We never forget how to ride a bicycle? Why not?

I’m almost 60; increasingly, I sporadically forget names of people I’ve met even fairly recently; I’ll draw a sudden blank on my own phone number; I’ll even forget the name of a restaurant I was at a week ago.  Yet, I rarely ride a bicycle these days, but I could go to the garage right now, jump on a bike, and ride away.  The balancing, the pedaling, little riding tricks from when I was in elementary school–I remember them all.  Why don’t I forget those?

“Different types of memories are stored in distinct regions of our brains.”  And, “long-term memory is divided into two types: declarative and procedural.”  With declarative memory–recollections of experiences (the Sporting Kansas City soccer game I attended several years ago) or knowledge of facts (what “OECD” stands for)–we know it and “can communicate the memories to others” … if we haven’t forgotten it.

But, skills–like riding a bicycle–are different; they are procedural memories.  “This type of memory is responsible for performance.”  Based on experimentation over decades, procedural memory “is more resistant to both loss and trauma.”

Why?  For one, the brain structures that process procedural memories (the basal ganglia) are more “protected in the brain’s center”–less likely to be damaged by brain trauma.  What is not clear yet is why procedural memories “are not as easily forgotten as declarative” memories.

Still, it is known that simple sequences of movements (like riding a bike) that “we internalize, even far in the past, are typically preserved for a lifetime.”

Read the article (Boris Suchan, Scientific American, November 15, 2018).

For more information about psychological phenomena, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

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