Home > Common Article, Recommended For Students, Recommended For Teachers, Site Review > BRAIN, MEMORY CAPACITY, AND MYTH ABOUT LEARNING


brain capacitySometimes we’re trying really hard to learn something but we simply can’t. Our memory doesn’t want to obey us. However, sometimes we can memorize even unnecessary details. What is the reason for remembering the detailed picture of some events and forgetting about others?

Many factors influence the memory and the durability of collected information. First of all and the most needed is vigilance. That’s a state in which our brain is ready to acquire some news. In fact, concentration is also crucial. Some concentration disorders can prevent the news from reaching the long – term memory, practically stopping the process of memorizing. That’s why school lessons are not longer than 45 minutes – the scientists found out that our level of concentration lowers dramatically after about 30 minutes and further attempts to learn anything remain pointless.

The next deciding thing is whether we are interested in this particular topic we’re learning or not. When we meet somebody who is bored by his discipline, it’s certain that he suffers from the lack of motivation to do any research – however, he can spout the list of all the results achieved by his favorite team in the last season.

Emotional state of a person has also a great importance in the process of learning. The memories of some moving situations remain vivid and precise, mainly because of the presence of neurotransmitters produced by our body, like norepinephrine. Thanks to these substances we can still remember the day of our first important exam!

Last but not least, the context plays an important role in the process of memorizing. Human memory is highly contextual. The setting and the situation in which the action takes place, build a background which makes us recall the memories more easily. The color of a book in which we found a certain phrase, it’s localization on a page or maybe some pictures? All these things may facilitate the process of learning and remembering.

Many elements influence our mental abilities, our memory among others. Natural predispositions of a brain, external factors and our motivation are only few of them. We should be conscious of the ways in which the memories are born, in order to become more active and effective in the process of learning.

How to rest during studying – relaxation techniques

When you have to learn a huge amount of information, it is usually done in one, multi-hour session. However, after an hour or two, your eyes begin to close, you cannot focus on the text you are reading and it is almost impossible to memorize a single thing. This might be caused by lack of rest for the brain.

Studying and the brain

Not many people know that the brain does not process information with the same efficiency at all times. In order to get the best results it is essential to plan and organize your studying session. The brain is at its most effective during the first and the last 20 minutes of learning, which means that it would be most efficient to split the material into thematic blocks and spend 30 minutes on each of them. Between these parts, you should take a break of no less than five but no more than ten minutes, which will allow your brain to rest but will not break your concentration levels. If your goal is to gain knowledge in different areas, it would be advisable to take turns in studying the exact sciences alongside humanities.

Why do you need a break?

The brain works best when you feed it information in small portions. The break between those blocks is essential. Not only because the brain needs rest, but also because your motivation decreases when the material you are studying seems too big to cope with. The break should be used to make yourself comfortable – it is useful to apply relaxation techniques, which let us fill the time with something other than studying.

Relaxation exercises

Lying on the bed with your eyes closed can be one of the ways to help you relax – it allows your body and muscles to rest. Another idea would be to exercise outside or by an open window. This would let you take in fresh air and liven up. A more advanced technique is Jacobson’s training. It is about tightening and then loosening particular muscles. Yet another idea would be meditation, which is especially useful for those who have to study a lot and stay in a certain position for a long time. It lets your mind drift away and focus on reducing the tension in your body. Similar results can be achieved by a comparably simple method of diaphragmatic respiration. Usually only the chest is used while you breathe, which makes the respiration shallow. Using your diaphragm allows you to provide the body with an adequate amount of oxygen with which to support your brain and heart. Apart from relaxation, exercises also help you focus and concentrate on a given task, which leads us to the next important issue.


Concentration is an extremely important process, which makes studying more efficient and allows you to focus on important issues. It can happen that after resting, you feel a bit flustered and you need to do something to get back on track. One of the techniques that might be of use is purifying your mind and trying not to think of anything in particular. It is difficult at the beginning as the brain is cut out for constant processing of information, but after a while it is possible. You just need to try not to follow the random thoughts that come to you mind but rather to focus on the subject of learning.

Anyone who tells you that constant cramming is the most effective way of learning is wrong. You should find time for short breaks that allow your mind and body to regain strength. Not only will this result in the increase of efficiency but also in reducing studying time and boosting your capabilities.

Why do we need forgetting?

Forgetting – a nightmare of all students. A difficult to understand process which results in the fact that the acquired knowledge stops to be available. Why couldn’t evolution endow us with a perfect memory?

How does it happen that we forget?

