Short-term memory (also called active memory) can hold a small amount of information in a readily available state for a brief period of time. Nootropics for short-term memory can enhance this cognitive function in several ways.
This guide covers how natural nootropics for short-term memory support a key cognitive function for success in many areas of life that is used all day, every day, in nearly every situation.
History of Short-Term Memory
Memory plays a monumental role in human perception. Indelibly tied to learning and cognition, memory is the mind’s process whereby we store and retrieve information – and it is crucial for every type of intelligence.
We use short-term memory, specifically, for everyday things like remembering a name or phone number, navigating our route to work, or finding the car keys.
Without using any tricks or techniques to improve it, short-term memory can last from around three seconds to approximately half a minute.
Theories dividing memory into short-term and long-term were first formulated in the 19th century.
During the 1960s, researchers developed the widely accepted “stage model” hypothesis.<1>
This particular model outlines a specific sequence of encoding, storing, and retrieving memories wherein short-term memory operates during the storage phase.
Two types of short-term memory are engaged during the storage phase – sensory memory and working memory.
Sensory memory is what most people are actually referring to when they think of short-term memory. Sensory memory is the first function of memory, filtering incoming stimulus and deciding whether the information is important or not.
Lightning fast, it generally processes one to three bits of information at a time, storing them in a unilateral location for three to four seconds at most.
If information is deemed valuable enough, sensory memory sends it on to working memory. Working memory can manipulate the information in the present and can retain around seven pieces of information at a time.
Working memory stores information throughout several different brain locations, depending on the type of information, and it can last for up to 30 seconds with memory rehearsal.<2>
- Verbal (phonological) techniques like repeating a person’s name or telephone number out loud can help ensure information gets transferred from sensory memories to working memory.
Short Term Memory vs. Working Memory
Baddeley and Hitch’s influential 1986 working memory model introduced three short-term mechanisms:<3>
The central executive function absorbs information and allocates it to one or both of two subsystems – the phonological loop and the visuospatial sketchpad.
The phonological loop processes spoken and written information and can reinforce short-term memory when you repeat information out loud or write it down. This loop consists of two sections:
- The phonological store is closely linked to inner ear mechanisms and speech perception. It stores verbal information for one to two seconds.
- The articulatory control process is involved with speech production and can enhance information storage from the phonological loop via verbal repetition.
The visuospatial sketchpad (VSS) stores visual and spatial information in the short term and is used primarily for navigation and perception of space and proximity.
How Short-Term Memory Works
Short-term memory’s limited duration suggests that its contents automatically decay over time. The decay assumption (basically forgetting) is part of many short-term memory theories, including Baddeley and Hitch’s working memory model.
The idea of rapid subconscious rehearsal usually accompanies the decay assumption: in order to extend working memory, information must be periodically repeated or rehearsed either verbally or mentally, causing it to re-enter short-term memory storage and remain accessible longer.
However, some researchers deny that spontaneous decay plays any major role in short-term memory duration. Detractors suggest that new stimuli competes for space when it enters short-term memory, pushing out older information.<4>
Chunking is a memory recall process that can enhance our ability to remember information in the short term by organizing separate pieces of information into groups.
The average person generally stores four to five different pieces of information at a time in short-term memory but chunking can markedly increase short-term recall capacity.
In one study, both master and novice chess players were shown either a board in play or a board with randomly placed pieces. Afterward, players were presented with an empty board and were asked to arrange it in the exact pattern of the previous board.
With the in-play game board, novice players correctly placed only four or five pieces out of 32, while masters placed an average 26. But both master and novice players had problems arranging the random board, only correctly placing four or five pieces.
These results show that chunking is a highly effective cognitive tool for boosting short-term memory recall.<5>
Short-Term Memory and Brain Structure
The ability to store information temporarily and manipulate it to complete a task is a distinctively human trait. Like other higher-order cognitive functions, short-term memory activates several brain areas and systems.
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) sits at the very front of the brain. The PFC lights up during short-term memory activation, particularly working memory, specifically visuospatial memory.
The PFC does not encode or store stimuli. Single neurons in the prefrontal cortex store task-relevant information only for a few seconds while they sort through it. Information is then either discarded or sent to posterior brain regions like the hippocampus and sensory regions for encoding.
