There are three steps in the overall process of memory: encoding, storage and retrieval.
EncodingEncoding begins with perception of external stimuli. These stimuli create an engram, a neurological code, which is transferred to the hippocampus which acts as a filter, deciding if memory will be committed to short term memory, long term memory, or not stored at all.
StorageStorage A memory is more likely to be transferred to our long term memory if there are existing associations already stored in our brain, as well as the emotional impact that these stimuli have on the individual. The more attention we pay to an event causes neurons to fire more rapidly, making the event more intense and increasing the likely hood of the memory to be committed to long term memory. Emotion plays a large role in the level of attention we give to an event/stimulus. If we experience something that has a strong emotional impact on us, the neural pathways created by this event will be stronger and more defined, laying the foundation for the conversion into long term memory. This in essence is what a memory is from a biological standpoint. With each memory that is stored, neurons form new connections with each other, and pre-existing connections grow stronger. The more frequently a memory is remembered the more these neural connections fire, and the stronger they become. What is interesting about this process of memory storage is that each memory does not have a specific designated location in the brain. The strengthening and synthesizing of neural connections which create memories, happen in each region of the brain which is affected by the memory.
Let’s take the example of a memorable walk on a beach with a special someone. It was years ago but you still remember the sound of the ocean, the feel of the breaking waves hitting your sand covered feet, and the intensity of the sun reflecting off the horizon. The reason you can remember all of this is because neural pathways were being created and reinforced in all of the respective regions of the brain which are responsible for these sensations. You remember the sound of the waves crashing because neurons were connected in your temporal lobe; the cool refreshing water hitting your feet was immortalized by the repetitive firing of neurons in your parietal lobe, and seeing the glaring sun strengthened connections in your occipital lobe. So every time you access this memory, whether voluntarily or not, each of the connections in there specific regions will be engaged. Now you might remember one aspect more clearly and intensely than the rest, for example, the feeling of the cold waves hitting your feet, than the sounds of the ocean. This is because more attention was paid to this engram, perhaps due to an emotional impact created by this, or even the intensity of the temperature change. So in this case the neural connections in your parietal lobe are denser for this particular memory, than the connections in your temporal lobe. Because of this method of storage it is possible to be able to recall certain aspects of an event, but not in its entirety
RetrievalRetrieval The retrieval of memory can be divided into two different types: Recognition and Recall. Recognition is a largely unconscious process which associates current stimuli with past experiences and events and forms comparisons with those memories to determine the familiarity of the object we are perceiving . The Brain has a specific region whose function is that of facial recognition in which this process takes place. Recall is a more intricate process. Recall involves actively searching for information that is not physically present through accessing our memory. When recalling a memory, all of the neurons associated with that memory are activated, whereas in recognition, only a small amount neurons are necessary to determine familiarity.