Memory & Learning In The Brain: What's The Difference?

What is Memory?

Memory allows us to remember facts and experiences. It consists of encoding, storing information, and retrieval, making that information available for recall. When we see or experience something, it leaves a trace in our brain. The two most commonly discussed forms of memory are short and long term memory.

  • Short term memory has a limited capacity and a very brief span. It allows you to do things like quickly memorize a phone number long enough to dial it, and then the information is gone.
  • Long term memory can store information throughout a lifetime, although these memories might need occasional revisits. This is the type of memory involved in learning.

What is learning?

Learning, unlike memory, is not about storing information. Rather, learning is a behavior. Learning is about acquiring information, memory about storing it. In a way, you could say that learning is a process, and memory is the record of that process. It is intimately linked to memory, in that it is totally reliant upon memory to function, but it goes beyond harboring facts into implementation.

The Physical Underpinnings of Memory and Learning

How do memory formation and learning really work? Several changes in the brain's organization and chemistry produce memory. In particular:

  • The synthesis of certain proteins increases long term potentiating. Long term potentiating is an enhancement in the ability of two neurons to communicate with one another after repeatedly being stimulated together.
  • Neurons form more connections with each other.
  • More neurons are produced in the hippocampus, the area of the brain principally involved with memory.
  • More glial cells are created. Glial cells support the neurons of the brain.
  • Myelin production is increased. Myelin is the fatty layer of insulation that enables electrical signals to travel down neurons more quickly,
  • Capillaries grow to specific brain regions, brining in more nutrients and oxygen.

How to Improve Your Memory

  • Physical Exercise
  • Mental Exercise
  • Diet


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