The Human Brain and the Ability to Generate Memories

By Vigen Tumoyan

The human brain is a complex neural network with countless abilities. An important part of the human brain is the ability to formulate memories. Additionally, sleep is an important state that is vital for adequate brain performance, such as memory formations. Individuals who generally receive low hours of sleep perform poorly the following day on various tasks, especially memory tests. Thomas et al. states, “Problematic sleep can be detrimental to the development of important cognitive functions, such as working memory, and may have the potential for negative consequences” (2014). In other words, sleep is required nightly for adequate daytime functioning and maintaining proper neural functioning. Receiving low hours of sleep and experiencing sleep problems can often correlate with poor mental performances, such as forgetfulness, absentmindedness, and/or misattribution.

Previous research examined that sleep showed an improvement of the consolidation for emotional memories (Menz et al., 2013). In other words, hours of sleep and emotions together interacted with recall memory in a significant manner. To explain, participants who were sleep deprived had difficulty remembering emotional stimuli compared to participants who had greater amounts of sleep the night before taking a memory test. That is to say, individuals who receive adequate hours of sleep will demonstrate more powerful brain performances, such as remembering and recalling events from one’s memory.

The current study examined the relationship between hours slept and the possible impact on memory. The present study was designed to investigate whether sleeping 8-9 hours and/or reaching stage 4 of sleep would impact one’s memories, either positively or negatively. The hypothesis of this study is that individuals who sleep more (8-9 hours) will recall more words from their short-term memory the following day compared to participants who sleep less (0-6 hours).

The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of the independent variable, sleep, and it’s interaction with the dependent variable, memory. Individuals who received 8-9 hours of sleep obtained higher memory scores than individuals who only had 0-6 hours of sleep. Also, sleeping 8-9 hours and/or reaching stage 4 of sleep elicited greater abilities to recall words compared to sleeping 0-6 hours and/or reaching other stages of sleep (Stage 1 or 2). It is evident that the longer a person sleeps, the better their chances of getting into the deeper stages of sleep, ultimately aiding their ability to perform well in tasks that require mental performances, such as remembering events, information, facts, faces, et cetera.

One may agree the brain of animal, especially human beings, is a fascinating organ with multiple functions occurring simultaneously. An important area of the brain is the limbic system where the hippocampus is located. The hippocampus is a small but vital brain structure that is heavily involved in the consolidation of short-term memories into long-term memories. The hippocampus assists in solidifying memories and without this structure it would be impossible to formulate new memories. It is apparent that when the hippocampus is damaged in patients, anterograde amnesia is possible to occur - where short-term memory formulation suffers immensely. More often than not, long-term memory does not become harmed when the hippocampus is damaged. This reveals that cognitive abilities, such as long-term memories are stored in different parts of the brain - in this respect, memories have already become mental representations, therefore they are unharmed.

The brain should be viewed as an information-processing model, a computer science metaphor, if you may - one with an input device system, such as a scanner, it has a central processing unit, such as a hard drive, and a source of output, such as the speaker or screen. The human brain works similarly to this model, where we also have input devices, such as eyes, ears, or taste, a central processing unit that encodes and stores memories, such as the different brain structures and the brain itself, also having the ability to retrieve memories via an output source. All in all, the human brain produces memories; that is to say, memory processes should be viewed as brain processes. Also, the electrophysiological events that occur in the brain during sleep ultimately facilitate memory formulation.

References

1. Thomas, A.G., Monahan, K.C., et al., (2014). Sleep Problems Across Development: A Pathway to Adolescent Risk Taking Through Working Memory. Springer Science, (2014), 1.

2. Menz, M.M., Rihm, J.S., Salari, N., et al., (2013). The role of sleep and sleep deprivation in consolidating fear memories. NeuroImage, 75(2013), 87-96.