How A Memory Is Formed

Let’s say you meet someone new. The first time you see her, you take it all in: the length of her hair, the sound of her voice, her scent. As you’re fumbling for an opening line, your hippocampus – a sea-horse-shaped area in your brain’s temporal lobe – has already converted all these external stimuli into a memory.

After a memory has been forged, it’s disassembled into its various sensory components, which are then distributed throughout the brain. Later, when you think of the person or happen to hear her name, see her face or smell her scent, the components are drawn together again. Unless you met her a little too close to last orders.

How Alcohol Affects Your Memory

Boozing causes temporary amnesia by interfering with the ability of your hippocampus to create memories – aka, a “blackout”. Those that aren’t lost can be hard to recall unless you start drinking again and your brain taps into something called “state-dependent” memory. “When you encode memories while in a specific state you’re more likely to remember them when you’re in that state again,” says Dr Jonathan Schooler of the University of British Columbia, Canada.

Why You Can’t Remember Being Born

You’d think something so momentous as your birth into this world might leave a mark on your memory, but chances are you can only recall back to the age of five. Why? One theory points to myelin, the protective nerve sheathing that helps with signal conduction; before age five your brain is low in myelin.

Another possible explanation is that as we learn to speak, we can no longer access memories created in our preverbal years. “With the onset of language, the way we think may change, making it impossible to reach our older memories,” says Schooler.

How Your Memory Rates Against A Mac

It’s close, but humans have the edge. For now. Our brains have about a thousand times the memory capacity of the most sophisticated computer. What’s more, our grey matter is a much more reliable storage device. Unlike computers, which store entire pieces of information in specific locations, the human brain spreads memories over many neurons.

“This means that losing a single neuron doesn’t have to affect memory performance,” says professor of computer science Dr David Leake. Just because you can’t remember something doesn’t mean it’s notlurking in your brain somewhere

How Testosterone Can Help You Remember

Research on the effects of testosterone on memory at Oregon University found men taking a testosterone-limiting drug did significantly worse in memory tasks than non-takers. “Animal studies have shown that if testosterone is entirely removed, there’s significant loss of connections between neurons,” says Dr Jeri Janowsky, co-author of the study.

Why You Lose Your Keys

It’s impossible to remember every detail of our daily lives, so our brains compensate by making memory generalizations called schemata. For example, instead of remembering every apple you’ve ever eaten, your brain creates a schema of apples: hard, red, sweet. The same thing happens with your keys. Rather than recall every instance of placing your keys on the kitchen table, you create a “keys = kitchen table” schema, so on the rare occasions you leave them on the sideboard, you’re late for work.

How To Help Your Memory

“As you age you become worse at encoding and retrieving new information, particularlyarbitrary stuff like people’s names,” says Baddeley. You can battle this brain drain with help from yoursense of sight. “Your visual sense takesup roughly 60 percent of your brain area,” says Frank Felberbaum, memory training expert and author of The Business of Memory. If you want to remember someone’s name, turn it into a visual image and link it to a prominent part of the person’s appearance – a big noseor unusual coloured eyes.

The key is to pick a facial feature that’s unlikely to change. Results not guaranteed with certain Hollywood stars and members of the Jackson family