Human memory is the ability to keep a mental record of
earlier experiences. Basically, memory is learning. Every
person learns a great many things. For example, a person
may learn to ride a bicycle. This is a skill. Or he/she may
learn the names of all the Presidents of the United States.
This is a verbal response. He/she also may learn to be
afraid of snakes. This is an emotional response. A person
may remember some skills, verbal responses, and emotional
responses all his/her life. Verbal responses are usually
forgotten more easily than are skills or emotional
Psychologists use three methods to determine how much a
person remembers. These methods are: (1) recall, (2)
recognition, and (3) relearning.
The most natural way to find out how much a person
remembers of a familiar item such as a grocery list for
example, is to ask him/her what he/she remembers. This is
called the method of recall. Another method, called
recognition, is to ask the person to separate items on the
original list from items that were not on the list. Usually
a person will be able to recognize much material that
he/she cannot recall. However, he/she will not be able to
recall material that he/she cannot recognize. A third
method of determining how much a person remembers is called
the method of relearning. Here the individual is asked to
relearn the original list. He/she will probably learn the
list the second time faster than he/she did the first time.
The difference in the time it takes to relearn the list is
considered a measure of how much has been remembered.
Teachers and psychologist have differed widely in their
opinions about the value of memorizing. But they generally
agree there is little use in memorizing things that have no
particular meaning for the person who memorizes them. A
child should not be encouraged to learn facts in the
language of a textbook and repeat them word for word. It is
much more important for him/her to understand the meaning
of what he/she is learning, and to use facts to connect new
knowledge with things he/she has learned previously.
A reliable memory is very important to success in life that
people have spent much time inventing ways of improving the
memory. The art of strengthening the memory by using
certain formal or mechanical methods of remembering is
called mnemonics. Mnemonics tries to make remembering easy
by using various kind of tricks or associations.
Some persons have excellent memories, and others have poor
memories. However, certain general statements can be made
about the memories of most persons. Memory tends to improve
up to the time of maturity. After that, there may be a very
gradual decline in the ability to remember things.
Furthermore, the higher the person's intelligence, the
better the person will be able to remember.
Most of the secrets of how the brain works remain hidden.
Nerve impulse messages can be traced electrically, but how
are they translated into what is felt, seen, and heard?
What happens in the brain during learning that leaves a
permanent trace recalled in memories? How does the brain
form symbols, such as words and mathematical formulas and
use them to solve complicated problems? How does the brain
make judgments, decisions, and plans for future actions?
Scientists still do not know the answers to such questions.