The hippocampus is like mission control for memory. It sorts and directs the information going to and from your brain. The hippocampus does encode stimuli, sending it to various “storage rooms” throughout the brain according to the type of information.
The hippocampus gives new information priority. When the hippocampus goes into short-term memory mode, previously encoded and stored memories stay in the background, while new information is sorted and committed to memory.
Nootropics for Nerve Growth Factor can support hippocampal processes related to memory maintenance.
Because of its prominent role in supporting memory, acetylcholine is sometimes called the “learning neurotransmitter.” ACh is crucial for short-term memory retention, and even a small boost in the cholinergic system can impact memory function.
Acetylcholine (ACh) helps boost short-term memory by stimulating astrocyte cells in the hippocampus that trigger release of the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate activates inhibitory neurons which block pathways that monitor memory retrieval.
- Studies suggest that "glutamate release within 2.5 minutes of the learning experience is an important feature of short-term memory formation."<6>
Glial Cells and Astrocytes
Once believed to be merely a supporting cell for neurons, glial cells make up nearly 90% of your brain cells. Astrocytes are star-shaped glial cells in the hippocampus that facilitate synaptic transmission between the cerebellum and hippocampus.
They also regulate neurotransmitter transmission from the synaptic cleft and release gliotransmitters like ATP, which modulate synaptic function.<7>
Short-Term Memory in Action
We use short-term memory all the time. From remembering how to get to the corner store to following instructions, having good short-term memory development and retention is critical to success in many areas of life.
Having a good short-term memory can actually help you land a job in the first place. Interviews can be tough, and being able to process and accurately remember many pieces of information coming at you at once can show that you have a cutting edge on the competition. Nootropics for job interviews can help you nail your next interview.
Now assume you've got the job, and your boss puts you in charge of a big project for an important client. When you meet with the client you have to remember their name, the details of the project, and the feedback the client gives you in the moment – without any notes.
The more information you can recall and repeat back to the client and your boss, the more likely you are to be assigned to upcoming projects. A great short-term memory can even get you a raise or promotion.
To blow off steam, you may play softball, basketball or another sport on the weekends. Short-term memory comes into play here when your coach rattles off the team’s next moves.
The team assembles on the field or court, and you have to remember who is supposed to do what and when. Pulling off the play requires implementing accurate short-term memory in the face of constantly changing variables.
The memory demands for college students are even greater than they are for working adults, especially in 2018-2019 and beyond.
Learning mode requires almost constant use of short-term memory.
We use short-term memory to remember what we read at the beginning of a paragraph so we can connect it with what we read at the end of a paragraph.
Correctly answering math equations requires short-term memory to remember the steps in solving the equation. The same goes for technology-related tasks like coding.
And while open-book tests let us “cheat” on using short-term memory, timed tests and closed-note tests require answering questions quickly in the moment. Oral tests and lecture hall quizzes require short-term memory to remember what the question is, much less answer it.
Good short-term memory can really affect academic success and career offers after graduation.
Short-term memory problems can get you in hot water at home, especially when you forget something important or make a habit of “blowing things off.”
When your partner asks you to grab milk on the way home or your daughter tells you the name of her new best friend – three times, habitual forgetfulness can cause frustration in the family dynamic.
People expect you to remember what they tell you in the moment. Otherwise, they may begin to assume you don’t really care.
Having good short-term memory is important to your social life too. It can make or break potentially meaningful connections between you and others.
Say you’re at a party. You meet someone and feel an instant connection. You definitely want to see this person again, and they want to give you their phone number but your phone is dead. If you have poor short-term memory, you’ll never be able to memorize their number.
Or your friend introduces you to a potential business contact. You shake hands and engage in conversation, but when it’s time to part ways you realize you have completely forgotten their name.
They say goodbye, calling you by name, and you softly mumble something you hope sounds close to their name. Awkward.
Wrapping it Up
Short-term memory can affect your work performance, focus, college studies, relationships, and sports success. Nootropics for short-term memory can ensure your mind is functioning at its best all day long.
Synaptic Plasticity & Memory Retention
You’ve probably heard of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to form new neurons and neural connections and modify existing ones. Synaptic plasticity is similar but is specific to the brain’s synapses.
Synapses are the plasma membrane around signaling neurons, and they are vital for memory and learning. Synaptic plasticity is the brain’s ability to strengthen or weaken the brain’s synapses in response to fluctuations in activity.
