The brain always changes, adjusts, and evolves as a direct and continual response to learning. Neuroplasticity is the capacity of the brain to alter itself in response to learning.
In 2000, Daniel Drubach 1 found that there are at least 2 kinds of plastic changes the brain can make as it acquires new knowledge:
- The internal structure of the neurons (nerve cells) can change, with the most important changes occurring in relation to the synapses (connections between neurons).
- The number of synapses between the neurons can increase.
In 1996, Tortora and Grabowski 2 defined learning as the ability to gain new skills and knowledge through a process of instruction or as the result of experience. Retaining those acquisitions is achieved through the process of memory.
Memory refers to the processes that are used to acquire, store, retain and later retrieve information. There are three major processes involved in memory: encoding, storage and retrieval. In 1968, Atkinson and Shiffrin 3 were the first to propose a theory that outlined three separate stages of memory:
- Sensory memory
Sensory memory is the earliest stage of memory. During this stage, sensory information emanating from the environment is stored for a very brief period of time, in general for no longer than a 0.5 second for visual information and 3 to 4 seconds for auditory information. We attend only to certain aspects of this sensory memory, allowing some of this information to pass onto the next stage.
- Short-term (‘working’) memory
Short-term memory, also known as working memory, is the information we are thinking about or are aware of right now. Short-term memory has a limited capacity and allows us to remember small amounts of information, up to about seven items, on a temporary basis. Our short-term memory is a component of the information-processing system in which new information must linger for a minimum of 20 – 30 seconds.
- Long-term memory
Long-term memory is intended for the storage of information over a longer period of time. A long-term memory can last from a minute or so to weeks or even years. Your long-term memory enables you to retrieve general information about the world as well as more specific memories of past events, or rules learned at an earlier time. The long-term memory provides the framework to which we can attach new knowledge and store larger amounts of information for longer periods of time.
Sources for this article & quotes
- The Brain Explained (2000), Drubach, Daniel, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
- Principles of Anatomy and Physiology (1996), Tortora, G. and Grabowski, S., New York: HarperCollins College Publishers
- Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes (1968), Atkinson, R.C. and Shiffrin, R.M., Chapter in ‘The psychology of learning and motivation (Volume 2)’, Spence, K.W. and Spence, J.T., New York: Academic Press. pp. 89–195