Learning and Memory: The Brain in Action

By Marilee Sprenger | Go to book overview

Where Is Wally?
Locating Memories in the Brain

I was a rather immature freshman in high school when I first heard his
name—Wally. I thought it was a rather silly name; it made me think of
“Leave It to Beaver.” But even though I didn’t like his name, he had a
great smile. He would smile or pretend to grab my books as I walked
down the science hall at Peoria High.

Wally had entered my heart. Well, actually, Wally had entered my
brain.

Powerful memories from years past can be triggered by a present experience.


Making Memories

We can learn something from every experience. The more memory lanes used for storage of an event, the more powerful the learning will be.

Now, let’s see. Where had Wally entered my brain? First, he entered my semantic lane through my hippocampus. This is where that name was first stored. And, yes, he was already in my emotional lane through my amygdala. All kinds of neurotransmitters were released when he smiled at me. I have my first episodic memories of him from that science hall, although many of them are very dim. That’s because some of those “Wally” neurons have been pruned away and replaced by other memories. Procedurally he is there, too. Walking down that hall with an armload of books would bring back an instant picture of him. Do I have an automatic memory of him, too? You bet—every time I hear the “Leave It to Beaver” theme song. Some would say that I had Wally on the brain!

Over time, some neurons are pruned away and memories are forgotten.

If our relationship had ended with those small encounters, most of those memories would have faded and been replaced by other connections. However, the story continues.

Toward the end of my sophomore year, my longtime boyfriend, Steve,
and I broke up. I was heartbroken for about 24 hours. Then Wally asked

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