The Neuropsychology of Memory: Brain Structures and Memory Encoding, Storage, and Retrieval

1. Introduction: Memory as a Biopsychology Area

Memory is often viewed as one of the core cognitive functions, and it is essential for our everyday lives. As such, it is not surprising that memory has been extensively studied in psychology and other disciplines. In recent years, there has been an increasing trend in the use of brain imaging techniques to study memory and its underlying neural mechanisms. These techniques have allowed researchers to investigate the relationship between brain activity and memory performance in both healthy individuals and those with memory impairments.

The aim of this paper is to review the literature on human memory from a biopsychological perspective. First, we will define what is meant by memory and discuss its basic functions. Next, we will describe how memories are encoded, stored, and retrieved from our long-term memory store. We will then consider some of the major models of human memory, including the Atkinson-Shiffrin model and Baddeley’s working memory model. Following this, we will review the evidence for the role of specific brain structures in memory encoding, storage, and retrieval. Finally, we will discuss some common types of memory disorders and their potential causes.

2. What is Memory?

From a psychological perspective, memory can be defined as “the mental process of acquiring, storing, and subsequently retrieving information” (Willingham, 2007, p. 5). It is important to note that memories are not static entities; they can change over time due to things like forgetting or interference from other information (Willingham, 2007). Memories can also be influenced by our current beliefs and emotions; for example, people often mistakenly remember events that never actually happened if they fit with their existing beliefs (e.g., Loftus & Pickrell, 1995).

3. Functions of Memory

One of the most important functions of memory is to allow us to remember past events so that we can learn from them. This type of learning is known as declarative or explicit learning because it involves conscious awareness of what is being learned (Squire, 1992). For example, if you have ever been stung by a bee, you will likely remember this event and avoid bees in the future so that you do not get stung again. Another important function of memory is known as priming, which refers to the influence that past experiences have on our current perceptions and behaviour (Tulving & Schacter, 1990). For instance, if you have ever had a bad experience with a particular type of food, you may be less likely to eat it again in the future because your previous experience has ‘primed’ you to expect it to taste bad.

4. Memory Mechanisms: Sensory Memory, Short-Term Memory, and Long-Term Memory

Different types of information are processed by different parts of the brain and stored in different types of memory stores. The first stage of processing occurs in our sensory systems (e.g., vision, hearing) where information from the outside world is converted into electrical impulses that are sent to the relevant areas of the brain (Kandel et al., 2000). This initial stage of processing is known as sensory memory and it lasts for a very brief period of time (usually just a few seconds) before the information is either forgotten or transferred into another type of memory store known as short-term memory (STM).

STM is a type of memory that can hold information for a period of seconds to minutes. It is thought to be an ‘active system’ because we have to actively keep the information in our mind in order to remember it (Kandel et al., 2000). For example, if you are given a phone number and asked to remember it for a few minutes, you will need to repeat the number to yourself several times in order to keep it in your STM. In contrast, long-term memory (LTM) is a type of memory that can store information for long periods of time, sometimes even for an entire lifetime. LTM is thought to be a ‘passive system’ because we do not have to actively keep the information in our mind in order to remember it (Kandel et al., 2000). For example, most people can remember their own phone number without having to consciously think about it.

5. Memory Storage: Encoding and Retrieval

Once information has been transferred into STM or LTM, it must be stored in a way that allows us to retrieve it at a later time. The process of storing information in memory is known as encoding and it can be defined as “the process of transforming sensory input into a form that can be entered into STM or LTM” (Willingham, 2007, p. 8). For example, if you want to remember the list of groceries you need to buy at the supermarket, you will need to encode the list into a form that can be stored in your LTM (e.g., by writing it down or saying it out loud several times). The process of retrieving information from memory is known as retrieval and it can be defined as “the process of accessing and using stored information” (Willingham, 2007, p. 8). For example, when you go to the supermarket, you will need to retrieve the list of groceries from your LTM so that you can remember what to buy.

There are two main types of retrieval: recall and recognition. Recall refers to the ability to retrieve information from memory without any external cues (e.g., being given a list of words and asked to remember them later). Recognition refers to the ability to identify items that have been previously encoded (e.g., being shown a list of words and asked to identify which ones were on the original list). Recall is generally considered to be a more difficult type of retrieval because it requires us to access the stored information without any external cues.

6. Models of Memory: Atkinson-Shiffrin Model and Baddeley’s Working Memory Model

There have been many different theories proposed to explain how human memory works, but two of the most influential are the Atkinson-Shiffrin model and Baddeley’s working memory model. The Atkinson-Shiffrin model was one of the first theories proposed and it suggests that there are three separate but interconnected types of memory: sensory memory, STM, and LTM (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968). According to this theory, information flows from sensory memory into STM and then from STM into LTM where it is stored indefinitely. This model has been widely used to explain how different types of information are processed and stored in human memory, but it has also been criticized for its lack of detail and for not taking into account the role of retrieval processes (Willingham, 2007).

The working memory model was proposed by Baddeley and Hitch in 1974 as an extension of the Atkinson-Shiffrin model. This theory suggests that there are two separate but interconnected types of STM: the phonological loop and the visuo-spatial sketchpad. The phonological loop is responsible for processing verbal information (e.g., spoken words, inner speech) and the visuo-spatial sketchpad is responsible for processing visual information (e.g., images, spatial relationships). This model has been found to be more accurate than the Atkinson-Shiffrin model in terms of its predictions about how different types of information are processed and stored in human memory (Baddeley, 2000).

7. Neuropsychology of Memory: Brain Structures and Memory Encoding, Storage, and Retrieval
The study of the relationship between brain activity and memory performance is known as neuropsychology. This area of research has revealed that there are specific brain structures that appear to be important for different stages of memory processing. For example, the hippocampus is a small structure located in the temporal lobe of the brain that is thought to be especially important for the encoding and storage of declarative or explicit memories (Squire, 1992). The evidence for this comes from studies of people with damage to the hippocampus who have difficulty forming new declarative memories but can still remember events that happened before their injury (e.g., Scoville & Milner, 1957).

The amygdala is another small structure located in the temporal lobe of the brain that appears to be important for the encoding and storage of emotional memories (LeDoux, 1996). The evidence for this comes from studies of people with damage to the amygdala who have difficulty recognising fear-related facial expressions (Adolphs et al., 1994) and from animal studies showing that removal of the amygdala impairs fear conditioning (LeDoux, 1996).

8. Memory Disorders

There are many different types of memory disorders that can affect people’s ability to remember information. Some of the most common include amnesia, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Amnesia is a type of memory impairment that can be caused by things like head injuries, psychological trauma, or substance abuse. It is characterised by a loss of memory for past events (e.g., forgetting who you are or what you did yesterday). Dementia is a general term used to describe a decline in cognitive abilities due to disease or injury. Alzheimer’s disease is a specific type of dementia that is characterised by problems with memory, language, and thinking. It is thought to be caused by changes in the brain that occur over many years (Alzheimer’s Association, 2020).

9. Conclusion: The Importance of Studying Memory

In conclusion, human memory is a complex cognitive function that is essential for our everyday lives. It is also an important area of research from a biopsychological perspective because it allows us to understand how different parts of the brain work together to support this fundamental cognitive function. There is still much we do not know about how human memory works, but researchers are making progress in understanding its underlying neural mechanisms. This knowledge will not only help us

FAQ

Human memory is the process of storing and retrieving information from the brain.

Memories can be stored in the brain by encoding them into neural connections.

Memories can be accessed and retrieved from the brain by activating the relevant neural connections.

Some potential problems with human memory include forgetting, false memories, and biases.