All of us want to improve the quality of our lives. One of the ways to do this is improve one of the most important cognitive skills we have: memory. Studying for that exam, doing grocery shopping or just learning about basically anything, it all involves us memorizing specific things. Yet memorizing something is not always that easy. Fortunately there are many ways to improve your memory, such as doing specific types of memory exercises or providing your brain with the right brain supplements. However, to understand how improving your memory works, it is important to have a basic understanding of the processes that are involved when a memory is actually formed.
One of the leading researchers on the area of memory formation is Eric Kandel, who received a Nobel Prize in 2000 for his groundbreaking research on memory formation. Since 2000, many more discoveries have been made in the area of neuroscience about memory formation. Despite this, it is still not entirely clear what exactly happens in the brain during memory formation though. This is because memory formation is an incredibly complex process involving many different reactions on a very small scale.
Nonetheless, some basic concepts are well understood and researched. According to Eric Kandel and other leading figures in the neuroscience department, our memory formations can be divided in 2 categories; one for short-term memory and on for long-term memory.
If a lasting or repeated impulse (such as the words you are trying to memorize for that test) reaches the brain, a chemical change occurs in the neurons (the basic functional unit cells in our brain). This chemical change involves synapses, long arms that conduct signals and extent from one neuron to many other neurons. One neuron can have hundreds of these synapses. If an impulse reaches a neuron, chemicals called neurotransmitters get released inside the neuron. These neurotransmitters cause the neuron to enter a facilitated Sonavel state. This enables it to receive and conduct signals and impulses more easily and quicker. So basically a repeated stimulus just causes a neuron to become more efficient, which is very important in short-term memory formation.
Then, if the impulse lasts or is repeated again at a later time, something different happens in the neuron, causing its synapses to change. This process, called synaptic plasticity, causes more synapses to attach to specific neurons. This enables the neuron to process more information even quicker. However this process is only induced when an impulse lasts long enough, as only then the required neurotransmitters are released that cause the structural change in synapses. Now the good thing is that these structural changes last a very long time, if not forever. This is how long-term memories are formed.
So the difference between short and long-term memory formation is that long-term memory formation involves an actual change in the structure of a synapse, whereas a short-term memory is formed because of the temporarily facilitated state of a neuron.
Now the above might come across as slightly complex, as that is just what brain processes are. But the interesting part is actually what we can do with such knowledge nowadays. Scientists have discovered what molecules and neurotransmitters are involved in short and long-term memory formations. With that knowledge many different brain supplements and memory supplements have been created that improve memory formation. This gives us the opportunity to benefit and improve our own memory! But of course it is important to make careful considerations when it comes to brain supplements.