Remembering and Forgetting

You just heard someone's phone number being spelled, but in a few seconds you are incapable to remember part or the whole number. Why?

There is a memory that is temporary, limited in its capability, as it is stored for a very short time in the brain, of the order of milliseconds or at most to a few minutes. This is called a short-term memory.

For this short-term memory to become permanent, it requires attention, repetition and associated ideas. However, through a still unknown mechanism you can suddenly remember a forgotten fact, as that telephone number you have forgotten. In this case, the information was stored in the long-term memory, which is the more lasting one and has a more ample capacity. The process of storing new information in this long-term memory is called consolidation.

An elaboration of the short-term memory concept that has been made in recent years is Working Memory (a more general term for storage of temporary information). Many specialists consider that short-term memory and working memory are the same in one thing. However, a key feature that distinguishes it from short-term memory is that there may be multiple sites in the brain where temporary storage occurs, rather than a single short-term memory system. This implies that we could not be consciously aware of all the information held in working memory at the same time, in different parts of the brain. Let's take the example of driving a car. This is a complex task requiring several types of information to be simultaneously processed such as sensory, cognitive and motor information. It seems unlikely that these several types of information can all be handled by a single short-term memory system.

Contd. Human Memory: What it is and How to Improve It
By: Silvia Helena Cardoso, PhD
In: Brain & Mind

Center for Biomedical Informatics
State University of Campinas, Brazil

Silvia Helena Cardoso, PhD

Copyright 1997 State University of Campinas