Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Biological Bases of Memory

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Biological Bases of Memory

You walk into your old elementary school, and the sights and smells bring back so many memories. Memories seem to pop up in our minds with little effort, but what is actually going on inside the brain? How do our brains create, store, and retrieve memories?

  • What are the biological bases of memory?

  • What are some examples of biological bases of memory?

  • What biological factors influence memory function?

  • What biological factors influence long-term memory?

  • What biological processes are involved in learning and memory?

Description of Biological Bases of Memory

Like our other biological processes, our memory relies on a network of brain and body functions to take in information from the environment, process it, store it, and later retrieve it. Where do we process memories in our brains? How do we make a memory out of something we learn or experience that bombards our senses?

There are several major biological players in the networking team of memory. We know this thanks to data from electrophysiology, neuroimaging, computational modeling, and neuropsychology. Studies from these fields show that memory is a process that happens throughout the brain, but there are specific regions that are more active in short-term or long-term memories.

The Hippocampus and the Frontal Lobes

The captains of the memory team in our brains are the hippocampus, the frontal lobe, and the temporal lobe. The hippocampus is located in the limbic system, and it is in charge of forming (but not storing) our long-term explicit memories. These explicit memories can be images, events, or names and require conscious effort for us to recall them. Both the frontal and temporal lobes work with our memory, and each lobe is in charge of different kinds of memories.

In the frontal lobe, you use your short-term memory to recall information like the name of the barista who served you coffee this morning.

Biological Bases of Memory two large hippos laying on the ground StudySmarterHIPPOcampus and Memory, pexels.com

While your hippocampus and two of your lobes are busy with your explicit memories, there are other areas of the brain that are responsible for your implicit memories. These types of memories are unconscious processes based on past experiences or learned skills and behavior that are stored in our long-term memory and require little to no effort for us to recall. Since they are based on past experiences, implicit memories can impact our current thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (such as being afraid of dogs because you were bitten as a child).

Explicit memories are not stored in the hippocampus. They go through the hippocampus for processing before moving on to long-term storage. If there is damage to the hippocampus, it causes problems with moving explicit memories like episodic memories into long-term memory.

The Cerebellum and the Basal Ganglia

Next on the networking team of memory are the cerebellum and the basal ganglia. These two areas of the brain control memories associated with classical conditioning and motor skills. The cerebellum is in charge of storing information and memories that we learn through classical conditioning. These memories and skills become unconscious reflexive responses. We use many of these every day! Damage to the cerebellum can result in severe deficiencies in basic motor skills and common tasks.

Things that we do automatically like blinking, swallowing, and breathing are controlled by the cerebellum.

Next up is the basal ganglia, which are responsible for the deep brain functions of motor skills. During procedural learning, the brain cortex sends information to the basal ganglia, and the basal ganglia store the information. Reward and punishment learning (operant conditioning) is also processed here. Remember, these are all unconscious processes or memories. Once you learn them, you never forget!

Remember learning to tie your shoes as a kid? Well, still being able to do that now is thanks to the memories stored in your basal ganglia!

The Amygdala

The emotional powerhouse of the team is the amygdala. The amygdala uses our emotions to make memories (or sensory memories). Have you noticed that times you are very angry stick in your memory vividly? The same goes for events that make you extremely happy. Hormonal changes happen during these events and impact the way the memory is processed by the amygdala.

Our memory can help protect us by forming predictions of future events based on past experiences. They are only predictions, though, and they may not be true. This is why major emotional events in our lives are more likely to be remembered than those with less emotional content. You are more likely to forget a boring event than a really fun one! The amygdala uses our emotions to form new memories and process new experiences, but it also uses old memories to inform new decisions.

Have you ever avoided a person or place because of something bad that happened? That emotional experience was processed and stored by your amygdala, and your brain uses it to form predictions about what could happen the next time you see that person or place. Many anxiety disorders and phobias involve an overreactive amygdala.

Neurotransmitters and Memory

Biologically speaking, memories are created thanks to neurotransmitters and synaptic plasticity in our brains. Synaptic plasticity is the continuous change in the amount, type, and strength of our neural connections. The strength of our neural network increases when we persistently activate certain connections. Connections that are used less often or not at all become weaker until they no longer exist.

Examples of Biological Bases of Memory

Memory formation happens constantly as we simply exist in the world. There are so many examples of how our biology impacts our memory. How we process and remember things that people tell us and things we experience through our senses are two of these processes.

