The night before a big exam, every student dreams of having a high-performance memory…like that of the top student in class! So, why such great fluctuations in the human capacity to memorize information? It would seem that the difference is not only due to our capacity to retain information, but also to the brain’s ability to prevent irrelevant information from flooding the memory.
The capacity of retaining information for immediate accessibility is located in the short-term or working memory. We use short-term memory constantly to perform simple mental calculations or to recall a telephone number we must dial right away for example. Short-term memory is also important because it gives mental workspace where information can be stored while we are engaged in other pertinent tasks. This is crucial in the human learning process.
People who have a better capacity to memorize information, even when there are distractions, demonstrate greater activity in a region of the brain called “basal ganglia”, as well as in the prefrontal cortex. Their brain seems to be using a type of filter to eliminate information that is not pertinent. This discovery could help explain why our capacity to memorize information varies from one person to another. In addition, it could also prove useful in the development of new therapeutic strategies for children at grips with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Needless to say, this discovery is very interesting. However, it certainly does not mean the end of research work for scientists. It would seem that the brain does in fact contain numerous “irrelevant information filters” that are located in various parts of the brain. Here is another great puzzle for researchers to solve!