Bodily Defenses Image Map

Brain Lets Us Learn and Remember

How We Learn

Learning involves the following:

  • Attending to the new information

  • Registering (encoding)

  • Associating the new with prior knowledge

  • Forming a temporary (working) memory

  • Consolidating temporary memory into more lasting form.

How Brain Represents Information

  1. Encodes as a pattern of nerve impulses, flowing in certain paths (circuits).
  2. As long as the pattern is present, the represented information is available to be used.
  3. The longer the pattern is sustained, without disruption, the better the chance for remembering.
  4. Disrupting the pattern can be caused by shift in attention, new information, new actions and behavior.
  5. Interference that occurs too soon will prevent consolidation into lasting memory. THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH MULTI-TASKING!

  Memory "Consolidation"

Memories are stored widely in the brain. A major problem for school children is in getting the memories stored so that school lessons are not forgotten. Remember what you were supposed to have learned yesterday? One part of the brain, the medial temporal lobe and nearby structures, is responsible for converting temporary memories into more permanent form.

Ventral view of the adult human brain with the temporal lobe outlined in white.

The temporal lobe connects by way of the parahippocampal gyrus (Black asterisk) with the hippocampus, which is folded underneath the temporal lobe. 

People who have strokes or another damage to these medial temporal lobe structures have great problems in learning new things. Their memory for old learning is not affected, nor is their ability to learn certain kinds of conditioning, and movement or skills involving movement. 

The brain takes several days to weeks to make a new a new memory last. The first few minutes after learning are needed to encode new information firmly and start the consolidation process. Refreshing the memory several times over the next few days sustains and reinforces the memory formation process.

The process continues subconsciously, even during sleep. Insufficient sleep interferes with memory consolidation.

This conversion of short-term memory into more lasting form has certain requirements:

  • The brain needs to pay attention so that the information actually registers (encodes).
  • Motivation to remember promotes attentiveness and reinforces the encoding.
  • Time must elapse (seconds to minutes for encoding; hours to days for consolidation).
  • Distractions and conflicting stimuli should be kept to a minimum, because they will otherwise interfere with the conversion process.

Does this provide any ideas for how to be a better student? See Activity #4 for a memory experiment.



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