It all begins with the speech input (listening to someone else talking). The noise of someone speaking to us enters the acoustic-phonetic process of the brain, also called the processing center for spoken words. When does creating a memory take place in this process? If we can make sense of the words we are hearing, they will travel to the echoic memory portion of our brains. Languages and syllables that make sense to us are processed here. What if you can't make sense of the words you hear? No memory is created!

Amnesia and Memory Loss

What happens when there is damage to our hippocampus? Does it affect our memory processes? When the hippocampus is damaged, you might experience amnesia or memory loss. There are two types of amnesia.

Anterograde amnesia is the inability to create new memories. You still remember everything from your past. Anterograde amnesia is also called short-term memory loss. Retrograde amnesia involves memory loss for a segment of the past, usually around the time of an accident (like a blow to the head). You can still create new memories, but you forget what happened during some or all of your past.

If the left side of the hippocampus is damaged, it causes problems remembering verbal information, but you can still remember visual information. If the right side is damaged, it causes the opposite!

Factors Influencing Biological Bases of Memory

Like the blow to the head we mentioned earlier, life experiences can cause problems with memory. Health problems and diseases are the primary culprits. How do they affect our memory functions, and what are the potential outcomes for memory functioning?

Depression & Memory

Those who are affected by depression may experience impairment in their memory capabilities. Most often these problems take the form of forgetfulness and confusion. Stress and depression have a huge impact on our short-term memory. Depression affects our working memory and the chemical exchanges of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. If there is a chemical disruption in our brain, it can make memory formation more difficult.

Dementia & Memory

Two other common medical issues that disrupt memory are the onset of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Many people experience dementia, regardless of culture, economic status, or gender.

Alzheimer's disease is a specific type of dementia that makes it difficult to form new memories and causes the loss of old memories.

For those with Alzheimer's, memory recall becomes very slow. Even if the brain is still storing the memories, it is difficult to access them. What the person remembers can often be inaccurate (addresses, names, etc.). Sometimes those with dementia become stressed, anxious, or angry when this happens (understandably!), which increases difficulties in memory recall even more.

In Alzheimer's disease, neurons in the brain are injured and die. When they die, the connections between networks of neurons break down. Many areas of the brain begin to shrink in size. This causes what is called brain atrophy: a widespread and significant loss of brain volume.

Why does this happen? Neurotransmitters seem to be the culprit. Remember, there are many different neurotransmitters with their own functions. In the brains of those with Alzheimer's disease, there seems to be a lack of acetylcholine (ACh). This neurotransmitter helps control muscle movements and move memories between the brain and spinal cord.

Another neurotransmitter involved in Alzheimer's disease is glutamate. It is a major excitatory neurotransmitter that helps with information processing in the cerebral cortex, including processing memories in the hippocampus. Research shows that both schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s may involve problems with glutamate receptors.

Biological Bases of Memory an elderly woman standing in her kitchen holding a tea pot StudySmarterAlzheimer's and Memory, pexels.com

Biological Bases of Learning and Memory

What if we added learning to the process of memory? How does learning and remembering what we learn work in the brain? It all begins within our neurons or brain cells. Learning happens when there is a change in the strength and number of neural pathways in the brain. This process of creating neural pathways is known as synaptic plasticity.

The more you do something or repeat information, the stronger those neural pathways become, and the less likely you are to forget those things! The less you do something or repeat information, the weaker those neural pathways become, until the brain prunes those connections entirely (gets rid of them). If you want to become really good at something, use those brain connections as much as possible!

If neuron A continuously communicates with neuron B, there is constant energy flowing through that connection. When neurons constantly communicate with each other, this is called long-term potentiation (LTP). If neuron A never talks to neuron B, no energy flows between those two connections. This is called long-term depression (LTD). The less energy that flows between two neurons, the weaker the connection becomes. The more energy that flows, the stronger the connection becomes!

Think about learning a new instrument such as the violin. The more often you practice the violin, the better you become. You might begin by practicing and remembering how to hold the violin or use the bow correctly. You move on to practicing and remembering how to play specific notes and entire songs. The more you use your new skills by practicing, the better you become!

