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10 Incredible Facts about Human Memory

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By Olivia Harlow

Isn’t it weird how you can remember, in vivid detail, small anecdotes from your childhood, such as riding your bike for the first time without training wheels or busting your chin open while attempting to roller blade during your 10th birthday party? And on the flipside, isn’t it frustrating that other, arguably more important things, like remembering to call your mom or digging up answers for an exam sometimes seem so difficult?

Our brains are pretty weird, which inevitably means our memories are as well.

Here are 10 fascinating facts about the ways the human brain remembers (and how it doesn’t):

  1. There’s virtually no limit to what your brain can remember. It might seem strange given how many things seemingly go in one ear and out the other, but the brain’s storage capacity is actually pretty dang astounding. In fact, it can store about 2.5 petabytes of data. That’s synonymous with 2,500,000 gigabytes or about 300 years worth of trashy television. 
  2. Almost forgetting something makes you more likely to remember it. Had a thought on the tip or your tongue but it slipped away momentarily? Well, once you have your Aha! moment, it’s there to stay. 
  3. The human brain has about one billion neurons inside of it, with each one capable of creating 1,000 connections to other neurons. That’s a lot of potential memories! 
  4. You might not remember what your mom’s womb looked like, but science shows memories can begin as early as five months before birth! This is why some parents try to argue less and play more of their favorite music tracks whilst pregnant. (Who knows, maybe the kiddo will enter the world with Jimi Hendrix lyrics on lockdown!) 
  5. Over time, you might lie, whether you mean to or not. It can become difficult to recall in detailed accuracy what did or did not happen in the past. So, even if you feel certain you were wearing a pink hat when Aunt Bertha slipped and fell at a disco in 1993, it’s very possible you were wearing blue, and that it was Aunt Lily who fell down. It was also 1995, not ’93, by the way. 
  6. When you forget something easily, it’s probably because the data was stored in your short-term memory — also known as “working memory.” Studies show that on average, you can only remember about four pieces of information at any given time. The max is seven, hence the number of digits in U.S. telephone numbers.
  7. Want to know why cramming for an exam doesn’t work out so well? Read the above fact. To memorize facts and theories, it’s best to space out information so that the ideas move from short-term to long-term memory.
  8. The Internet is making you stupid. When you’re able to access information with a quick Google search, you’re much less likely to remember it than if you had gone to the library like Mom and Pops did back in the day. 
  9. Memories are scattered all over the brain. The hippocampus, in particular, is responsible for long-term memories. Interestingly, the emotions linked to those memories are stored in the amygdala. 
  10. Speaking of emotions… they play a huge role in how memories are stored. The brain automatically prioritizes information based on its emotional intensity. So, if you meet someone who makes you feel strongly — in a good or bad way — chances are you’ll remember what they say and how they act much more than you would someone who bores you. 

So there you have it. Your brain is a strange blob of gray gunk with immense power. Reflect on the big picture, as well as the silly day-to-day details that you might forget tomorrow. Any memory – here or gone – is a pretty magical thing. Cling to them while you can, and consider helping your brain out by digitizing some of those memories trapped on analog media. 

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