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Where Are Memories Stored?

By Dillon Wallace

You’d lose your memories if your head wasn’t attached

Every minute of every day our minds are flooded with memories – short term, long term and everything in between. Our brains are constantly bombarded by past recollections and our other senses are catalysts to spark them.


For example, how many times have you caught a whiff of something and it transported you back in time to a memory? Probably every day, whether you actively realize it or not because smell, taste, touch, sound and sight are all attached to memories. After all, they literally help shape them, along with the brain.


But when it comes to our memories, where are they stored? It’s not like there’s a USB port in the back of our head … yet. So where exactly are memories stored in the brain? Or more specifically, what areas of the brain store memories because they aren’t just stored in one part.


Explicit memories

Explicit memories contain episodic events that happened to you, as well as general facts and information, known as semantics.


To recall these different sets of explicit memories, we have to look at the three areas of the brain responsible for housing them:


  • Hippocampus – Located in the brain’s temporal lobe, it’s responsible for forming and indexing our episodic (autobiographical) memories, like the brunch you had with friends last weekend.
  • Neocortex – The largest part of the cerebral cortex, it forms the outside surface of the brain giving it that wrinkly appearance. It’s responsible for sensory perception, creation of motor commands, spatial reasoning and language.
  • Amygdala – This almond-shaped bit in the brain’s temporal lobe is responsible for attaching emotional significance (i.e. joy, shame, love, etc.) to our memories.


Implicit memories

Implicit memories are those memories that contain motor skills and functional actions. Just like explicit memories, implicit memories are stored in multiple areas of the brain, two to be exact:


  • Basal ganglia – Buried deep within the brain, these structures are responsible for a wide range of processes, including emotion, reward processing, habit creation, and basic and articulate movement and learning. Without your basal ganglia, you wouldn’t be able to learn a musical instrument, play sports or even dance.
  • Cerebellum – Located at the rear base of the brain, it’s responsible for fine-tuning our most articulate motor control, like tying a small knot, using chopsticks and other pressure sensitive acts.


Working memory

Working memory, also known as short-term working memory, is the last major form of recollection, and its primary location is in the prefrontal cortex.


Prefrontal cortex (PFC)

Part of the neocortex that sits at the front of the brain, it’s responsible for many complex cognitive functions. Furthermore, the two different sides of the PFC are responsible for varying forms of memories. The left is move affluent in verbal working memory and the right is more active in spatial working memory, like sense of direction, etc.


When it comes to memories, there’s still tons to learn and this crash course just scratches the surface of all the inner workings of the brain that make remembering even possible in the first place. But now that you know the basics, feel free to drop some brain knowledge on your friends the next time you go to brunch. “Did you guys know that the hippocampus is partly responsible for our explicit episodic memories – like remembering this breakfast right now?”


They’ll be impressed … Regardless, your memories are precious and they deserve to be relived again and again. Let Southtree help digitize your tapes, film, photos and audio to DVD, Thumb Drive or Digital Download. Simple and Easy.

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