A couple of times, I’ve had to answer the question of how to retain information when we read. My simple answer has always been to enjoy whatever it is you are studying. But this only makes me sound like a preacher, right? Well, let’s see a bit of the scientific sense in my “simple answer.”

So, where should we begin our story?

Hmmm, Let’s begin with understanding how our nervous system transfers signals. But forgive me, I will try to be as simple as I can be, and only mention things that are important to this topic.

We have this delivery machinery in us, consisting of nerves that meet at synapses. When your sense organs receive information, the nerves get excited. What this means is that there is a rush of sodium ions into the nerve cell, followed shortly by the removal of potassium ions from the nerve cell. This process of entry and exit is what we call an action potential.

But how will a (presynaptic) nerve transfer this potential to a new nerve cell?

It does this by another process of entry and exit at the synaptic end. When an action potential reaches this end, it causes calcium ions from the synapse to rush into the cell. This entry of calcium will lead to the release of neurotransmitters that will excite the next nerve (postsynaptic). And the transmission continues until it reaches its destination.

However, the gates that allow calcium into the nerve cells are such that close after some time. By so doing, the excitation of the next nerve reduces until there’s almost no transmission again. We call this habituation. But you can take it as getting used to an event such that you don’t take notice of it. And hence, it doesn’t have any space in your memory bank.

What if you kept your calcium gates opened, for days, weeks, and more? Then there will be a continuous transmission. And you would have a memory of that event. But how do we keep our gates open?

At the molecular level, we keep the fire of the action potential burning. But at your conscious level, you only need to keep rehearsing the information in your mind.

Studies on invertebrates helped with understanding the molecular changes involved. First, there is a new guy, which forms another synapse with either the presynaptic or postsynaptic nerve. This new guy or nerve gets excited when there is a noxious stimulation. And then, it releases serotonin at its synaptic end.

This serotonin activates a couple of pathways that prevent the exit of potassium ions from the attached nerve. Remember, this attached nerve can be the presynaptic or postsynaptic nerve. As long as potassium stays within the cell, action potential keeps burning. And that preserves the transmission. We call this process sensitization.

Rehearsal, on the other hand, explains how many times you bring up the information in your mind. You can do this by repetitive reading, reading more on that topic, or by trying to recall everything you just finished reading. But being half-awake does not help with rehearsals. So, try to get a good sleep before reading.

Do you also know how promoted campaigns often get more conversions? More than those left to an organic fate? In the same way, you can enhance the formation of your longer-term memory by attaching emotions.

You can either be indifferent, happy, or sad when you get new information. But have you considered why it’s hard to forget the death of a relative? Or why you can’t forget the first time you got your first car? But we always forget that little thing we crammed for that paper, days after the penning down is over.

Well, the brain is a beautiful place. To create a memory, it needs a drive, a motivation. Or in molecular terms, facilitation as explained in the sensitization process mentioned above. And it gets this from the limbic system’s appreciation of rewards and punishments. In other words, if you don’t find joy or pain in that information, then your brain doesn’t get the drive to convert the event into longer-term memory.

In people with damages to their limbic system, especially the hippocampus, they develop the condition of anterograde amnesia. And thus cannot form new long-term memories.

So, my question to you is this. What if, in the same way, you were happy while driving your first car, you also enjoyed gaining new knowledge while reading?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *