What happens in your brain when you make a memory?
The creation of memories is an automatic, unconscious activity, but there is a very complex process underlying this action.
Asked by: Keith Walker, Lincoln
Memories are formed by the changing strength of connections between networks of brain cells, particularly in the hippocampus, which is found in each temporal lobe (the part of your brain near your ears). A key memory-related process is ‘long-term potentiation’, which refers to a lasting change in how strongly one neuron influences another. It’s tempting to think of memory like a recording, etched permanently into patterns of brain cells, but it’s more accurate to see it as a creative process. During recollection, earlier patterns of brain activity are re-enacted – a fragile process that leaves plenty of room for error and editing.
Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.