Dear Shayli,

Maybe you’ve heard a little voice in your head say “ba-da-ba-ba-bah, I’m lovin’ it!” when you saw a sign for McDonald’s or thought “snap, crackle, pop” when you crunched on a spoonful of Rice Krispies cereal.

People can remember lots of things, like songs from advertisements, using complex memory systems in the brain. That’s what I found out from Washington State University neuroscience researcher Jamie Gaber and marketing professor Kunter Gunasti. They told me about two important parts of our memory.

altThink about what you had for dinner last night. Now, think about what you were just doing ten seconds ago. I bet you were reading this article. Our short-term memory helps use store information about what happened in the past 15 to 30 seconds. After that, those memories are transferred to our long-term memory. Long-term memory is where we store the things that we learn and experience over time

Different parts of our brain help us with our memory. Gaber said one of these is a parts is called the hippocampus, which helps convert short-term memories to long-term memories. It also holds our memory of spaces and maps. If you put on a blindfold and walked around in your bedroom, you would probably still know where your bed is in the room because your brain helps you remember.

“To recall a memory, we reactivate connections from many places in the brain, forming a complex web and rounding out the whole memory,” Gaber said.

Gunasti said the rhyming and catchy tunes of advertisements can help our brain make more connections and help us better remember what we hear. The number of times you watch a commercial also plays a part in how well you might remember it.

“If you are exposed many times, it’s harder to forget the advertisement,” Gunasti said.

You can try to test out your memory with the list of words below. Look at the list of words for 30 seconds and to try to memorize as many as possible. Then cover the list and write down as many words as you remember. At first, the words will be in your short-term memory. The more times you see the list and visualize an image of the objects in your head, the more you might be able to remember. The list will eventually become part of your long-term memory.



Annabelle Hutson (and Dr. Universe)

Annabelle Hutson, a student in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, contributed this article. Student science writers work with Dr. Universe to explore science communication, while helping inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.