How We Store Long-Term Memories

By Keito Orii

As a student at Léman, all of us would have had the experience of cramming before the test to store all the knowledge and try to recall them during the test. The complexity of our brain allows us to have the biggest capacity for memory on Earth. But many of us must have, at least once, wondered “Why can we not remember everything we try to remember?” In this article, I will delve deeper into how our memory works and discuss certain methods as to how we can best improve our memory capability.
According to the American Psychological Association, memory can be defined as our “ability to retain information.” There are many theories aiming to explain how memory works, but the one I will introduce is the “multi-store model of memory” (MSM), proposed by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin in 1968. This model suggests that memory consists of three stores: sensory register, short-term memory, and long-term memory.
In order to explain this model, let’s think of a scenario where you are sitting at the cafe studying for your exam. In this scenario, you focus solely on your laptop and books. However, there is still other sensory information around you such as, there are people talking around you and there must be some music playing in the cafe. There is a lot of information that distracts you from your focus, and yet your memory does not store those pieces stimulus. This can be explained by the MSM, which claims that the first store (sensory register) is constantly receiving the information, but most of it doesn’t receive attention, causing it to being forgotten. Only the selected information is processed, namely encoded, to be put into the memory system and transferred to the next store, ‘short-term memory.’
The second stage, short-term memory, can store the information for only up to 30 seconds. The capacity is also very small; the number of items remembered is about two to seven things. Therefore, for the memory to be remembered longer than 30 seconds, there needs to be ‘maintenance rehearsal’, which is the process of repeating the information verbally or mentally. If this rehearsal is not processed, the information will be lost after 30 seconds. This is why you do not remember all the food displayed at the cafe while you may have paid attention to them before purchasing.  
Finally, if you conduct the maintenance rehearsal, the information is transferred to ‘long-term memory.’ Long-term memory does not have a limit as to how long or how much it can store information. You may still remember some incidents that happened a few days ago, or even months or years ago. The information tends to be held in long-term memory longer if the encoding happens semantically, in other words, the information is given different meanings. For example, it is difficult to remember all the names of historians just by repeating them in your head. However, if you are given the context of what each historian did, you are more likely to remember them for a longer period of time.
Overall, this model can help us understand how we should store information we want to keep in our long term memory more effectively. Not only do we pay close attention, we need to rehearse the information so that it is stored in long-term memory. For the information to be not forgotten, we must add or understand the meaning of what we are memorizing and continuously rehearse.
Now that you finished reading this article, let’s see how long you can remember this article for!