8 Fascinating Facts About Your Memory
Our memories are everything.
In fact, it could be argued that a person is their memories; that it is only our memories that are unique to us as an individual. The things we have learned, the things we’ve experienced, and wisdom we have been able to collect throughout our lives is arguably the key component into determining who we are.
Yet despite the obviously important role that our memories have to play, most of us don’t know much about the process of recording and storing memories at all. If you want to become better acquainted with the part of your brain that governs who you are as a person more than anything else, then read on…
#1 – You can be a memory world champion
Think you’ve got a good memory? Well, you might want to put yourself to the test against the best of the best— because there’s a World Memory Championships. Below, there’s a fantastic video featuring eight-time world champion Dominic O’Brien, who shares his secrets to incredible powers of recall. If you want to try and reach competition standard, you’ll need to remember (if you’ll excuse the pun!) his tips…
#2 – Your first memories were formed far earlier than you think
Asking people what their first memory is tends to bring forth a number of accounts from their youth, usually between the ages of three and four.
However, while these memories might be the earliest that you can remember, they’re far from your earliest ever memories. Researchers have found that the ability to create and develop memories begins around the age of 20 weeks— we just can’t remember them. There’s a known reason why no one can remember that far back in our own timeline, but it’s interesting to note that you did once remember that period in your life, even if you can no longer recall the specific details.
#3 – Your memory does change as you age— but probably not in the way you expect
When most people think about aging and memories, they immediately think of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and afflictions severe enough to require comprehensive memory care. Most of us have been conditioned to expect that our memories will change as we age; a mixture of the degenerative neurological conditions that are more likely to occur over a certain age and “senior moments”.
However, research suggests that the way we form and store memories does change as we age, but not quite in the way you might expect. Researchers have concluded that while younger people are better equipped to remember specific details (like times and dates), older people are more likely to be able to remember memories from a sense of perspective— and that might actually be more useful.
For example, a young person can remember that they had a fight with a friend at midday on a Tuesday. An older person likely won’t remember the day or the time, but they will remember the context of the argument and what lead to it. This means they are more able to recall events that led to problems in the past and thus avoid them in future. It’s thought that this ability to understand perspective is a key contributor to what is often referred to as the “wisdom” that comes with age.
#4 – Technology may be impairing our brains’ ability to make and retain memories
Studies suggest that having access to the internet — which is essentially a receptacle for all the information humanity has ever learned — may be impairing our ability to store memories the way that previous generations were able to.
When you think about it, this is unsurprising. How many phone numbers do you know offhand? Probably very few; you just use your smartphone contacts list when you want to call someone. How many phone numbers did you know when you were a child? It’s probably at least 10, because you didn’t have a phone contacts list to make use of. Our memories tend to need training and consistent use to remain at their highest-functioning level, so even small lifestyle changes like this can have a big impact on the ability to form and recall memories.
#5 – Not all memories can be relied upon
Not all memories are real. Fake memories are incredibly convincing, but are actually just the product of the environment we live in. False memories are most commonly the product of a brain that is under stress; trauma victims, for example, often experience false memories as a result of their experience. You may also experience false memories if you grow up hearing a family story; over time, you may begin to feel as if you remember witnessing the events in the story for yourself, as the tale has become so familiar to you.
#6 – “Scent memory” is very real
The idea of “scent memory” has been subject to a huge amount of scientific debate, with some people insisting it’s just a product of an overactive imagination.
However, science disagrees. Certain scents can indeed trigger memories in the human mind. Ultimately, our sense of smell is just another way that we experience the world, and when we smell something familiar, it’s akin to seeing an object that we have seen before— our brains automatically connect the scent and the prior experience together. So scent memory is very much a real phenomenon!
#8 – Most humans have memorized the usage and meaning of 20,000-100,000 words
While breadth of vocabulary tends to vary, it’s thought that most humans know at least 50,000 individual words, and the meanings for those words. This is a truly staggering number, made all the more impressive by knowing that the human capacity for storing memories is basically limitless— so if you wanted to memorize the entire dictionary, you could!
Our ability to access our memories is an essential component of what makes us the people we are. Hopefully, the above facts regarding memory have proven useful, and perhaps even inspired you to work on improving and preserving your memory in the future. Good luck!