Why Some Memories Stick, While Others Slip Away

Have you ever wondered why some memories stick with us forever, while others seem to fade away almost instantly? Why is it that we can remember how to ride a bike or read a book, even if we haven’t done so in years, but we can’t remember a math equation or a cooking recipe we learned just last week? The answer lies in the complex workings of our brain and the different types of memory it stores.

The Two Types of Memory

Our brain stores information in two main types of memory: declarative and procedural. Declarative memory, also known as explicit memory, involves facts and events that we can consciously recall. This includes things like a math equation or a cooking recipe. Procedural memory, on the other hand, is responsible for our ability to perform certain tasks without conscious thought, such as riding a bike or reading.

Why Some Memories Stick

Procedural memories are often formed through repetition and practice. When we learn to ride a bike, for example, we repeat the same actions over and over again until they become automatic. This process, known as consolidation, strengthens the neural pathways associated with the memory, making it more likely to stick.

Emotion also plays a crucial role in memory formation. When an event triggers a strong emotional response, our brain releases chemicals that help to ‘stamp’ the memory into place. This is why we often remember emotionally charged events, such as a first kiss or a traumatic accident, more vividly than everyday occurrences.

Why Some Memories Slip Away

On the other hand, declarative memories are more prone to forgetting. This is because they rely on a different part of the brain, the hippocampus, which is more susceptible to damage and decay. Without regular review and rehearsal, these memories can fade over time.

Furthermore, our brain is constantly taking in new information, and sometimes this can interfere with our ability to recall older memories. This phenomenon, known as interference, can cause us to forget things like a math equation or a cooking recipe if we don’t use them regularly.


In conclusion, whether a memory sticks or slips away depends on a variety of factors, including the type of memory, the process of consolidation, the role of emotion, and the phenomenon of interference. By understanding these processes, we can develop strategies to improve our memory and make the most of our brain’s incredible capacity for learning and recall.