I’m almost 60; increasingly, I sporadically forget names of people I’ve met 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 jump on a bike right now 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 or knowledge of facts–we know it and “can communicate the memories to others." 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 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."
Why Don’t We Forget How to Ride a Bike? The way memories are anchored in the brain plays a role, neuropsychologist Boris Suchan explains.