Biological Bases of Memory a woman in a cardigan practicing a violin outside StudySmarterPracticing, pexels.com

Biological Mechanisms of Long-Term Memory

Our hippocampus is the brain's version of a save button, but it's not a permanent storage center for our memories. Instead, the hippocampus is more of a transitional storage unit for memories (smells, feelings, or sounds) that will move on later. The hippocampus also likes to work overtime. While we sleep, our hippocampus is working hard to solidify our memories. What else happens in our memory while we sleep?

If you look at a brain scan of someone who is sleeping, you will see a conversation happening in the neural connections between the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex. During sleep, our hippocampus replays memories from the day and transfers them to the cerebral cortex for storage in long-term memory.

Sleep is important for many reasons, but it is especially important in memory. When we do not get enough sleep, it can negatively affect our memory! Sleep helps maintain the plasticity of neural connections, which are super important for storing and retrieving memories. Sleep also helps with consolidation: putting together new memories from the day before with older material.

Biological Bases of Memory - Key takeaways

  • Memory relies on a network of brain and body functions to take in information from the environment, process it, store it, and later retrieve it.
  • The major players of the memory team in our brains are the hippocampus, frontal lobe, temporal lobe, cerebellum, basal ganglia, and amygdala.
  • Memories are created thanks to neurotransmitters and synaptic plasticity (continuous change in the amount, type, and strength of our neural connections).
  • Amnesia, depression, and different types of dementia all impact memory functions in the brain.
  • Learning happens when there is an increase in the strength and number of neural pathways in the brain through repeated use, and pruning happens when there is a decrease in the strength or number of neural pathways due to lack of use.

Frequently Asked Questions about Biological Bases of Memory

The biological bases of memory are a network of brain and body functions that take in information from the environment, process it, store it, and later retrieve it. 

Memories are formed biologically through the brain's hippocampus, frontal lobe, cerebellum, basal ganglia, and neuronal communication.

An example of biological bases of memory is the role of the basal ganglia in learning and performing motor skills and procedural skills. 

Biological factors that influence memory function are depression and dementia. 

The biological processes involved in learning are synaptic plasticity and long-term potentiation.

Final Biological Bases of Memory Quiz

Question

The two captains of the memory team in our brains are the ____ and ___.

Show answer

Answer

 hippocampus and the frontal lobes

Show question

Question

In the ___ frontal lobe, we would use our working memory to recall information like a name?

Show answer

Answer

left

Show question

Question

On the ___ of the frontal lobes is where our visual memory works, like bringing up an image. 

Show answer

Answer

right

Show question

Question

Our ____ is located in our limbic system and is in charge of storing our

explicit memories.

Show answer

Answer

hippocampus

Show question

Question

___ and ___ -These two areas of the brain are in control of memories associated with classical conditioning and skills.

Show answer

Answer

Cerebellum and the basal ganglia

Show question

Question

___, ___, and ___ are influences on memory.


Show answer

Answer

Depression, dementia, and Alzheimer's

Show question

Question

What are some examples of explicit memories?


Show answer

Answer

Images, events, and names


Show question

Question

What two areas of the brain are responsible for implicit memories?

Show answer

Answer

The basal ganglia and the cerebellum

Show question

Question

The cerebellum and the basal ganglia are two areas of the brain that control memories associated with ___ and ___

Show answer

Answer

classical conditioning and skills.

Show question

Question

What is the basal ganglia exclusively in charge of?

Show answer

Answer

motor skills


Show question

Question

The ___ uses our emotions and makes memories with them.

Show answer

Answer

amygdala

Show question

Question

Biologically speaking, memories are created thanks to ____ and ____  in our brains

Show answer

Answer

neurotransmitters and synaptic plasticity

Show question

Question

What are the two types of amnesia possible when there is damage to the hippocampus?


Show answer

Answer

 anterograde amnesia and retrograde amnesia 

Show question

Question

During _______, the brain cortex sends information to the basal ganglia, and the basal ganglia keep the information.

Show answer

Answer

 procedural learning

Show question

Question

True or False? Memory is a process that only happens in specific regions of the brain. 

Show answer

Answer

False. Memory is a process that happens throughout the brain, but there are specific regions that are more active in short-term or long-term memories. 

Show question

Question

Which of the following helped collect data to improve our understanding of memory?

Show answer

Answer

All of these

Show question

Question

Where is the hippocampus located?

Show answer

Answer

Limbic system

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Biological Bases of Memory quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.