CogniFit's Science blog: The Special Long-Term Memory

The Special Long-Term Memory

Oscar Wilde once said, that “memory is the diary we all carry about with us”. Our memory is indeed the essence of ourselves, who we were, who we are. Memory is such an intangible asset, that it is easily forgotten how important it is, every day. Memory isn’t just an abstract value. Our brain and our memory are not an unified structure. There are several types of memory that are stored in different regions of the brain.

One differentiation that I would like to discuss today is the difference between the so-called short-term memory and long-term memory. Both play a different role in our ability to perform the tasks for living, but they are as well interdependent.

The short term memory is considered to be the capacity of collecting and storing a small quantity of information in an active, quickly available state, for a short period of time. Short-term memory is what we remember right away after experiencing something, it can last for just a few seconds in fact (between 20 and 30 seconds), it is a temporary potentiation of neural connections.

The long-term memory is based on many short-term memories but different in the way it works, in the definition and also in the relevance it has for life. The long-term memory is the part of the memory in which associations between items are stored. The long-term memory is subject to forgetness, therefore several recalls of memory may be needed for these memories to last for years.

The importance of both types of memory to the development of our brain and our cognitive abilities is different. For one, long-term memory requires gene expression, the activation of the genes. Most people don’t know that the genes, rather than just controllers of our behavior, are also servants of the environment, of the learnings, responding to stimuli. As a result of any learning experience, the genes are activated. The long-term memory requires that activation, as it is based in neuron connections.

Another big difference between long-term and short-term memories, is the fact that the long-term memory requires the growth of new synaptic connections between the sensory neuron and the motor neuron. Typically, a human being has about 1200 of those synaptic connections, but with long-term memory this value more than doubles to an average of 2800 connections.

For this, the long-term memory is something very special and unique in our cognitive abilities, not only for everyday life but also as an enabler of cognitive development. Don't take it for granted!