Cherish Your Memory!

By Robert Belli, Professor of Psychology, Social and Cognitive, and Neuroscience and Behavior Programs

Robert Belli
Robert Belli

One’s years in college provide challenges to students who are required to learn and retain a great deal of information to perform well in courses. Fundamentally, success in college depends on how well one remembers, which can be optimized with study techniques that increase attention and understanding of course material. Accordingly, students rely on memory for scholastic success, and in so doing, they may not fully recognize the value of everyday memory that occurs outside the realm of academic achievement. As noted by the topics below, everyday memory provides a richness and meaning to life.

Remembering the transition between childhood and adulthood

It is those years between the ages of 15 to 25 that have an advantage in being remembered best among all events that happen during life as one gets older. There is a novelty of experiences that happen between one’s childhood and the emergence of adulthood including such events as one’s first job, one’s first romantic relationship, one’s first college course, or one’s first concert experience. These first experiences help individuals recognize their transition into adulthood and begin to shape the type of person one wishes to become. First experiences, due to their novelty, are also well remembered, which explains why this period of life stands apart in memory among older adults.

Involuntary memories

You may have been walking on campus, daydreaming, and while walking by a certain building remember a funny experience in a class that you took there. Or, you may pass by a flowering tree during springtime and the scent reminds you of a similar flowering tree in your hometown. We are often flooded by these involuntary memories. They are involuntary in the sense that we are not intentionally trying to remember, these memories seemingly pop into our minds on their own. Although they occur often, involuntary memories are so fleeting that people may not know how often they occur. Most of the time, involuntary memories are of pleasant past events and they will help boost an overall positive mood. If you do not believe you have many involuntary memories, once you have any, jot down short descriptions of the events remembered, and you may find that they are very special!

Functions of autobiographical memory

In our conversations with friends, we oftentimes will share our past experiences. Such remembering of mutually experienced past experiences, or even telling friends of an experience that was uniquely one’s own, is one way in which we develop stronger friendships. Our memories also serve us by helping to better understand our current life situation through the constraints and opportunities the past has placed on us, and the direction that we would like to pursue for our future. This understanding of our current situation involves an appreciation of what typically happens to people who are members of our culture, and how our own past and current experiences are similar to and different from this typical life. We are also served by our autobiographical memories as our notion of self-continuity is aided by noting how our current self is the same and different from who we were in the past. Accordingly, conceptions we have of our current self and our future or desired self are derived from our memories!