In short, the brain forms short term memories by creating neural pathways to retain new information based on the strength of synaptic connections.
Various researchers suggest that stimuli are encoded in short-term memory via transmitter depletion.<8>
According to this theory, stimuli activate a spatial pattern across neurons in a specific brain region. When these neurons fire, depleting available neurotransmitters and forming a memory trace.
The memory trace decays over a short period of time due to neurotransmitter reuptake mechanisms which restore neurotransmitters to existing levels prior to the information received.
Boost Short-Term Memory Naturally
Learning supports synaptic plasticity and transmission, and challenging your brain with new information promotes short-term memory.
You can enhance short-term memory in many ways, including:
- Solving puzzles like sudoku and crosswords
- Playing strategy games like chess
- Playing word games like scrabble
- Learning to play an instrument
- Eating healthy food
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining regular sleep patterns
- Supplementing with nootropics for short-term memory
Mind Lab Pro® Nootropics for Short-Term Memory
These nootropics are powerful memory boosters that can enhance the way we process information for short-term memory, especially as part of the superior stack brain supplement Mind Lab Pro®:
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is an amino acid that improves learning and short-term memory formation by reducing the effects of stress on cellular structure and cell membrane fluidity. PS and other phospholipids protect cell membrane integrity, support cellular transmission, and facilitate neuronal growth.
Phosphatidylserine supplementation may slow or even reverse age-related cognitive memory decline, but it isn't just for seniors. PS enhances short-term memory formation for younger adults too.
- Studies show PS "supports human cognitive functions, including the formation of short-term memory...the ability to create new memories, the ability to retrieve memories, the ability to learn and recall information."<9>
Many people don’t get enough phosphatidylserine from food sources, so supplements that include PS can provide the phospholipid protection neurons involved with short-term memory need.
Citicoline (cytidine diphosphate-choline) is a cholinergic agent and a precursor to acetylcholine (Ach). ACh is essential for short-term memory retention, and studies indicate citicoline may be the best nootropic for dealing with mild to moderate memory problems.
- Randomized, controlled trials show citicoline administration can improve neurochemical, electrophysiological, and cognitive function for better short-term memory in healthy human brains.<10>
Even a small drop in choline levels can cause noticeable short-term memory issues, and like PS, many people don’t get enough choline from nutrition alone.
Citicoline contains CDP choline, a naturally-occurring chemical that enhances short-term memory and protects the brain from the negative effects of stress. On its own, CDP choline is a powerful protectant, but it becomes a dynamic potentiator when combined with other nootropics like PS and uridine.
Citicoline combines CDP choline with uridine monophosphate (UMP), an often overlooked but vital nootropic that not only improves short-term memory but is the foundation for RNA – the building blocks of cell memory and carbon-based intelligence.
Large amounts of RNA are used up in the memory process, and uridine supports RNA repletion while boosting hippocampal synaptic connections – the same ones that become depleted in the early stages of persistent short-term memory loss.<11>
Bacopa monnieri is an adaptogenic herb used in Ayurvedic healing for centuries, and it is one of the best nootropics for short-term memory. Bacopa works by modulating levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, but its main value to memory lies in its ability to enhance cell communication.
Bacopa increases the growth of dendrites – nerve endings that line the neuronal pathways used in short-term memory communication. Dendrites improve synaptic plasticity and the brain's ability to process information faster and more accurately.
- A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 62 healthy persons aged 20 to 60 showed bacopa supplementation improved working memory and precision during rapid identification tests.<12>
Bacopa can improve memory formation across all adult age groups, but experts recommend regular, long-term supplementation (six weeks or more) for the best results.
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT)
L-Tyrosine is an amino acid involved with cell communication, and NALT is a more bioavailable form the brain can absorb better.
L-Tyrosine has been shown to prevent memory decline associated with stress. NALT's value as a nootropic for short-term memory is specific to preserving working memory, especially under pressure.
Research suggests L-Tyrosine can increase memory-supporting norepinephrine levels in the hippocampus, which can become depleted under stress and contribute to working memory decay.
- One small, double-blind study involving 8 male test subjects over a 24-hour period demonstrated that tyrosine can "preserve working memory (via matching accuracy tests) during acute cold stress."<13>
B6 assists myelin sheath formation, the membrane that surrounds neuronal axons and helps facilitate communication between neurons.
