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  • Lara Inderst


Our lives would not be complete without our memories. They help us in learning new information, remembering our past experiences, and making choices for the future. But what exactly is the science behind memories? How are they created, stored, and retrieved in our brains?

At a basic level, memories are created through a process called encoding. Our brains gather sensory data from our surroundings and translate it into a so-called ‘neuronal code’ when we experience something new. The hippocampus, amygdala, and cortex are some of the areas of the brain where this code is later stored. Once a memory is encoded, it can be stored in the brain for a long time. If they are not accurately organised or retrieved, memories could get lost. A memory is strengthened and incorporated into the already existing network of memories in the brain, through the process of consolidation. A memory can be accessed and brought back into conscious awareness through the act of retrieval. The durability and endurance of memories can be affected by many things. For example, emotional events are usually easier to recollect than neutral ones. Also, practice and rehearsal can improve memory retention, whereas lack of sleep and stress may disrupt memory consolidation. Of course, the entire process is much more complex than that, but that gives us a general understanding.

Everyone’s brains work slightly differently, which also means that the accuracy of our memory varies. Photographic memory for example is the ability to recall visual details with an extremely high level of detail. People with photographic memories can access their memories at any time, even after a significant amount of time has passed. Being that so few people are thought to have this kind of memory, it is regarded as a unique and extraordinary trait.

A more rare and extreme kind of photographic memory is what is known as eidetic memory. This means that someone can recall precise visual details as if they had captured an image of the scene. People who have eidetic memory can reorganise and rearrange images in their thoughts, as well as recall images with exceptional clarity, colour, and detail.

Although they are regarded as special abilities, photographic and eidetic memory are sometimes misunderstood. For instance, it is commonly believed people with photographic memories always have perfect memories, which is untrue. People with photographic memory may have trouble with other tasks involving memory because it only applies to visual information. Another common misconception is that people with high IQs or genius-level intelligence are the only ones who possess photographic and eidetic memory. This is not always the case, although some evidence does suggest that certain skills and an above-average IQ are connected.

To summarize, memory is a very complex subject. However, one fact remains undisputed, whether you have trouble remembering or have a photographic memory, the brain’s ability to store so much information certainly makes it a phenomenal organ.

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