human ability to adapt to change and remain positive. However, groups with severe depression typically don’t experience this.
6. Children begin making explicit memories at around two years old. However, they are still mostly making implicit memories until they are around six or seven years old. (Explicit memories are what you probably think of as memories. They are moments you can consciously recall. Meanwhile, implicit memories are functional memories like how to ride a bike.) So it’s completely normal if most of the things you remember about your childhood are from when you’re a bit older.
7. Taking photographs can actually make it harder for you to remember whatever you were photographing. This is because, instead of paying attention to what is in front of you, you are paying more attention to the process of snapping the picture.
8. If you’ve ever gotten too drunk, blacked out, and forgot everything that happened the night before, it’s because alcohol can prevent the brain from transferring information to your memories. This will only be a temporary experience — unless you drink too heavily for a period of years. Then you can form long-term memory loss as well.
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