There exist many scientific theories which attempt to explain the phenomenon of disappearing of some of the acquired information by our brain. The four main ones are:

The Decline Theory – similarly to any other part of our body or biological process, memory gradually weakens with age. According to this theory, we forget a given information when it is not used and recalled often enough. Proof may be found in research on memorizing words. Statistically, it’s easier to forget rarely repeated proper, whereas it’s harder to forget exclamations and interjections used in everyday conversations.

Defective Recall Theory – contrary to the previous theory, according to this theory forgetting is not a defect on the level of storing information, but a defect connected with remembering it. The inability to remember memorized knowledge is caused by an error in the way the information was coded. Each of us has found himself in a situation when he or she suddenly forget a word or a well known fact. After some time – usually on the next day, we suddenly remembered that information without much effort. \

Motivated Forgetting Theory – this psychological approach assumes the existence of unknown mechanisms which deletes or blocks traumatic experiences in the. Sigmund Freud believed that repressed unpleasant memories still function in our subconscious and influence our behavior.

Interference Theory – according to this theory there are two types of phenomena occurring in the brain which are responsible for forgetting. Retroactive interference causes new memories to delete or block the old ones. On the contrary, active interference causes old memories to block memorizing information about the world. Both active and retroactive interference help in updating our knowledge about the world and at the same time in keeping the most important information.

Why do we forget?

We tend to forget information which doesn’t refer to knowledge acquired earlier, and what doesn’t end with any action. It’s a natural and even indispensible process responsible for organizing our knowledge. Why is it essential? The answer may be found in the case described by a famous neurologist Alexander Luria.

For 30 years a researcher observed a patient who had a perfect memory. By only looking at a page of text the patient was able to remember each word of it after 15 years. Although he didn’t suffer of autism nor any other mental illness, he didn’t forget anything. The price he had to pay for this ability were enormous difficulties in estimating the importance of particular information, and in understanding the sense of a read text.

Forgetting relieves our brain by depriving it of unneeded information. Too much acquired data blocks all other activities. For this reason we have built-in defense mechanisms which allow us to memorize only the most important and necessary information and forget what is unimportant.

Facts and myths about studying

Several myths associated with the process of learning are passed on by parents and teachers. This advice, instead of being useful, can sometimes become a drawback and does not help you get good grades. Get to know facts and myths about learning in order to study effectively, efficiently and with pleasure.

Fact 1. You should study in silence or with quiet music

This is true – it has been scientifically proven that loud and quick music causes decreased concentration levels. Furthermore, if you listen to music that you are familiar with, you can easily get distracted or instinctively start jiggling around along with the rhythm and you may even find yourself singing or humming along. If you do not like studying in dead silence, it would be best to listen to a calm melody with no lyrics – for example classical baroque music or sounds from nature like warbling birds or the roar of waves.

Myth 1. Energy drinks are great help during learning

This myth is popular nowadays and energy drinks producers have been inventing more and more different beverages in order to increase sales. High school and university students are vulnerable to such temptations and keen on testing market novelties. As a result they often become a target of adverts which argue that energy drinks allow you to memorise new information more effectively. That is why it is useful to know a few facts about the products before reaching for them. Firstly, too big a dose of caffeine is very unhealthy for the body – you feel alert at first but after a couple of hours you start to lose concentration and cannot focus on studying. Secondly, such beverages contain a lot of sugar which means that although you experience an energy boost for a short while, you soon feel completely out of form. Finally you must be aware that energy drinks rinse out the magnesium and potassium from your system; both of which are essential during the studying process.

Fact 2. Tidy up before you start studying.

Although tidying up is not a popular activity, you often feel a sudden urge to do it when you have to study. It is often caused by a desire to postpone the learning process, which is considered boring and laborious. However tidying can be of benefit because it has been proven that it is easier to focus when you are surrounded by order and if the area around you is organized neatly.

Myth 2. You should not read in a dark room

It has always been said that reading in a dark room can ruin one’s eyesight. It turns out that reading in semidarkness can have a positive effect on your sight. That is because sight problems are not a result of bad light but of damage to the eyeball, which usually occurs when reading in too bright conditions. Reading in semidarkness might at first be a little inconvenient, but after a while you will notice that your eyes adjust. What is more, the semidarkness allows eyeballs to relax, which keeps your eyes healthy.

Fact 3. Studying makes you sleepy

This is partly true – it is mainly caused by the fact that your brain works very intensely while studying, using 20% of the total energy and oxygen available in your body and in the air around you. As a result, if you do not watch your diet and do not ventilate the place where you study, you begin to yawn. This is usually a sign of oxygen deficiency.

Sources: www.memoteque.com

  1. August 9, 2014 at 1:15 am

    Excellent write-up. I definitely love this site. Keep it up!

    • August 10, 2014 at 10:36 am

      Thank you for visiting. I am happy to hear that this “summary” is useful 😀
      Keep in touch!

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