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  • 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, were 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 were

  • 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 waysthrough recall, recognition,

  • and relearning.

  • And if you think about all the different kinds of tests youve taken in school, theyre

  • 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 were 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 youve 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 youre getting it in your head there.

  • Or in this case, I told you to remember that guy’s name, so maybe you were thinkingLeonidas

  • 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 repeatingLeonidas,” 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 were going to need -- like

  • I told you specifically to remember Leonidasname, you concentrated on that detail and

  • filed it away, if briefly. But of course were not conscious of Every.

  • Tiny. Thing that we take in. Yet, our working memory often transfers stuff were 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 youve 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 were 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 itll

  • 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 youre 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 thatleonmeanslionin 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. Ifif 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 Subable.com/crashcourse.

  • 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.

Clive Wearing was playing the piano alone in his room. When his wife came into the room,

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How We Make Memories - Crash Course Psychology #13

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    posted on 2014/07/03
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