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Memory and Learning

You are running late for a class, and can’t find your keys. Scheduled to take an important exam; it’ crucial that you arrive on time. You retrace your steps, but you can’t find them anywhere—oh, wait. They’re in your hand. Feeling foolish, you make it to class just in time, and begin the test. With seemingly no effort, you complete a series of questions involving complex mathematical problems. You’re feeling confident—after all, you had studied for days, determined to learn the formulas. By committing them to memory, you were able to learn these formulas, and retrieve the information at will.

Although learning and memory have unique definitions, it is impossible to separate the two. Learning is defined as a process that will modify or alter a following behavior; memory is defined as the process by which we recall past experiences or information that has been stored in our brain. Clearly, without memory there is no “proof” of our learning, and without learning there is no stored information to recall from our memory. Without memory, we would demonstrate only pre-programmed genetic reflexes and commonplace conduct.

Although it is already universally agreed that memory and learning can not exist without the other, the mechanisms leading to their co-dependence are still one of the most studied phenomena in the field of neuroscience. So, how were you able to learn complex formulas, but weren’t able to remember something as simple as where you put your keys? Memory can be classified into three categories: Short term memory (STM), long term memory (LTM), and sensory memory. Sensory memory processes outside stimuli and provokes an innate reflex: the smell of food, for example, can subconsciously bring on feelings of hunger.

Sensory memory is fleeting—lasting anywhere from a few milliseconds to one or two seconds— and is considered one of the necessary components of perception. Because of its fleeting quality, sensory memory is the first step to the use of STM. We use our STM to recognize daily occurances. We may hear the ringing of a telephone and understand it for what it is, or recognize a passing face in the crowd. STM has limited room, and typically can hold seven or less bits of information at a time. Our STM can be interrupted by distractions and usually lasts anywhere between a few seconds and several hours.

Thus, it can be very easy to forget where you put your keys. (A Brief Introduction the Brain, 1). LTM stores significant information and is unlimited. It can last indefinitely. Events and information become part of our LTM by way of constant re-occurrence or intent studying. LTM can be either declarative, or implicit. Declarative memories are things you can express in words; reciting those mathematical equations, for example. Implicit memory aids us in the things we do by rote, that are expressed wordlessly, such as “motor memories”: riding a bike, brushing your teeth, etc. (Memory and Learning, 2).

Although both classified as LTM, declarative and implicit memory act independently of each other, as demonstrated in study of the brain: declarative memory relies on the cerebrum and hippocampus, and implicit memory involves the cerebellum. Memory causes alterations to occur in the brain. Memories are stored in the synapse, where nerve cells exchange information. Changes in synapse plasticity determine if incoming information is stored in our STM or LTM. In order to create new neuron connections, our synapses must be pliable and be able to initiate functional changes indefinitely.

It has been said that learning is a life-long process. This is true: whether we intentionally study facts and figures, or are naturally exposed to constant experience, the brain just keeps on storing memories, with or without your help. “Brain Plasticity: What is it? ” Neuroscience for Kids. 28 April 2009 http://www. faculty. washington. edu/chudler/plast. html Chamberlain, David. 1995. “Prenatal Memory and Learning. ” Life Before Birth. 28 April 2009 http://www. birthpsychology. com/lifebefore/earlymem. html “Learning. ” A Brief Introduction to the Brain. 28 April 2009 http://www. ifc.

unam. mx/Brain/learning. htm. “Learning and Memory. ” 2000. The National Academy of Sciences. 28 April 2009 http://pnas. org/content/97/23/12403. full “Memory” A Brief Introduction to the Brain. 28 April 2009 http://www. ifc. unam. mx/Brain/memory. htm “Memory and Learning. ” The Brain From Top to Bottom 28 April 2009 http://thebrain. mcgill. ca/flash/d/d_07/d_p/d_07_p_tra/d_07_p_tra/html/ Rohatgi, Ruchi. 2008. “Learning and Memory. ” Serendip. 28 April 2009 http:www. serendip. brynmawr. edu/exchange/node/1681 Woolfolk, Anita. Educational Psychology. 7th ed. Boston:: Allyn and Bacon 1998.

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