On my quest to further understand memory encoding I decided to delve into the biological processes that create memory. As an educator it’s important that I understand this process because my goal is memory retention.
There are two types of memory, implicit (the memory of recall, how to walk, spell your name) and explicit (ability to recall specific events, remembering the specific day you made cookies with your mom, for example).
Our senses provide us with a way of interpreting the world. Specifically, the sense of smell is a powerful stimulus because the olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system. The limbic system is a primitive part of the brain that controls everything from instinctive behaviors to emotion.
When you smell something those molecules floating in the air reach the nostrils and become dissolved in the mucus. Under the mucus you’ll find the olfactory epithelium, the cell membranes here contain an olfactory receptor.
When a receptor protein binds with an appropriate chemical, changes occur within the cell that produce a change in the electrical charge across the cell membrane. This is known as the action potential, a brief reversal of electric polarization of a membrane.
Electric signals are detected by the neuron and travel along the axon and across the synapse to neighboring neurons through the dendrites. The electrical signals travel to the sensory areas of the cortex and then combine in the brains hippocampus. The hippocampus determines if a memory is stored in long-term memory or not.
While a lot is unknown about memory encoding we understand that memories move from short term to long term. Information is best transferred if there is an emotional connection or repeated exposure.
Encoding information is only the first step, we must also recall memories. Human memory is associative; we recall information when we are exposed to a stimulus that activates a certain pathway of neurons.
As an educator I need to become more familiar with this process and develop a richer understanding of how information is encoded and recalled. I need to make sure that my students are prepared for information encoding. Additionally, I need to explain this process so that they can develop self-efficacy.