Magazine article Work & Family Life

Why It's Hard to Remember a Good Joke

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Why It's Hard to Remember a Good Joke

Article excerpt

How come a really funny joke goes in one ear and out the other? Why can I still rattle offmy decades-old ID number from college but can't recall the name of an actor I see on a TV show that I watch every week?

Welcome to the human brain. It's "a three-pound throne of wisdom with the whoopee cushion on the seat," says science writer Natalie Angier.

Researchers are learning more about these all too common human tics and lapses. Columbia University neurologist Scott A. Small uses the analogy of computer memory. He says we have our version of a "buffer," a short-term working memory with a limited scope. Our frontal lobes perform the "find" function, and we have a "save" button. It's the hippocampus, an area deep in the brain that translates short-term memories into more permanent form.

Scientists used to think that short- and long-term memories were stored in different parts of the brain, but new findings suggest greater complexity. The difference between a fleeting and lasting memory has to do with how strongly it was engraved in the brain. The deeper the memory, the more robustly the brain neurons will fire. …

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