By in Science

When you are unable to remember something, sometimes not tryng so hard to remember helps it rise to the surface.

I sometimes try to remember something like a musician or a movie title among other things but when I try too hard the memory seems to sink deeper down.

When I don't try too hard and just try to take my mind off what I am trying to remember sometimes the memory will rise to the surface and I am taken by surprise.

Memories are like maps of an event or a certain time. If I can't get it to rise to the surface because I am trying too hard to recall it I usually recall it later on when I am not even trying. I wonder if this is a common phenomenon and what is the science behind it?

There are short term and long term memories and immediate recollections from the past few moments. Like when I see a motor vehicle accident and I call 911 and the operator asks me certain questions such as:

1. How many vehicles were involved?

2. Where did the accident take place?

3. Did you hear or see the accident?

4. What color and type of each vehicle?

5. Were there any injuries?

6. How many people were in the vehicle?

7. Were you close enough to get a license plate number?

8. Was property damaged?

9. Do you think they need an ambulance?

Never say, "I don't think so" Because there is almost always a chance someone involved in the accident was seriously injured.

So many things go through my head when I am on the phone with a 911 dispatch operator.

There are so many details that are so important to recall within minutes of witnessing an accident.

But this is neither short term memory or long term. It is immediate recall.

When you take a pop quiz in school you are usually asked questions that relate to the last hour of class when the teacher is telling you things that you need to know to insure you are listening so the pop quiz is a teacher's rule of thumb so to speak. Based on the number of questions answered correctly the instructor can determine if the students by and large, are paying attention in class.

A history exam based on what you were reading in class or listening in class by the instructor a day or a week ago requires short term memory. If you have good skill at remembering what you were told or read in class within a few days to a week you will likely have a good score on the exam.

As far as long term memory, that is what you have when someone asks what you did during your summer vacation. Months from the time you are asked to give some details about your vacation experiences you must dig deeper into your mind to find the memory of events that were clear to you that you find no problem with remembering but if you realize it is more difficult to do this it could be because either you have too much on your mind with things going on in recent days or weeks you may have to pause and do some thinking before you recall things a bit more clearly.

When you cram for an exam you might stay up late reading and trying to remember things and the next morning in class you might do poorly on the test. This is because you went over the subject too fast and when you are in too much of a hurry, well, it's just like reading the instructions on how to get your DVR to work. You may go over every single detail of the manual but by the time you are finished you forgot most of it. This is because your mind can not just absorb information like a computer. You are human. Things take time. It is best to study a little at night before an exam but in the morning, about an hour before class, brush up on the books and take time to breath. You might find that having a clear head after a good night's rest and a little go over in the morning will give you the edge you need to make a good grade when in class. Cramming usually just doesn't work that great.

If you were to try to recall everything that was said in one single episode of a t.v. show such as NCIS or Criminal Minds, would you really be expected to be able to quote some of it or most of it verbatim? I doubt it. There are only a rare few with the ability to have total recall or for that matter have a photographic memory like police, detectives and secret agents have to do when asked to close your eyes and tell me every thing that was in that room you were in a few minutes earlier.

Memory is biological in nature. We are not machines. I think for this reason we don't need to beat ourselves on the back for not being able to be super geniuses and quote things in perfect sequence. Even actors sometimes use prompters and read them as they act because it is way too much to remember exact lines, even though many actors and actresses have IQ's around 135 or higher, according to an old article from a psychology magazine I once read. I can't give you the name because it is an estimation not a fact and since I don't have total recall I can't remember what year or what issue of the magazine.

From memory we develop patterns and habits of thought, action and expectation. Without some degree of memory we would make the same mistakes every day and our lives would be in danger of a loss from doing stupid things over and over again. Our very DNA has a genetic code that tells it what to do to make us who we are and to keep us living and thinking, breathing and feeling.

The electro-chemical synapses of our brains are a miracle of nature. Perhaps it is not meant for us to have total memory exactitude but to have a general adaptation that keeps us doing things a bit differently until we get things right. In the end we learn to perfect certain things we do and learn what is best to keep doing and what is best to stop doing. Yea. That's about all for me.


Image Credit » pencil facing right by A. P. Davis

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Comments

CoralLevang wrote on March 3, 2016, 10:19 PM

I am finding that my memory isn't quite as sharp/quick as it once was.

MegL wrote on March 4, 2016, 12:54 AM

Great article. Yes, it's the same for me and many others, let it go and the answer bubbles up.

lookatdesktop wrote on March 4, 2016, 7:20 PM

I would not survive on Jeopardy.

lookatdesktop wrote on March 4, 2016, 7:21 PM

Hmm. I would imagine some scientific papers have been written about this only I would have to do some searching.