Thalpos-Mental Health

How human memory works

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How human memory works

From the psychologist of the Rehabilitation Unit “Thalpos Attica” Maria Makridaki.

Most of people, consider memory as something given, but have we actually thought how many things do we owe to our memory such as, the acquisition and maintenance of knowledge, the development of our personality and ultimately our own existence?

Our memory isn’t just about memorizing our bank pin or remembering that the biggest mountain in Greece is Olympus. The ability to store, retrieve, and connect information is essential for the continuity and the very concept of ourselves. Memory defines our entire life. Any activity is based on the containment of the information that compose it.

Memory has three stages, the encoding stage, the storage stage, and the information retrieval stage. Beyond the memory stages, we categorize the memory according to the total time it can store information. The main categories of memory are long, short and sensitive.

If we would try to liken human brain with a computer, then our hard disk is our long memory. Long-term memory is responsible for storing information for periods of time lasting a few minutes or more. For example, as long as we live, we will know our name unless we develop a memory disorder. Depending on the type of information, long-term memory is divided into episodic, semantic, and procedural. Episodic memory is responsible for storing events, mainly autobiographical, for example, how I spent this summer. The semantic is responsible for storing useful information such as, what is the capital of Italy or what time do we work every morning. In process memory are stored procedures, such as how we swim or how we walk.

Going back to the computer simulation, short-term memory resembles RAM, which is the memory that temporarily stores information that is still being processed. The information that can be stored has a life span of 30 seconds to a few minutes. An example here is the arithmetic operations we do without paper and pencil.

The third category, the sensory memory has a shorter life span than the short-lived. It stores sensory information for a few fractions of a second until they are used by the nervous system in the right way. Practically, the sensory memory helps us with reflexive protective movements, stop early in front of the red traffic light, for example, or bow in time so we do not hit our head.

So, we see that memory is responsible for so many things and it is reasonable to ask what happens when things do not work just as it should.


Ρουσος, Π. Γνωστική Ψυχολογία. (2012). Εκδ. Τόπος. (Greek edition)