A recent article by Ira Hyman, discussed our long term memories and how returning to certain places where we have established memories will trigger these “forgotten” things and cause them to return to our brains. Whether that be a former house, an old school or even a trail that you hiked as as child. Re-experiencing these places and all they offer may cause our brains to retrieve old memories we had at the place, no matter how much time has passed.
In Hyman’s experience, he talks about the trip he recently made to his family home for a funeral and how as soon as he saw the old farmhouse, memories came flooding in of his childhood and all the fun times he had at the place. However, the memories don’t always have to be happy. They could also be sad or upsetting, and seeing a certain thing could bring the bad memories back up.
He talks about how sometimes it feels like the memories live in the location. You don’t necessarily think about things or experiences until something comes up to remind you or trigger something in your brain’s memory bank. You could even go months or years without thinking of something that’s happened o you, but then suddenly it’s brought back up.
Recently, I had a similar experience. We drove to Christopher Newport University for a basketball game. Background story- years ago, I broke my arm playing in a basketball tournament there and ultimately ended up sitting out part of my freshman season during high school. I hadn’t thought about this injury or the traumatic experience since. But as soon as we walked into the gym, it all came flooding back. This is exactly as Hyman said it would in his theory that memories live in certain places. It was very weird because as soon as we walked in, I could picture the exact spot where I broke my arm, even replay the event happening in my head. I also saw the bleachers that my mom came over from to check on me and take me to the hospital, as well as the training room where they first told me it was most likely broken and needed to go get x-rays. To go along with these memories of the actual event occurring, I also had flashbacks that included the hospital, the bumpy ride home with my arm in a sling and the morphine talking when I was all loopy singing in the backseat. All of these memories came back once I had seen the school and the gym where the injury originally occurred. If I hadn’t seen some of these places, I most likely wouldn’t have been able to recall some of these details of the event from so long ago.
This just goes to prove what the article said about memory retrieval, and also that our brain chunks certain things together so that when one memory is triggered, so are several more to go along with it. In general, this is referred to by many as the encoding specificity principle. This simply states that memory is improved when information available at retrieval is also available during encoding (ex. seeing a place or hearing a song). This relates to the memory process we talked about in class; really focusing on the encoding (initial learning of information) and retrieval (being able to access information when you need it) stages. In my case, the encoding step occurred when I broke my arm and the injury happened. The retrieval was more recent, when I re-visited the place where it happened.
Just like in the article when the farmhouse served as the place where those childhood memories lived, mine was Christopher Newport’s gym. Even after all the time spent not thinking about my injury or all the pain and trouble it caused, when I came face to face with the location, all the memories from the past flooded in. Not only did they come back in bits and pieces, but I was actually able to point out and remember specific details. Whether it be the location of a family death or even a happy place that you’re returning to, have you ever experienced a similar situation?