How We Make Memories: Crash Course Psychology #13
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How We Make Memories: Crash Course Psychology #13

Clive Wearing was playing the piano alone
in his room. When his wife came into the room, he immediately leapt up and embraced her with
joyful enthusiasm. A minute later, she slipped out to grab a
glass of water, and when she returned, he gave her that same bright greeting, as if
she’d been gone for days. And then he did again. And again. Clive was an accomplished London musician,
until, in 1985 at the age 47, he contracted a rare Herpes encephalitis virus that ravaged
his central nervous system. Since then he’s been unable to remember almost any of his
past, or to make any new memories. His wife is the only person he recognizes,
but he can never recall the last time he saw her. This may be the most profound case of
extreme and chronic amnesia ever recorded. Our memory helps make us who we are. Whether
recognizing loved ones, recalling past joys, or just remembering how to, like, walk and
talk and fry an egg, memory is the chain that connects our past to our present. If it breaks, we’re left untethered, incapable
of leaving the present moment, and unable to embrace the future. But memory isn’t an all or nothing thing,
of course. Wearing can’t remember any details about
his personal past, but he still remembers how to speak English, get dressed, and play
the piano. Some memories you process automatically, and
they are stored differently than your more personal or factual memories, like, your first
kiss, or how to recite pi to twelve places, or who won the Peloponnesian War. Speaking of ancient Greeks — and to help
demonstrate what I’m talking about — I want you to have a look at our Spartan friend
here, and remember his name. ‘Cause we’re gonna test your memory in just minute. [INTRO] Technically, memory is learning that has persisted
over time — information that has been stored and, in many cases, can be recalled. Except of course during the exam! Our memories are typically accessed in three
different ways — through recall, recognition, and relearning. And if you think about all the different kinds
of tests you’ve taken in school, they’re all actually designed to size up how you access
stored information in these ways. Like, recall is how you reach back in your
mind and bring up information, just as you do in fill-in-the-blank tests. So if i say, BLANK is the capital of Greece,
your brain would hopefully recall the answer as Athens. Recognition, meanwhile, is more like a multiple-choice
test — you only need identify old information when presented with it.
As in: which of the following was NOT an ancient city in Greece: Athens, Marathon, Pompeii,
or Sparta. And relearning is sort of like refreshing
or reinforcing old information. So when you study for a final exam, you relearn things
you half-forgot more easily than you did when you were first learning them, like, say, a
basic timeline of the Greek empire. But how? How does all of that data that we’re
exposed to, all the time, every day, become memory? Well, in the late 1960s, American psychologists
Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin figured out enough about the process of memory-formation
to break it down into three stages: First, it’s first encoded into brain, then
stored for future use, and then eventually retrieved. Sounds simple, but by now you’ve figured
out that, just because you take a lot of stuff about your mind for granted, that doesn’t
mean it isn’t complicated. By Atkinson and Shiffrin’s model, we first
record things we want to remember as an immediate, but fleeting, sensory memory.
Think back to the image I showed you a minute ago. Do you remember his name?
If you do it’s because you successfully managed to shuffle it into your short-term
memory, where you probably encoded it through rehearsal.
This is how you briefly remember something like a password or phone number– hey Tommy,
what’s Jenny’s number? Okay. 867-5309…867-5309… 8-6-7-5-3… see you’re getting it in your
head there. Or in this case, I told you to remember that
guy’s name, so maybe you were thinking “Leonidas” repeatedly over and over, even if you didn’t
think you were doing it. But this information really only stays in
your short-term memory for under thirty seconds without a lot of rehearsal. So if you weren’t
repeating “Leonidas,” you’d probably have
forgotten it already. Because your mind, amazing as it is, can really
only hold between four to seven distinct bits of information at a time–at which point,
the memory either decays, or gets transferred into long-term memory.
Long-term memory is like your brain’s durable and ridiculously spacious storage unit, holding
all your knowledge, skills, and experiences. Now, since the days of Atkinson and Shiffrin,
psychologists have recognized that the classical definition of short-term memory didn’t really
capture all of the processes involved in the transfer of information to your long-term
memory. I mean, it’s more than just being able to
remember some Greek guy’s name. So later generations of psychologists revisited the
whole idea of short-term memory and updated it to the more comprehensive concept of working
memory. Working memory involves all the ways that
we take short-term information and stash it in our long-term stores. And increasingly,
we think of it as involving both explicit and implicit processes.
When we store information consciously and actively, that’s an explicit process. We
make the most of this aspect of working memory when we study, for instance, so that we can
know that Athens is the capital of Greece, and that Pompeii was a Roman town, and not
a Greek one. This is how we capture facts and knowledge
that we think we’re going to need — like I told you specifically to remember Leonidas’
name, you concentrated on that detail and filed it away, if briefly.
But of course we’re not conscious of Every. Tiny. Thing that we take in. Yet, our working
memory often transfers stuff we’re not aware of to long-term storage. We call that an implicit
process, the kind you don’t have to actively concentrate on.
A good example might be classically conditioned associations, like, if you get all sweaty
and nervous at the dentist because you had a root canal last year.
You don’t need to pull up that file on the last time you got your face drilled to think
oh hey, oral surgery! Not my favorite! Instead, implicit processes cover all that stuff automatically.
This kind of automatic processing is hard to shut off– unless you’ve got something
unusual going on in your brain, you may not have much choice but to learn this way, like
how you learned how to not put your hand into a fire. That learning would have happened
pretty much automatically as soon as you first yanked your hand away from an open flame.
Whether things are lodged in there explicitly or implicitly, or both, there are also different
kinds of long-term memory. For instance, procedural memory refers to how we remember to do things
— like riding a bike or reading – it’s effortful to learn at first, but eventually
you can do it without thinking about it. Long-term memory can also be episodic, tied
to specific episodes of your life — like “remember that time that Bernice fell out
of her chair in chemistry lab and started laughing uncontrollably?” Man, good times.
There are other types of long-term memory, too, and we’re continually learning more
about the biology and psychology of the whole complex phenomenon.
For instance, while Clive Wearing’s episodic memories (among others) seem to be deeply
affected, his procedural memories for things seems to be in one piece.
This has to do with neuroanatomy that we don’t have time to explore here, and that we don’t
yet fully understand — Wearing and others have a lot to teach us about the different
types of long-term memory storage. Now, for healthy memories, there are lots
of little tricks you can use to help remember information. Mnemonics, for one, help with
memorization, and I’m sure you know a few that take the form of acronyms–ROY G. BIV
for the colors of the rainbow, for instance. Mnemonics work in part by organizing items
into familiar, manageable units, in a process called chunking. For example, it may be hard
to recall a seven-digit number, but it’ll be easier to commit it to memory in the rhythm
of a phone number: 867-5309. Or you could just, you know, write a song about it.
Strategies like mnemonics and chunking can help you with explicit processing, but how
well you retain your data can depend on how deep you dig through the different levels
of processing. Shallow processing, for instance, lets you
encode information on really basic auditory or visual levels, based on the sound, structure
or appearance of a word. So if you’re trying to commit the name Leonidas
to your explicit memory, using shallow processing you might encode the word by recalling the
cool font you saw it in. But to really retain that information, you’d
want to activate your deep processing, which encodes semantically, based on actual meaning
associated with the word. In this case, you might remember the story of the mega-tough
yet very scantily clad warrior of ancient Greece. Or you might remember that “leon”
means “lion” in Greek, that lions are tough fighters, and that Leonidas was a tough
Spartan warrior-king. And then to really, really make it stick,
you want to connect it to something meaningful or related to your own personal, emotional
experience. Like maybe Gerard Butler’s bronzed eight-pack torso and unconquerable blood-lust
helped lock down the words Spartan and Leonidas in your forever memory. I mean, maybe. If … if that helps you.
In the end, how much information you encode and remember depends on both the time you
took to learn it and how you made it personally relevant to YOU.
Memory is extremely powerful. It’s constantly shaping and reshaping your brain, your life,
and your identity. Clive Wearing is still himself on the outside, but in his inability
to recall who he was, or process what has happened, he has lost some critically important
part of himself. Our memories may haunt us or sustain us, but
either way, they define us. Without them, we are left to wander alone in the dark.
If you were committing this lesson to memory, you learned about how we encode and store
memory, the difference between implicit automatic and effortful explicit processing, how shallow
and deep processing work, and a few types of long-term storage.
Thanks for watching, especially to our Subbable subscribers, who make this whole channel possible.
If you’d like to sponsor an episode of Crash Course, get a special Laptop Decal, or even
be animated into an upcoming episode, just go to This episode was written by Kathleen Yale,
edited by Blake de Pastino, and our consultant is Dr. Ranjit Bhagwat. Our director and editor
is Nicholas Jenkins, the script supervisor is Michael Aranda, who’s also our sound
designer, and the graphics team is Thought Café.

