Understanding Memory: How it Works and How to Improve it

Human beings store away huge quantities of information in memory. We remember countless facts about the world (e.g., birds have wings, 2+2=4, there are 26 letters in the alphabet) as well specific information about our own lives (e.g., what we had for lunch, where we went for our last vacation, our first kiss). We remember how to tie our shoes, how to ride a bike, and how to write our signature. Most of the time we retrieve information from this enormous database of memory so efficiently and effectively that we don't even give it a second thought. But how does that work? How do we store information away into memory and then retrieve exactly the information we need minutes, days, or even years later? Conversely, why do we so often forget someone's name or where we put our keys? And perhaps most importantly, is there anything we can do to improve our memory and keep it sharp?

This course will address all those questions and many more. We'll dive into the psychological and neural mechanisms that underlie our amazing ability to remember. We'll discover that we're actually equipped with multiple different memory systems that are specialized for remembering different types of information. We'll learn about factors that can have a dramatic impact on memory, such as motivation, emotion, and aging. And we'll also discuss ways to maximize our memory by applying techniques that have been scientifically demonstrated to improve retention. After taking this course, you'll have a new appreciation for the extremely powerful memory mechanisms in your own brain and a better understanding of how to use them most effectively.

About The Professor

Thad Polk / University of Michigan

Thad Polk is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan. His research combines functional imaging of the human brain with computational modeling and behavioral methods to investigate the neural architecture underlying cognition. Professor Polk regularly collaborates with scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas and at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, where he is a frequent visiting scientist. His teaching at the University of Michigan has been recognized by numerous awards, and he was listed as one of The Princeton Review's Best 300 Professors in the United States.

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