There are three types of memory, sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory. The sensory memory registers everything around us, which includes, everything within eyesight, taste, the things we hear and everything we feel. The first place our memories are stored is the Sensory memory. However, things in the sensory memory last less than a second.
The brain registers all these information automatically, even the things we may not be conscious about. The brain is made to remember things or events that are important to us longer, so when you pay attention to something, that thing moves from your sensory memory to your short-term memory. Things in this type of memory are directly under our control or easy to remember. Example, cramming at night for an exam the next day; when you make an extra effort to learn (pay attention to something), most of the things you learn would be stored in your short-term memory, making it easy to remember.
Short-term memory is also referred to as primary or active memory and can hold about seven pieces of information. The short-term memory usually comprises events over a period anywhere from 30 seconds to several days. Everything we see goes into the sensory memory first, but only the things we pay attention to are remembered in short-term memory. So it is easy to say we have already lost most of the memories of things we have seen today.
Just like the sensory memory, if one doesn’t make a conscious effort to remember, memories in the short-term memory will also be forgotten. The only things we truly remember are those memories that make it to the long-term memory. A very small percentage of things we perceive usually will ever make it into long-term memory. The long-term memory has a much greater capacity and contains things like facts and personal memories.
Every important thing that happens during every important event in our day or lives is registered to memory. The ones which are not important are discarded from our memory. This part of our memory is the subconscious memory rather than the conscious memory. Every instance of memory stored in the subconscious mind can be remembered, but unless triggered by a similar event, taste, smell, song, familiarity, Déjà vu etc, in order to bring the memory back into the conscious memory.
For new memory to form, information is changed into a suitable form and the process is known as encoding. The encoded information is then stored in the memory until it is needed for use. The process of retrieval makes it possible for us to bring into are consciousness stored information, hence remembering recent or past events.
We also tend to forget what we learn because of the following reasons;
- Failure to register clearly
- Inability to retain what has been registered and
- Failure to accurately retrieve the memory.
In short, when you forget what you learn, it simply means one did not succeed in encoding or one was distracted in the process of encoding or one has a problem retrieving it. Our sensory memory registers everything we sense around. However, things in this memory only lasts less than a second.
The brain is held together to retain things of importance longer. So, the more attention we give something, it moves from the sensory memory to short term memory. Things in the short-term memory are easy to remember. Therefore, we can make a conscious effort to retain things somehow longer in the short-term memory by constant practice or repetition. Please note: once something leaves the short-term memory, it is gone forever
Not every single thing we see is stored into memory, since this would mean that the brain is being filled with unnecessary information. We see so much on a daily, considering the fact that our environment is a big place, and a lot of things are happening all around us, every second, every minute, every hour, but it’s not everything we see that we remember, as that depends on how our individual brains work on remembering. Each individual has their own ways and means to remember things or events, we all have our trigger buttons that we need to push when need be. It’s a skill we can develop by practicing, but it is still difficult to remember every single thing we see. That mostly depends on where we give our attention to.
School is no less an environment, we are constantly expected to remember everything being taught in class, save them to memory, and recall it at will. This is not always easy, but by understanding how our brain works, we can use that information to our advantage and manipulate it to suit us.
Research source: Wikipedia