The Science and Psychology Behind Making Memories

The Science and Psychology Behind Making Memories

The Science Behind Making Memories

It is said that our existence is simply a collection of memories. Without memories or the ability to remember, what is the significance of life and what is our identity? Without memories, we would be hollow shells like those strewn across the beach--an empty house that was once home to love, passion, character, and experiences.

In a digital age, the memories of people are stored and broadcast in real-time across multiple archives across the internet, to reflect back on when they please. Looking back on my own blog and social media archives, I see the multiple versions of myself, the many chapters of my life. It is here at the intersection of technology and the human experience where was born.

When a loved one passes away, all we have left of their presence are the memories we have of them. Today, these memories can take the form of recollections in your brain, or as digital media: photos, videos, texts, and audio files. When stored and featured in an online memorial, we can use these fragments of their life to celebrate that life.

Psychology Behind Making Memories

What are memories?

Memory is defined as “the power or process of reproducing or recalling what has been learned and retained especially through associative mechanisms.”

Psychology Today also adds that a memory is “a record of experience for guiding future action.” The past can shape the future or the present.

Memories involve the human senses. For instance, smelling a particular perfume could remind you that it was your mother’s favorite. A song heard on your playlist could bring back memories of dancing with your high school crush. A photograph or video has the ability to figuratively transport you back in time to that exact event.

How memories are formed

Technically speaking, memories are formed when “humans process stimuli first with their sensory memory. Next, the information is transferred to short-term memory or working memory, which allows someone to mull things over and hold key information in their mind. Finally, people store past events and patterns in their long-term memory, also known as episodic or semantic memory,” according to Psychology Today.

Memories Forming

So, how are memories stored?

Memories are stored in the pre-fontal lobe, hippocampus, and amygdala areas of the brain.

According to McGill University and the Canadian Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, “The brain stores memories in two ways. Short-term memories like a possible chess move, or a hotel room number are processed in the front of the brain in a highly developed area called the pre-frontal lobe.

In simpler terms, memories are formed when we learn something using our five senses. We then archive them in our brains where they are compartmentalized. In a sense, this is the same process we use in the digital realm. We store and organize our media files in social media apps and cloud databases.

Why memories are important

Memories are important because they allow us to learn from the past, to grow, and to develop our personality and character over the years. Memories allow us to cherish other people around us, and our time with them while they are still present in our lives. Memories are important because they’re our legacy when we pass on to the next life; a legacy that will be carried on by future generations, so that they may learn the lessons we’ve learned in our lifetime. A memory is like an invaluable heirloom.

Family memories

What type of memories do we consciously try to remember and recall?

We consciously try to remember the memories that are happy, of course, but also memories that are important to us in general. Some of those memories might not be happy or exciting per se, but they are memories we cherish. Perhaps, it’s words of wisdom your grandpa told you during a fishing trip, or a deep conversation you had with a romantic partner.

We also tend to easily recall memories of wondrous and awe-inspiring moments in our lives, like the first time we visited Times Square, the pyramids of Giza, or the artworks of the Louvre. Even simple pleasures like a beautiful sunrise at the beach will leave a lasting memory on our mind long after we experienced them.

According to happiness expert Meik Wiking, we have the propensity to recall memories of first-time experiences. That is why, opines Wiking, that many autobiographies are composed mostly of memories from childhood, or during the time period between the ages of 15 and 30. There is a freshness to these memories because they leave an imprint in our mind.

This is not to say that memories after your 30s are meaningless, but rather shows the importance of making new happy memories to enrich our lives. Have you always wanted to skydive but feel you’re too old to do so? Just try it and you’re guaranteed to remember it forever the same way you’ll recall the feeling of riding a bicycle on your own for the first time.

How can memories be captured online?

Memories can be captured and archived online by storing them in a cloud database like helps individuals to consolidate their memories from multiple sources into a digital ‘memories vault’ which remains for generations to come.

However, online memorials are becoming popular as well. It may seem odd to choose something associated with death, but nowadays online memorials are becoming more focused on the celebration of life rather than just lamenting its ending.

This is not to say that it will replace Facebook and Instagram as a social media site. After all, online memorials are still sacred spaces. But in terms of archiving memories, online memorials are much safer and easier to administer than the Wild West of the social media universe.

Online memorials can offer a peaceful space to show the beautiful life of your loved one who has passed away. You can post photos, videos, blog post-style stories, and even audio recordings for others to appreciate and recall. Essentially, they are the digital versions of our memories.

digital memories

The importance of capturing memories for future generations

It is important to capture memories for future generations. These memories in the form of digital media and text can teach others about a loved one’s life, what they’ve experienced, and the lessons those experiences have produced. Looking back at my aunt’s cooking videos, I was able to learn her secret recipe, which I could then share with my own children and their children. That is the power of the internet and online memorials make it easier for us to archive those memories and, more importantly, to share them.