The 5 stages of remembering

Image credit: Future PLC/ © Illustration by Nicholas Forder

1. Sensing

The very beginning of the memory-making process involves the exposure to surrounding scenes and situations. Various sights and sounds are experienced by your senses.

2. Encoding

With the sensory information passed to the brain, the volume and complexity is too great to process. Our brain selectively chooses aspects. Close attention is paid to unusual events, while encoded everyday occurrences are less likely to be replayed later in a memory.

3. Consolidation

To deep-root these memories in the brain, consolidation is essential. By putting the encoded experience together into a stable, long-term memory, this process strengthens signals between neurons in the brain required for recall.

4. Storage

After being consolidated into a memory, it needs to be stored within the brain where it can be easily accessed. The full memory is not stored, however. Memory traces are stored to serve more like an aid, prompting our brains to reconstruct events as we experienced them as accurately as possible using the selected aspects encoded.

5. Retrieval

Thousands of events can be stored as memory traces, but these are useless if irretrievable. While most memories will never be used, some can be brought forward using retrieval cues. A song you heard could trigger a memory trace. When we think back to a time, relevant memories surrounding this can also be retrieved. Once the memory trace is activated, it is more likely to be reactivated in the future.


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