• Question: why can some people remember better than others?

    Asked by roisin to Enda, Jean, Tim on 22 Nov 2012.
    • Photo: Enda O'Connell

      Enda O'Connell answered on 22 Nov 2012:

      Hi Roisin,

      Memory is what we call information that we store in our brain that we can access in different ways. There are different types of memory, such as long-term where we store information we need every day e.g. people’s names, or big events that happened in the past e.g. your first day starting secondary school, as well as short-term memory such as memorising a phone number.

      Some people are better at memorising things than others, and it is thought genetics makes up about half of your ability to remember. As you can’t change the genes you’re born with, only the other half can be improved upon by rehearsal (i.e. rote learning, repetition) as well as improvements in diet, sleep, fitness and stress levels.

      There are also some learning tricks to improve your memory, such as coming up with a rhyme or associating a certain word with a certain list of things you need to memorise. Actors have lots of different techniques too for learning their lines.

      Remember, like your muscle function improves by a workout in a gym or some other sporting activity, your brain function improves with use, so keep your brain active by reading, playing music, a hobby or whatever gets you thinking!

    • Photo: Jean Bourke

      Jean Bourke answered on 23 Nov 2012:

      Memory is imperfectly understood. How well you remember something depends in part on where you have it stored, stuff in long term memory is there to stay but short term memory can become a bit fuzzy. Revision and repetition can transfer information from short to long term memory.

      Another factor in remembering information is that your brain ascribes and importance to each bit of information and makes more of an effort to remember what is important. For example you don’t remember the names of all the books on a shelf but you’ll remember ones you like or want to read as your brain thinks these are important and worth remembering.

      We come across ridiculous amounts of information everyday and if we had to remember it all we’d be overwhelmed with information. Some people are able to memorize phonebooks or loads of random numbers. Sometimes this is because they have trained themselves to do so but their brains ability to sift through information to find the useful stuff may actually be a bit suppressed (consciously or unconsciously). They are of great interest to people who study brains and memory.

      Personally I find I tend to remember random interesting facts more than the stuff I’m supposed to learn to pass my exams! I guess I find them more interesting. There are many many memory tricks you can used. I find a little revision and often works well. Also when I’m trying to remember a difficult chemical process I try and relate it to a common everyday process.