How Does the Human Brain Store and Retrieve Memories – Neurology Example

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  "How Does the Human Brain Store and Retrieve Memories" is an unforgettable example of a paper on neurology. From centuries, scientists have been studying the working of the human body, which is full of concealed miracles and undecided functionalities which are beyond the human perception and thinking. To study and deal specifically with the structure of the human body, a sub-branch entitled ‘ Human Anatomy’ was devised. Although, every single organ of the human body has at least one uncertain cognitive  state, however, something that has not been yet fully discovered by anatomists and neurologists is the working of a ‘ Human Brain’ .                       Human Brain comprises of tens to hundred billion neurons and every neuron in itself is an enigma for the researchers.

Certain hypotheses have been proposed and with the passage of time, are being accepted or rejected about this mysterious nature of the human brain. Now, let us peep into the working of a Human Brain and understand how it stores stuff in the memory and retrieves it when required. For this introspection, we first need to know the basic working of a Human Brain. Basics of a Human Brain:             The human  brain is composed of a complex network of tens to hundred billion neurons which are engaged in around a hundred trillion synapses (the process of transmitting signals between two neurons).

These neurons and synapses evolve a network which is responsible for the transmittal of information across the human body. For a clear and better understanding, visualize the human brain as being divided into different cortexes like the visual cortex, pre-frontal cortex and others, being assigned different duties. Some of these perform sensation detection while others are responsible for memorizing and controlling other organs (Tolar). How Does Brain Stores Information?             The human  brain doesn’ t see the world itself as it doesn’ t have any direct exposure to the world.

The information which flows in a human body is detected by the five sensory organs and transmitted via the synaptic transmission network. These senses are actually linked up with different cortexes (via different types of neurons) that help in transmitting information across the body.                       The information that is transmitted through these senses to the cortexes is stored for a fraction of second in the respective cortex and then transmitted either to short term or long term memory.

This whole detection and transmission hardly take the 100th part of a second.                       Short term memory is the storage area of a human brain, used for storing events that are not worth remembering for a longer time period. For example, a person visits a new office for an interview and after spending some time there, gets back to his place. Now, the decorations and ambience of that office were unnecessary for the person to remember, hence, those were stored in the short term memory.

Short term memory normally keeps information for around ten minutes. There are seven different slots in short term memory which means a human mind can store seven different things in short-term memory at a particular instance (Cowan 87-185). Moreover, the short term memory is often confused while recalling similar-looking objects (Conrad 75-84).                       On the other hand, long term memory component of a human brain stores information for a relatively long time period.

The events that are saved in the long term memory are either important or forced by the person to be remembered for longer time durations. Long term memory first encodes the event according to the person’ s frame of reference. After the event is encoded, the long term memory stores it (Golfera).   How Does a Human Brain Retrieve its Memories?                       After understanding the process of memory storage in a human brain, let’ s examine the process of memory retrieval. The process of retrieval from the long term memory of the human brain is a complex process.                       When a person tries to remember something, he/she is actually trying to extract forth something out from the unconscious state to the conscious mind.

Anything that gets a position in the long term memory is given a reference pointer by the person, himself (Oscar). For example, a life-threatening car accident remains in the long term memory. Whenever it’ s required to retrieve that memory, the person recalls it by the help of pointers such as location, road, object or any other related event.                       These pointers may vary from person to person according to their frame of reference.

Some people might recall it by seeing another accident in front of them, whereas, others may just find the word ‘ accident’ as a sufficient pointer to retrieve the event that happened to them from the memory.                       Encoding plays a vital role in the process of memory retrieval. If the person hasn’ t encoded the event properly, there are 90% chances that he/she won’ t be able to retrieve that event happening easily. If that happens, then the person’ s recall gets dependent on other pointers that he/she may not have encoded at that time.

These pointers can be some other car on the road or his/her friend who got him out of the accident venue. The process of retrieval is directly proportional to the process of encoding. If encoding is done perfectly and without any distraction, the chances of its easy retrieval are increased.                       The process of memory retrieval includes the following steps: Encoding of an event according to a different frame of references. Some references are more pronounced than others and may be of more importance when the information retrieval request is sent. Assigning pointers to the event stored in the long term memory. Recalling what you have encoded and stored in the long term memory with the help of pointers. Retaining is also dependent on those pointers.

We tend to forget things that don’ t happen to us often but still manage to remember some live changing incidents! Some people face difficulties while retrieving their memories and there are three primary reasons behind it, which are as follows: The person might be distracted at the time of the encoding process. The person may not be able to retain what he/she has stored. The person may not have retrieved the information accurately as it might not have been encoded properly (or he/she might have assigned improper pointers). Impacts of Aging on Memory Retrieval                       As a person ages, the process of memory retrieval becomes difficult.

The reason behind this, according to researchers, is the fact that it happens because of major cell loss that stops the production of neurotransmitters known as ‘ acetylcholine’ . Acetylcholine occurs throughout the nervous system and is a vital contributor to the process of learning and memory.

Furthermore, some areas in the human brain that help to remember and to memorize, depletes as each personage. The area of Hippocampus located right above the spinal cord loses its nerve cells by an average of 0.5% a year (Parkin, Walter, and Hunkin 304-312).                       This doesn’ t necessarily mean that as the person ages, his/her memory is not capable of memorizing things or he/she might become a patient of memory loss or dementia. The substitute available for these physical changes in the human brain is practice.

Practice helps in refreshing the different pointers and then the power to correlate is always the saviour since it helps to logically build on the available facts.                       Ageing is not the only factor that affects memory loss. Some genetic disorders or mutations, sometimes, can lead to memory loss. Similarly, exposure to poisons, excessive alcohol and nicotine intake can also lead to memory loss. All this memory loss can be reduced if proper stimulation is provided to the nerve cells. Healthier brain cells are dependent on the amount of exercise and activity they perform.

This is because healthier brain cells have more dendrites which improve the communication between cells, hence, increasing the encoding and retrieval process.


Conrad, R. "Acoustic Confusions in Immediate Memory." British Journal of Psychology. 55 (1964): 75-84. Web. 4 Dec. 2012.

Cowan, Nelson. "The Magical Number 4 in Short Term Memory: A Reconsideration of Mental Storage Capacity." BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES. 24 (2000): 87-185. Web. 4 Dec. 2012. .

Golfera, Gianni. "How Human Brain Memory Works." Ezine Articles. N.p., 11 2010. Web. 4 Dec 2012. .

Oscar, C. "How do we recall memories?." 16 2009. Yahoo, Online Posting to Yahoo Answers. Web. 4 Dec. 2012. .

Parkin, Alan, Brenda Walter, and Nicola Hunkin. "Relationships between Normal Aging, Frontal Lobe Function, and Memory for Temporal and Spatial Information." Neuropsychology. 9.3 (1995): 304-312. Web. 4 Dec. 2012.

Tolar, Tisha K. "How the Human Brain Works." EzineArticles. N.p., 10 Jan. 2010. Web. 04 Dec. 2012. .

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