How Remote Memory Affects Us

Updated January 02, 2019

Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Memory isn't a single aspect. It's a branching tree of terms and concepts. In this post, we'll discuss remote memory and other aspects of memory too.


What Is Remote Memory?

Remote memory is a memory from the past that could have occurred years or even decades ago. These memories are almost like chapters in your autobiography, giving you details about certain memories and events that happened to you involving certain people or an event.

This isn't to be confused with long-term memory. Some patients may believe their long-term memory works well, but they have a hard time remembering where they left their car keys. A short-term memory can be up to months old, while a remote memory takes a long time for it to become remote.

What Is Long-Term Memory?

Now, let's discuss long-term memory. Many people want to improve their long-term memory. Whether it be to remember something for a test or to learn new skills, a good long-term memory goes a long way. However, many people do not know what a long-term memory is.

A long-term memory is hypothetical in the end. There is no spot in the brain reserved for just long-term memories, but instead, there are different regions in the brain that can store long-term memories if needed. A long-term memory is what we refer to when we remember an event, and it involves different operations, such as encoding, storage, and retrieval. A long-term memory gives us information on the world and everything we need to know. If we are faced with a challenge, a relevant long-term memory will pop up and help us.

Long-Term Memory Types

There are different types of long-term memory, mainly two types: explicit memory and implicit memory.

Explicit memories, also known as declarative memory, are memories that are in our conscious mind. Meanwhile, implicit or non-declarative memories are unconscious memories. We all know the concept of the unconscious, the belief that there are hidden memories and motivations that drive you to do the actions you do.

An explicit memory will be made up of semantic memories. These are memories of knowledge and facts. Whenever you try to tell someone a cool fact you know about, that is a semantic memory. Then, there is an episodic memory. These are anecdotal memories of your own personal experiences.

As for implicit memories, there are quite a few types. First, we have the concept of procedural memory. This is when an action is required and you have a memory for it. It's quite unconscious. When we drive a car, call someone, or do other actions or skills that have been ingrained in your mind, we are performing procedural memory.

How Long Can A Long-Term Memory Last?

People have debated as to how long someone's memories can last them. A long-term memory may fade with time, but it may be stored until the end. We all know an older person who can vividly recall their childhood. On the other hand, there are people who cannot remember their past. It may depend on one's mental health. A long-term memory may disappear if there is no need for it. Or it may be repressed due to some trauma.


How Many Memories Can One Store?

No one knows how much a long-term memory can store. Some may think you can store as much information as possible, and there seems to be no end to how much they can remember. As you can see, there is a lot we don't know about the brain.

How Long Does It Take To Retrieve A Memory?

It takes about 200 milliseconds for you to retrieve a long-term memory. This is .2 seconds. Much faster than any computer! It's interesting how fast your brain processes memories.

How Does The Brain Encode Information?

Encoding is when your brain writes information into a long-term memory, transforming it into something your brain can consume. Some people may have a hard time encoding memories, but there is hope and different ways you can encode better.

Schemas, which are structures in the brain that resemble a network, are what help you store long-term information. They help you organize certain tasks and concepts in a way that's easy to follow and retrieve.

Assimilation involves us learning a new task or experience, and then connecting that experience with something we've learned in the past. It's another way we learn.

With all that said, what happens when our schemas do not fit with something new we have learned? Our brain can take those schemas and alter them until they fit. Alternatively, they use accommodation, which is when new schemas are created to compensate.

Retrieving Information

As you probably know by now, retrieval is when you recall and use your long-term memory. Sometimes, retrieval is created through cues. This is when you find a stimulus that makes you remember the information. For example, you may recall a childhood memory with your dog because you find a dog that someone is walking.


There are some psychologists in cognition who believe that if you can't remember something, it's not a problem in your brain, or because you don't have the long-term memory, but because you don't have the right stimulus in order to recall it. How many times have you recalled an old memory for the first time in a while due to a stimulus? It's odd remembering an old memory that you have had no clue that existed until now.

Then there is recognition memory. This is when you have realized that you have seen something in the past. Often, it's a better way to recall a memory. A recall involves you having to create the information you have remembered, but recognition involves a sight.

Also, what we recall has many influences and is ultimately an event you experienced restructured in your own terms. Your memory can be altered by a few factors, including:

◦ Attitude. You may recall an event in a light that is favorable towards you, even if the event involves you being at some fault.

◦ Beliefs. What you believe may influence how the memory you've recalled is.

◦ Experience. You may judge a memory in a different light based on your current experiences. You may be more critical of yourself, for example.

It's quite interesting to see just how many memories you recall that are changed from what they originally are. In the end, there's no way to travel back in time and make sure the memories you have are correct. You have only yourself or the people around you to recall it, and other people may have their own versions of the memory. Which is right? Which is wrong? It's hard to say.

How To Encode And Remember Something Better

If you want to encode a memory, you can do so by elaborative rehearsal. This is a certain strategy you use to encode your memory better. You may look at an idea and think of something related. This links the old information with the new information. You may need to think of different ideas that are related or look at some examples. There are many different ways you can go about this. One way is to look at the elaborative task. Does it match what you're trying to do? If so, it can work.


If you want to transfer something to your long-term memory, you can connect and associate something to the object. You may remember an acronym for what you're trying to learn or use other ways. You may associate the memory with someone you love, for example. There are many creative ways you can learn how to encode a memory.

Also, you can organize memories and put them into different categories to make it easier to retrieve. Think of your brain as a filing cabinet or a computer where everything is neatly organized helping you to recall something with ease.

You can learn how to improve retention through multiple sessions of study. This is why cramming is discouraged. You learn a lot through pacing yourself rather than trying to remember something in one long burst. Remember that the next time you want to procrastinate and try to put everything into one study day.

Finally, you can recall something better if you correlate it with a personal memory. Your childhood memories are recalled because something happened there, be it an emotion or an event.


Seek Help!

If you are having trouble with your long-term or remote memories, it may be worth it to see a therapist. A therapist can look at your memories and see how you can improve on encoding and recall. They can also get you to recall certain memories of your childhood. If you want to know more, find a counselor today. They can help you live a better life and help your memory.

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