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Harvard Commentaries
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Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


How Memory Works


June 23, 2014

Memory Loss
31393
Learn The Basics
How Memory Works
How Memory Works
htmMemoryWorks
Memory functions through three steps: acquisition, consolidation and retrieval.
347126
InteliHealth
2010-02-10
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InteliHealth/Harvard Medical Content
2012-08-24

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

How Memory Works
Memory functions through three steps:
  • Acquisition
  • Consolidation
  • Retrieval
Acquisition. Before you can remember something, you first must learn the information. This is called acquisition. This acquired information is then put into temporary nerve-cell pathways in the brain. These pathways are where you store short-term memory.
Consolidation. In order for something to be placed in long-term memory, the nerve pathways have to be strengthened and reinforced. This process, called consolidation, can take weeks or even months. There are several factors that affect whether or not information will be put into long-term memory. For example, you are more likely to retain information if it relates to pre-existing memories or somehow stimulates you emotionally. Also, it doesn't hurt to have a good night's sleep, as this too helps you retain information.
Retrieval. When people retrieve information, they are literally "recalling" it from the nerve pathways. The brain reactivates a particular pathway, and information is remembered. This process can be fast or slow, depending on how familiar you are with the information and how well you learned it in the first place.

 

 

 

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