About Ralph Robinson

Read All Posts By Ralph Robinson

100 thoughts on “How We Make Memories: Crash Course Psychology #13

  1. But it's important to remember that every time you access a memory, it gets modified slightly. If you do it enough times, you can be left with entirely false memories. Which is why it's important to store your memories in a medium where they can't be modified. If only we had pensieves. 😛

  2. I went on a holiday to New Zealand for 2 weeks in April. I know that because I have documents saying so and I have a passport. If I didn't wear a necklace that I bought somewhere whilst there, I probably wouldn't remember the trip at all.
    I have a 4 year old son and I love him more than anything, but sometimes recalling his birthday is difficult.
    Some time last year, I had my memory tested and my working memory was in either the 13th or the 17th percentile among people my age. I'm 24. My first memory was at age 8 when I was told my mother was in the ICU. Even now it's hard to recall much else about that moment.
    I make fun of my memory all the time and so does everyone else, but it's a huge struggle when you can barely remember who you are and the moments you've lived

  3. Did Alicia Silverstone write this? It is truly Clueless. It is filled with logical incoherence and conceptual inanity (courtesy of academic psychology).

    But, then again, academic psychology is not engaged in the debate "Is it a science?" It actually is engaged in the debate "Should it be a science (assuming it could attain that status")?

