How human memory works (and how it fools us)

Many people believe that memory is a kind of vault where we store our memories.. Others, more tech-savvy, understand that memory is more like a computer on the hard drive that we store our learnings, experiences, and life experiences, so we can turn to them when we need them. .

But the truth is that both views are wrong.

    So how does human memory work?

    We don’t have memory as such stored in our brain. It would be, from a physical and biological point of view, literally impossible.

    What the brain consolidates in memory are “models of functioning”.“That is, how specific groups of neurons are activated each time we learn something new.

    I don’t want to make a big mess of it, so I’ll just say that any information that goes into the brain becomes a chemical electrical stimulus.

    Neuroscience of memories

    What the brain stores is the particular frequency, amplitude, and sequence of neural circuits involved in learning. It is not a specific fact that is stored, but the way the system works in the face of that specific fact..

    Then when we remember something consciously or without proposing it, an image comes to our mind, what our brain does is re-edit that specific pattern of functioning. And this has serious implications. Perhaps the most important, our memory deceives us.

    We did not reclaim the memory as it was stored, but rather reassembled it whenever we needed it from the reactivation of the corresponding schematics of operation.

    The “faults” of memory

    The problem is that this evocation mechanism occurs en masse. Commissioning the system may cause leaks to other memories that have been leaked, Which belong to another time or another place.

    Science and interference

    I’m going to tell you about an experience that shows how vulnerable we are to memory interference, and how we can be subtly tricked into remembering something the wrong way, or that just never happened.

    A group of people saw a video in which a traffic accident could be observed, in particular the collision between two vehicles. They were then divided into two smaller groups and questioned, separately, about what they had seen. Members of the first group were asked to roughly estimate how fast the performances traveled when they “collided”.

    Members of the second group were asked the same question, but with a seemingly insignificant difference. He wondered how quickly they felt performance flowed when one was “built” into the other.

    Members of the latter group, on average, calculated much higher values ​​than those of the first group, where performance had simply “crashed”. Some time later, they were reunited in the lab and asked for details of the video crash.

    Twice the members of the group in which the performances had been “integrated” compared to the members of the other group they said they saw broken windshield glass strewn along the sidewalk. It should be noted that no windshield was broken in the video in question.

    We hardly remember

    We believe that we can remember the past accurately, but it is not. The brain is forced to rebuild memory every time we decide to recover it; it must be assembled as if it were a puzzle which, moreover, does not have all the parts, because a large part of the information is not available because it has never been stored or disclosed by health care systems.

    When we remember a certain episode in our life, like the day we graduated from college, or when we got our first job, memory retrieval is not given in a clean and untouched way like when , for example, we opened a text document on our computer but the brain has to make an active effort to track down the information that is scattered around, then pull all of these different pieces together and fragmented to present us with the most solid and elegant version possible of what happened.

    The brain is responsible for “filling in” the gaps in memory

    Potholes and blanks are filled in the brain with bits and pieces of other memories, personal conjectures, and abundant pre-established beliefs, with the ultimate goal of achieving a more or less coherent whole that meets our expectations. expectations.

    This mainly happens for three reasons:

    As we said before, when we experience a certain event, what the brain keeps is a model of functioning. In the process, much of the original information never gets back into memory. And if it does enter, it is not effectively consolidated in memory. It forms potholes in the process that take away the congruence of the story when we want to recall it.

    Then we have the problem of false memories unrelated to real memory when we bring it to consciousness. Here something similar happens when we throw a net into the sea, we can catch fish, which interests us, but often we also find garbage that at some point was thrown into the ocean: an old shoe, plastic bag, empty soda bottle, etc.

    This phenomenon occurs because the brain is constantly receiving new informationConsolidation of learning so often uses the same neural circuits as those used for other learning, which can cause interference.

    Thus, the experience to be stored in memory can be merged or modified with previous experiences, causing them to end up being stored as an undifferentiated whole.

    Give meaning and logic to the world around us

    Finally, the brain is an organ interested in making sense of the world. In fact, he even seems to have an aberrant hatred for uncertainty and inconsistency.

    And it is in his eagerness to explain everything when, not knowing certain data in particular, he invents them to free himself and thus save appearances. Here we have another crack in the system, dear reader. The essence of memory is not reproductive, but reconstructive, And as such, vulnerable to multiple forms of interference.

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