Why is memory important: Learning from past experiences


Kevin Mangelschots

Most of us associate memory with learning, and that is indeed one of its most vital functions, as it allows us to research, understand, and store new information from our experiences in life.

Retention allows us to acquire information by learning from our experiences. It has allowed us humans to adept to seemingly every new environment, which is what made us the dominant species in the first place.

Importance of memory to human life

The importance of memory to human life is that it allows us to retain information about past events. This allows us to act based upon previous, and current data. This means that it also allows your actions and words to have meaning and a purpose.

It allows us to learn from our mistakes, so we don’t make them again in the present and future. It also allows us to learn what the appropriate manner is to conduct ourselves in the world. Both to survive, as how to interact with other people. You can even discover more in depth how the memory works.

Importance of memory in learning

Image with a green background and the words “learning and memory” written in the front.

From an evolutionary psychology perspective, its purpose and intention is to keep us alive. Without our working memory, short-term and long-term memory, this would not be possible.

Due to our memory, even our ancient, more primitive ancestors learned many things in order to survive, such as:

  • What to eat and gather
  • Which plants were edible and which would make them sick
  • What animals to hunt
  • Which animals were dangerous and should be avoided
  • Where their home was located
  • Who they could trust and who were not trustworthy

What we can most certainly conclude is that memory plays a central role in everyone’s life.

Image of the words “self reflection” being reflected through a mirror.

It allows us to reflect on the past, which we can then utilize to reuse our past experiences. It can also aid us to guarantee continuity between what was in the past, and what is going to be in the future. Reflecting also allows us to see what mistakes we made in order to avoid making the same errors.

Memory is an active, although subjective, well-informed, often rational reflection procedure of our experiences. It should be noted though that our memory is not fail proof, and that even something as intelligent as our mind can make mistakes.

Memory plays an active role in learning, but should not be mistaken for learning. There are 3 main cognitive processes involved in human memory. Those are:

  • Encoding

    Encoding stands for changing information into a sort that can be stored in the memory.

  • Storing

    Storing means holding the previously encoded information in our memory for future use.

  • Retrieving

    Retrieving stands for re-accessing information from the past which has previously been encoded and stored for future use.

The memory processes, encoding, storage, and retrieval.

What we classify as a single memory are actually three sub-memories that can be distinguished from each other:

  • Working memory
  • Short-term memory
  • Long-term memory

Image of the different sorts of memories.

We won’t go into the details, but the working memory works very briefly to retain the information in order to manipulate it. The short-term memory in turn stores that retained information for a short while before it gets lost again, or stored in our long-term memory.

Ultimately, information we are aware of is stored in our long-term memory, where it can be stored for a long time for future usage.

What is memory?

Illustration of a brain.

Memory is the intellectual or logical cognitive process that defines the temporary property of our mental organization.

It involves three major processes, which are encoding, storing, retaining, and finally, recalling information about our past experiences in order to use it to our advantage in the present and future.

However, our retention is not a flawless system. And it is possible to misremember and even to forget things that happened in the past. It can happen that previous experiences are not appropriately encoded in our memory in the first place, which will lead to errors in our thinking.


While many of us have fond memories of our past and youth, that isn’t exactly the most important function of our memory.

As a matter of fact, we likely have a lot of bad ones as well. Of mistakes, we’ve made in the past that we’ve come to regret. And that’s exactly what it’s all about.

The primary function of our memory is to ensure our survival. It accomplishes this feat by figuring out what went wrong in the past, what the dangers were/are, and where the possible pitfalls lie in order to prevent us from making the same mistakes again. In other words, it allows us from our previous experiences.