    One of MANY examples:
    Memory, according to this video, is encoding, storage and retrieval! Ugh. That describes virtually EVERY mental state we are capable of having (belief, plans, characteristics, knowledge, attitudes…). Ergo — memory is a totally meaningless designation (e.g., Whithead — any term that explains everything explains nothing).

    And this video has @ 2M viewers. What a sad sad fact.

  4. I watch so many of these crash course videos on many subjects, but this one has me thinking, " how is this guy so smart?" Does he really know what he's talking about or just reading a script? It seems like all these subjects are so easy and monotonous to him. lol

  5. whenever my parents tell me to remember something, i usually forget, but when it comes to unimportant things, i remember them all, weird

  6. But what if I’m chasing a killer and I shoot my friend whom I was made at and I don’t know whether I thought he was the killer or if I was just really really mad at him?

  7. Memory is extremely powerful – It can shape our identities and our lives. This crash course covers some psychological models of memory. It covers concepts such as rehearsal, working memory, shallow processing, and deep processing. I often use deep processing, and I rarely use shallow processing.

  8. For this entire time I was so confused as to why he said his name was Hank. I remember John Green and not until this very moment have I looked it up and seen that the person here conducting this phycology course is John greens brother Hank Green. 👌🏻 wonderful

  9. The aviation instructor hand book say you can remember 5-9 bits of info. So about 7 bits of info. Like a 7 digit phone number

  10. Okay this vid literally saved me I have to write three paragraphs for my science fair and my topic is false memories and one of the sections is how we make memories and I lost all of my notes and I’m currently thanking god for this

  11. This is why we don't remember anything after school, because the information is not meaninful. Why? Because curriculum is mandatory up until college or trade school. Phuck school

  12. Yay!! Spirited Away! I subscribed after I saw him just peek his head up over the back of the seat. It's my favorite anime movie. This channel is the right kind of nerdy. 😀

  13. I don't think working memory is involved in classical conditioning. This is because working memory is involved with information processing. Reflex actions and involuntary reactions does not involve any type of information processing in any way.

  14. Why does everyone insist on leaving the thumbs up or down at 69 or 420? I'm the one who just broke the 420 on this one.

  15. My thoughts on auditory projections, The mind is capable of projecting sounds as external and also capable of projecting sounds as internal, and also capable of confusing external and internal sounds, this has been cellf proven, To an extent, To confirm this on my behalf I would need more information or studying. What the mind is capable of doing is hearing a imagined sound and than is able to focus that sound as being internally created while being able to focus that sound being externally created, That’s where the confusion happens, focus is what defines where sound comes from, it is complex, the mind is a projection of thoughts, it is interesting to say well when we were born we had thoughts or did we? Because when we were born we came into life not being able to speak, the only term I would be able to make sense of with a baby having thoughts is when the baby is first born the only sense of communication with it Cellf, would be the assumption as being derived from the imagination, thus creating it self as a cycle of images forming communication with it self, Creating the imagination the observance of those images creating thoughts creating speech – Desmond Steinmetz, Auditory sound is imaginative sound – Thus We Are One, there is no duality only projections of duality, everything is a projection, this means anything can be projected as anything.

  16. I love these videos, however, does anyone hear the snoring in the background if you listen on headphones? or is it just me….

  17. According to Toyota forward thinking ,memory is the reconstruction of the neurologic pathways in our mind.According to me ,mirrored neurons reflect,memory looks foggy because of the neurological reconstruction,reality has a high definition because of sequenced proccessing.

  18. I'm confused on why you said that the working memory is a newer take on the short term memory and then said that explicit memory and implicit is a part of the working memory when in actuality explicit memory and implicit is a part of the long term memory.

  19. Wasnt hard for me to remember Leonidas cause that's my dad's name.. I never thought anyone else had his name.. I thought my grandmother made it up

  20. I had a head injury at age 13. "Our memories are may haunt us or sustain us but either way, they define us. Without them we are left to wander alone in the dark." When you said this, a chord was struck in my soul. I know the despair of being alone in the hospital wondering if I would ever see anyone I loved again. In reality, My Mother spent most of her hours during those 4 months at my bed side. I was told many people visited. Although I am able to recall very few visitors. Having been cute and popular at my Highschool, I had many gifts left to verify that in fact, I had a plethora of visitors. But my reality was and still is that I essentially spent 4 months alone.

    Christine Ming

  21. Does anyone else look our for little cartoons in the background of these videos or is it just me??

  22. Slow down, your teaching like a speed train, no pauses no time to store what your saying. I now have no memory of what you said 😂

  23. I watched the first 2 min of this video yesterday evening, then my mom came home and I decided I was too tired to continue so I’d watch it tomorrow. 12 hours later I watched from where I left off and I still remembered the guy’s name… memory is weird

  24. Someone can explain for me about word: mega-tough on 8:05. i really don't understand what that's mean .. Thanks so much.

  25. OMG you speak so fast i am not a native speaker and i have to play someparts again and again and again😬
    but anyways it was great and informative ❤

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