I’ve been thinking about memories for as long as I can remember. What I’m most interested in is the mixing phenomenon: the functionality that makes you feel sad when you hear a song, or makes you remember your childhood when you smell a certain food.
We know the basics. The song is associated with other memories that were happening when you first were impacted by that song. And same with that smell. The question is how that happens.
I have a few rudimentary thoughts:
- A major experience happens and is about to be stored in memory.
- Gather input to be associated with that memory:
- Have you been depressed for the last weeks, months?
- How do you feel about yourself in general? Confident? Positive? Pessimistic?
- What sorts of sounds and smells have you been hearing recently?
- Store all of this into this memory matrix.
I use the word matrix because it’s a series of associations more than just a single item. Here are some thoughts on that point.
- When a 16-year-old’s dog dies the album he’s been listening to recently gets tied into the emotion (depression) associated with his dog dying. So it’s song –> emotion, meaning that from now on when the song is heard, the associated emotion will be as well.
- But in addition to the song, the kid also just started working at a pizza restaruant. And now, for the next several weeks — while he’s getting over the loss — the smell of this pizza is being strongly associated with the loss as well.
- Associations made at a young age are stronger.
- Strong associations are made from overall accumulation of impact, so large single events can be overridden by many smaller conflicting events. Example: you associate apple pie with your grandma’s house, which is a major association, but after working in a bakery for 3 years while in college you have now mostly overridden that association.
So a single event captures the sensory inputs and overall personal feelings of a person at the time, and this grouping becomes the set of memory references. If there were 5 sets of sensory input captured, those 5 things will now have associations back to the event. So when either pizza or this song is heard from now on (unless overridden) the boy will recall that time in his life, including:
- How he felt about himself then. Confident? Shy?
- The pain of losing his dog.
Anyway, just something I was thinking about. I understand this phenomenon is covered quite a bit in psychology in something called schemas. I’m going to check into it a bit to see how much of this is talked about.
In the meantime, do you guys see where I’m going with this model? What should be added to it, or taken away?