The myelin sheath is important to memory because it speeds up electrical impulses that fuel information sharing throughout the brain, allowing you to recall short-term memories faster and retain them longer.
Another way B6 can boost short term memory is by lowering homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is a non-protein amino acid that occurs naturally in all humans.
Vitamin B6 helps regulate homocysteine levels in the blood-brain barrier.
At normal levels it doesn’t harm memory, but high levels of homocysteine are linked to brain-blood blockages and poor memory, including chronic short-term memory loss.
- In a 2014 study linked chronic, severe short-term memory loss with high homocysteine levels and low levels of B6.<14>
The body does not store folate, so increasing your daily B6 intake can keep homocysteine in check and boost short-term memory function.
Research has also found a correlation between B6 and information storage – and important mechanism in prolonging short-term memory.
- A placebo-controlled study of 76 men aged 70 – 79 years showed improvement in memory tests with men who took B6 supplementation over men who were given a placebo. Researchers concluded, “vitamin B-6 supplementation improves storage of information modestly but significantly.”<15>
And B6 increases levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Many people know that serotonin is a natural mood booster, but having adequate serotonin levels in the brain is also important for processing short-term memory.
Mind Lab Pro® nootropics for short-term memory contribute to its 100% Brainpower™ effect for whole-life cognitive excellence.
Mind Lab Pro® is a whole-brain-boosting Universal Nootropic™ stack that combines the best memory boosters to unlock 100% Brainpower™, an optimal mental state that can protect short-term memory for peak performance in any situation.
- Mind Lab Pro®'s whole-brain approach supports communication throughout the brain by monitoring neural pathways, protecting brain cell membranes, and preventing stress-induced neurotransmitter deterioration that can affect short-term memory.
Short-term memory affects every aspect of our life. From sending Mom a birthday card, to making a left at Sixth Avenue or remembering to pick up bread on the way home, we use short-term memory all the time.
In supporting this underappreciated cognitive function, Mind Lab Pro® nootropics for short-term memory can help you function better in a fast-paced world all day, every day.
- Atkinson, RC, Shiffrin, RM. Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. New York: Academic Press. 1968. pp. 89–195.
- Revlin R. Cognition: Theory and Practice. Worth Publishers. 2012. ISBN 978-0-7167-5667-5
- Baddeley AD, Hitch, G. Working Memory. The psychology of learning and motivation. Academic Press. 1974. pp. 47–89. doi:10.1016/S0079-7421(08)60452-1
- Oberauer K, Klieg R. "A formal model of capacity limits in working memory". Journal of Memory and Language. 2006. 55 (4): 601–626. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2006.08.009
- Simon HA & Chase WG. Skill in chess. American Scientist. 1973. 61(4), 394-403.
- Gibbs ME, Hertz L, Ng KT. Inhibition of short-term memory formation in the chick by blockade of extracellular glutamate uptake. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2004 Mar. 81(2):115-9.
- Newman EA. New roles for astrocytes: Regulation of synaptic transmission. Trends in Neuroscience. Volume 26, Issue 10. October 2003. Pages 536-542.
- Grossberg S. Pavlovian pattern learning by nonlinear neural network. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 1971. 68(4): 828–31. doi:10.1073/pnas.68.4.828
- Glade MJ, Smith K. Phosphatidylserine and the human brain. Nutrition. 2015 Jun;31(6):781-6. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2014.10.014.
- Grieb P. Citicoline: A Food That May Improve Memory. Med Sci Rev 2015; 2:67-72. doi: 10.12659/MSRev.894711
- Selkoe DJ. Alzheimer's disease is a synaptic failure. Science. 2002 Oct 25;298(5594):789-91. doi: 10.1126/science.1074069
- Stough C, et al. Examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa monniera on human cognitive functioning: 90 day double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Phytother Res. 2008 Dec;22(12):1629-34. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2537
- Shurtleff D, et al. Tyrosine reverses a cold-induced working memory deficit in humans. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1994 Apr;47(4):935-41.
- Kim H, Lee KJ. Serum homocysteine levels are correlated with behavioral and psychological symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2014 Oct 3;10:1887-96. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S6898
- Deijen JB, van der Beek EJ, Orlebeke JF, van den Berg H. Vitamin B-6 supplementation in elderly men: effects on mood, memory, performance and mental effort. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1992;109(4):489-96.