We encounter tons of information each and every day. Our brains are bombarded with pieces of data with each thought we have and every action we perform. Every encounter must be processed. Therefore, our brain separates memories into different types and that’s what we are going to look at here: short term vs long term memory.
Categorizing information in this way helps to maintain efficiency and a productive working condition for the mind. Let’s talk about short term and long term memory, what the difference is and how they affect your overall memory performance.
Short Term Memory
Prior to the short term memory engaging, there is a brief moment in which memories are created. This is known as the sensory stage in which the memory is first perceived. This lasts less than a second and then an event becomes stored in your short term memory.
This form of memory is only able to hold a bit of information for a limited amount of time. Approximately seven to ten items can be stored here for only about 20 seconds at a time.
Information that is important will be shifted to your long term memory. These are the kinds of things that you use regularly and that will eventually be retained for longer periods of time.
Long Term Memory
Information and knowledge that is meaningful or that has some particular interest to you will be sent to your long term memory banks for storage and repeated use. Your long term memory can store a great deal of information for indefinitely long periods of time.
There is a process your mind goes through in order to transfer information from short term to long term memory.
First, it must register a piece of information. This simply means your brain makes note of that event or recognizes it. Then, the knowledge is retained in long term memory. Finally, it is retrieved when you have a use for the data once more. Of course, this is a simplified version of events, but you get the idea.
When information isn’t stored properly in your long term memory, you forget things. Forgetting is merely an ineffective performance of the above process. One of the components wasn’t adequately performed. For example, if your mind didn’t register the initial event properly, you will have difficulty retrieving that piece of information later. Outside distractions can hamper the encoding of memories.
In addition, memory retrieval can be affected negatively by a mismatch between the encoding of the information and the retrieval cues your brain needs to recall it. This is where things we’ve previously discussed such as eating foods for brain health and getting adequate amounts of sleep can help. Eliminating stress and other distractions are also clearly ways to improve your memory performance.
Now you have an idea of the workings of short term vs long term memory. The more you learn about the ways your brain functions, the better able you will be at keeping it in optimal condition.