Isn’t remembering things worrying? When? Let’s find out how short-term memory works, when it is normal for something to escape our minds and when, instead, it is advisable to contact your doctor.
“What is the name of that book I read … I have the title on the tip of the tongue, but it doesn’t come to mind! Where did I leave the car keys? Did I close the front door? ” While you ask yourself these questions, and you go back to see if you have closed the door, surely one thing you remember: the saying that says “who has no good head has good legs”.
Know that there is an explanation for these small blackouts: your memory needs to forget to remember. What does it mean? We explain it to you in this article and we also tell you which, instead, are the first signs of memory lapses not to be underestimated.
Short and long term memory
We often remember exactly what happened years ago and forget the name of the person we met a few minutes earlier. Why? Because the first information is stored in long-term memory, the second in short-term memory.
Let’s try to explain ourselves better. Long-term memory is a kind of unlimited archive of our life. Here significant experiences settle, and it is always here that we find childhood memories, those that shape our personality.
Short-term memory, on the other hand, is a temporary memory that allows us to remember information for about 10 seconds. A “drawer” of short-term memory is working memory, it is she who processes information and makes us carry out daily actions with simplicity.
Here is a small example to help you understand the difference between short-term memory and working memory. Read and repeat (without looking) this sequence of numbers: 8,6,3,5.
You did it without difficulty, right? It was simple, but probably in a few minutes you will no longer remember the numeric string because this passive information was stored in your short-term memory.
Now read the sequence of numbers again (8,6,3,5), then close your eyes and repeat it, always without looking, but this time on the contrary, therefore trying to remember the last digit and then the one that precedes it, until to return to the first of the four digits. You are certainly experiencing more difficulties. It is normal: at the moment you are processing data and you are using your working memory to do it.
In summary: when information remains in short-term memory it is not processed, it does not pass into long-term memory and is therefore forgotten.
That’s why to remember a mobile number you have to dial it several times, because with this behavior you can fix the data and “pass it” in long-term memory. Short-term memory, in fact, is able to bring to mind no more than 7 information at a time. And it is precisely this information that we easily forget. But why is this happening?
Why do we forget things
We forget things because our short-term memory is not infinite. Rather! To make room for new information we must necessarily delete some more. Research from the University of Cambridge1, in fact, shows how to remember something often our mind erases something else.
We’ll give you a trivial, but practical example. You go out to buy milk and as soon as you are out of the house you remember that you must also buy dinner. You can think of a recipe that you read days ago on the web. Well, it is very likely that you will go home with the ingredients to prepare dinner (perhaps not exactly those of the original recipe), but without the milk for breakfast. And to think that you came out just for that!
This example makes us reflect on another aspect of memory: forgetting is not a passive but active act. The busy people, in fact, are the ones who easily forget things because they are constantly exposed to new stimuli and information.
Forget things: when it is time to worry
If you go shopping to buy milk and go out with the cart full of bread, pasta and vegetables, but without milk, there is no need to worry. But if while you go shopping, you feel a sense of bewilderment and you do not remember why you left the house and where you are going is the case to make an extra reflection.
It is normal for memory to lose strokes as we age, because the connections of neurons also age like the rest of the body. There are symptoms, however, which you should not underestimate. Here they are:
- Forget things more often.
- Don’t remember a loved one’s name or phone number.
- Forget words or confuse them with others.
- Start writing common words with big spelling mistakes or don’t remember how to spell them correctly
- Don’t recognize known places.
- Feeling often confused and not remembering how daily actions take place. For example, finding it difficult to cook.
- Put things in the wrong place. For example put the car keys in the shoe rack.
- Having frequent mood swings.
In all these cases it is good to consult a specialist. Memory is one of our most precious assets. You can, and must, keep it active from a young age, to live a peaceful old age full of memories.
If your problem is related to concentration in study or work, here you can find interesting techniques.