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Are Intelligence and Memory Linked?

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 17 Jun 2016 | comments*Discuss
 
Memory Working Memory Intelligence

One mental ability that is often taken as an indicator of intelligence level is memory ability. While the two are strongly linked, memory is not necessarily a good indicator of intelligence. In particular, working memory, which can be affected by things such as stress, can give a false impression of an individual’s intelligence or lack of intelligence.

Like many aspects of intelligence, memory can be improved with training and depends on a complicated set of interactions between biological pathways and environmental factors.

What is Memory?

In the broadest sense, memory is your ability to store, retain and then retrieve specific pieces of information, previous experiences or knowledge of procedures (e.g. skills and habits) on request. It is an important function of the brain and also an important aspect of cognition, which involves not just remembering (and forgetting) but also reasoning, abstract thinking, imagination, attention, insight and appreciation of beauty.

Contrary to popular perception, memory is not so much storage space as a series of processes for registering and encoding information for later use (and retrieval). Thus, our cognitive ability to do this changes as we age, although the rate and amount of change varies from individual to individual and is not solely determined by a person’s biological age.

Research has shown that it is possible to take actions to prevent memory loss and the deterioration of other brain function as we age.

Types of Memory

The common division of memory is into long-term (events and knowledge from our pasts) and short-term memory (recent knowledge and happenings).

Another way to classify memories is into explicit memories, which are things you can recall consciously and which you can describe verbally – such as people, places and specific facts. Another way is implicit memories, which are the skills and procedures which you learn, such as dancing or playing a certain sport or even driving.

Memory is also sometimes specified as “working memory” which is the ability to retain and manipulate information – for example, doing mathematics calculations in your head rather than using a pen and paper.

Working Memory

Research has shown that there is a strong relationship between intelligence and working memory, although the exact nature of the relationship is still under debate. However, studies have shown that poor working memory, rather than low intelligence, could be the reason why some children under-achieve at school, where working memory is particularly necessary to perform tasks such as writing down dictated sentences.

Children suffering from poor working memory can be seriously impaired in their ability to learn, which may be translated as a lack of intelligence, when this is not the case. These children need to be identified and alternative methods of teaching used, to help them achieve their potential.

Memory and Intelligence

Your memory, especially your working memory, can significantly influence your “intelligence”. That is, your memory affects your ability to quickly and easily retrieve and apply stored information in situations when you need to solve a problem – and your ability to solve problems is often defined as intelligence. Therefore, memory and intelligence are almost like two sides of the same coin.

For example, people who are seen as being good at maths are often able to solve problems in their head and the reason they can do this easily is because they can quickly retrieve stored information which allows to solve the problem successfully. They are not necessarily more “intelligent” overall but rather, they are able to store mathematical data in their long-term memory and retrieve it quickly when they need it. However, the two are linked and improving your memory can help you to display what is commonly seen as “intelligence”.

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